Violin Sonata No.1 in e minor, Op.29
Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) is remembered as a great pianist and was among the first rank of virtuosi during his lifetime, but what generally is no longer remembered is that he was an important composer. Cecil Gray, writing in Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music notes:
“The popular notion that his creative efforts were simply the outcome of a virtuoso’s ultimate ambition, when no further laurels remained to be conquered in his own sphere, is wholly erroneous. There can be little doubt that if he had been a less brilliant player, his music would have received greater attention. This is the great tragedy of Busoni’s career...Busoni’s significance as a composer has often been grievously under-estimated. In natural talents he was richly endowed, and in technical command and versatility of achievement possessed phenomenal powers.”
Born in Tuscany, Busoni’s parents were both musical. Busoni’s musical talent showed itself early and by the age of 8 he was performing before the public. The family then moved from Trieste to Vienna, so that Ferruccio might have better opportunities and so that he might study composition. In Vienna, Busoni befriended Karl Goldmark and got to know Brahms. In 1886, upon Brahms’ recommendation, Busoni was sent to the Leipzig Conservatory where he studied composition with Carl Reinecke. There, he had the chance to meet and get to know Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Sinding, Grieg and Delius. While he only spent a year at the Conservatory, he remained in Leipzig for three. In 1890, Busoni received an appointment to teach at the Helsinki Conservatory where he met Sibelius. His First Violin Sonata dates from this period. In this same year, his Concertino for Piano & Orchestra Op.31a won the Rubenstein Prize which brought a professorship at the Moscow Conservatory which he turned down to pursue a concert career in America. He concertized in the States for three years while teaching at the New England Conservatory in Boston. In 1894, he settled in Berlin where, except during WWI, he remained based for the rest of his life when not touring.
In the First Violin Sonata, one can hear that it is descended from Austro-German romanticism. The opening movement, Allegro deciso, as the title suggests starts off with a determined theme. The second theme is altogether more pensive. The elegant main subject of slow movement, Molto sostenuto, which follows, sounds like something a Beethoven or a Schumann might have written had they been alive in 1890. The exciting finale, Allegro molto e deciso, begins with a breathless violin melody over a restless, running accompaniment in the piano.
This is an important violin sonata and certainly should be heard in the recital hall. Yet it is not a virtuoso work and is quite suitable for amateurs.