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Ferruccio Busoni

Ferruccio Busoni Composer

Turandot Suite, Op.41, KiV 248

Performances: 2
Tracks: 9
  • Turandot Suite, Op.41, KiV 248
    Year: 1904-05
    Genre: Suite / Partita
    Pr. Instrument: Orchestra
    • 1.The Execution, the City Gate and the Departure
    • 2.Truffaldino's March
    • 3.Altoum's March
    • 4.Turandot's March
    • 5.Turandot's Chamber
    • 6.Dance and Song
    • 7.Night Waltz
    • 8.Quasi-Funeral March and Finale alla Turca
Busoni composed this suite in 1905 and introduced it with the Berlin Philharmonic on October 21 of that year. Its lavish scoring includes triple winds (which double two piccolos, English horn, bass clarinet, contrabassoon), four trumpets, and four percussionists. Busoni—born six years after Mahler, four after Debussy, two after Richard Strauss—died in his fifties, as the first two did. If heredity didn't endow him with quite their creative genius, he was surely the thinking man's Romantic, with a fascinating musical vocabulary. Although most famous as a keyboard titan, one of the legendary virtuosi in a golden age, he was also a composer, scholar, teacher, and sometime conductor.

Antony Beaumont conjectures that the pending centennial (in 1906) of playwright Carlo Gozzi's death prompted Busoni to compose music for Turandot, the best known of the aristocratic Venetian's ten fiabe (fairy tales), written between 1761 and 1765 to protest the new bourgeois realism in Carlo Goldoni's rehabilitation of commedia dell'arte. Carl Maria von Weber had written an overture and six pieces in 1809 for Schiller's German adaptation of the play (part of which Hindemith used in his 1943 Symphonic Metamorphosis). But Busoni knew the original, and created both this eight-movement suite and, in 1911, a full complement of incidental music for the play.

Busoni indicated that "most of the themes are taken, sometimes unaltered, sometimes adapted, from Arabian, Chinese and Indian music" (the oldest Turandot literature came from twelfth century Persia, where Turan-doht meant "Chinese daughter"). Even though the suite was completed well in advance of the fully functional music for the play, it is genuine incidental music, with lengthy specific references made to Gozzi's play in Busoni's notes. Of the Alla marcia (The Execution, the City Gate, and the Departure) movement, for example, he writes: "Over the city gate of Peking are several heads on pikes, of princes who sought the hand of proud, sagacious and cruel Princess Turandot, but failed to solve three riddles posed by her. Prince Calaf, against the warning of friends, is so smitten with her beauty that he insists on undertaking the dangerous quest. Strange music is heard, built on a monotonous timpani motif, heralding the judge who approaches with his retinue to collect a new head....Even this does not deter Calaf; he tears himself away, determined to win the princess or die."

Of Turandot's March, Busoni wrote: "Entrance of Princess Turandot, interspersed with the Turandot theme [first played pianissimo by low strings, later by violins]...melancholy, voluptuous and sinister." For Beaumont this "most extended movement of the suite offers a complete tone-picture of icy beauty...'Cruelty—Passion—veiled Beauty—unveiled Beauty.' Her theme is the second of three authentic Chinese melodies [associated with Turandot, originally collected by Rousseau]: Weber used the first, Puccini the third." Written 15 years before Puccini began (but never finished) the more famous operatic Turandot, Busoni's work lies in Puccini's shadow. On its own merits, however, it forms an interesting chapter in the evolving story of Orientalism.

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