It’s always surprising how often Jews cross borders. But this coincidence was just too good not to be documented.
In January I was raving to my friend Beate Sirota Gordon about a performance of the famously gigantic, wild and strange Ferruccio Busoni Piano Concerto I’d just heard for the first time, performed by Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra with soloist Piers Lane in Carnegie Hall. In response, Beate exclaimed, “You know, my father gave the Viennese premiere, with Busoni conducting! When I was a child in Vienna, I remember my father playing that music over and over. How could I have missed this?!”
The half-Jewish, half-German and, despite his name, only half-Italian Ferruccio Busoni was astonishingly gifted and contradictory in equal measure. One of the greatest pianists and composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he remains a strange historical figure. In his review of the concert, critic Alex Ross wrote:
He was, in some ways, the prophet of a future that never came to pass, yet his idiosyncratic pluralism now seems strangely contemporary, as if he had anticipated the entire course of the century and tried to resolve its contradictions…. atypical of him, to the extent that any of his works are typical… the concerto… is a gaudy, unapologetically over-the-top piece, stuffed with references to nineteenthcentury Romantic styles.