The Skyscraper Concerto
A treat for piano lovers is on the Vienna Konzerthaus’s program for January 15 and 16 in the Great Hall. Ferrucio Busoni’s monumental Piano Concerto, Op. 39 will once again be performed in Vienna. With Maestro Carlo Grante on a Bösendorfer Imperial.
Ferrucio Busoni, born in Empoli near Florence in 1866 as the son of an Italian clarinet virtuoso and a German pianist, was, like his model Franz Liszt, the most celebrated pianist of his time. Like Liszt, he turned to composition early on as well and was a bold prophet of musical modernism. During his numerous stays in Austria, the artist also got to know Ludwig Bösendorfer and his unique instruments. A lifelong friendship developed from this acquaintance.
The organ pipes of Bach’s Passacaglia as a model
Besides being known as a pianist and composer, Busoni was also famous for his transcriptions and highly revised editions of J. S. Bach’s works. In 1892, upon the suggestion of Ferrucio Busoni, Bösendorfer built the prototype for a mighty concert grand piano, whose bass was to simulate Bach’s gigantic, tall organ pipes in the Passacaglia. With a length of 290 cm and a powerful tonal compass from 4183 Hz all the way down to the sub-contra C’s 16 Hz, the new model by the Imperial and Royal Viennese piano manufacturer encompassed fully eight octaves. Its 97 keys are the trademark of the Bösendorfer Imperial, which went into production in 1900 and to this day is considered “the Rolls Royce of pianos” (Garrick Ohlsson).
Bösendorfer Imperial - the mightiest of concert grand pianos
This Bösendorfer commands fully eight octaves.
The Bösendorfer 290 in a magnificent special edition, “Artisan,” which especially demonstrates the factory’s high art of piano building.
Ludwig Bösendorfer took up Ferruccio Busoni’s idea and, together with his employees, created a masterpiece of the craft of piano building, the Bösendorfer Imperial.
Inspired to write grandiose masterpieces
With the arrival of the Imperial, a new chapter in piano history was opened and many great artists - among them Sorabji, Bartók, Debussy, Mussorgsky and Ravel - were inspired to write grandiose masterpieces by the monstrous tonal range and expressivity of the Bösendorfer Imperial. However, the first composer to turn the pitch-black bass and enormous color potential of the new Bösendorfer model into notes was the cosmopolite and great virtuoso Ferruccio Busoni. His “Concerto for piano solo and diverse string, wind and percussion instruments with added six-voiced male choir finale” was written explicitly for the Imperial.
A piano concerto that explodes all boundaries
The rule-breaking piano concerto - Busoni himself once called it a “skyscraper concerto” - is the most extensive one in music history. It comprises five movements, a gigantic orchestra, a male choir in the finale, a monumental part for the soloist and lasts a long, yet never boring, 75 minutes. The solo part demands everything from the pianist and at times seems nearly unplayable, like when the leaps cross half the keyboard or cascades of chords and brilliant runs are lined up next to one another. Nevertheless, this accumulation of the greatest virtuosity never comes across as an end in itself, but rather serves a musical whole in every moment.
A concert hall rarity
When the composition was premiered in Berlin on November 10, 1904, the world did not yet seem ready for a work of such dimensions. Even with the composer himself at the piano, the premiere concert, conducted by Karl Muck, was considered an “honorary flop.” Even into the 1960s, the concerto by the German-Italian piano visionary was seldom performed. In recent decades, however, not only has Busoni been rediscovered, but his only piano concerto has been given its rightful place by great musicians, a place it has long deserved: as a radiant masterpiece of the late Romantic era, one that opened up the path to modernism. Nonetheless, Busoni’s Opus 39 remains a concert hall rarity.
Italian pianist Carlo Grante is among the world’s top Busoni interpreters.
Announcing two unforgettable evenings.
Two unforgettable evenings in the Vienna Konzerthaus, each of them hardly immodestly initiated with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, are hereby announced. Fabio Luisi as conductor, the Vienna Symphony as orchestra, the Vienna Singakademie as male choir and last but not least Carlo Grante as keyboard master are raising expectations of Busoni at his best in the Great Hall of the Vienna Konzerthaus. Please note that several ticket categories are already sold out! www.konzerthaus.at
For more information on the Bösendorfer Imperial, please visit: www.boesendorfer.com
Examples of compact disc recordings with the Bösendorfer Imperial are available at:
To listen to music examples from Busoni’s Piano Concerto, we recommend (in addition to other music sites):
(Photo credits: Carlo Grante, TELARC, Bösendorfer)