BV 253 - Fantasia nach J. S. Bach

[alla memoria di mio padre Ferdinando Busoni morto il 12 maggio 1909]

Transcription or original work? With the very "psychoanalytical" Fantasia nach J. S. Bach, the borders definitely get blurred. The "original" outer sections, in a sort of late Lisztian idiom, frame several fragments of Bach’s early organ Partitas - the transcription part - like a crystal reliquary containing the moldy finger of some severe saint.

The work assumes two poses, both performances: musicological "channeling" and filial piety. If Western music were on the analyst’s couch, she would speak of J. S. Bach as a sort of father figure. Considering Busoni’s editorial work on a complete Bach edition for piano, the dual identification comes as no surprise.

In 1909, music perhaps faces in Busoni its first "DJ" years before the popularization of recordings and mechanical reproduction (and half a century before music becomes another divertissement in the consumer circus!) Busoni is able to use the music of others to say what he needs to say while leaving a significant amount of unconscious slippage in the message. Biographers know that Ferdinando Busoni was a rather abusive figure in young Ferruccio’s life - a mini Leopold Mozart. All the stress and rigor of this persona surfaces in the Fantasia, and his son posthumously adds a redemptive feature: a literal "ceremony of forgiveness." At the end of the work, Busoni writes above solemn choral arpeggios PAX EJ! (peace be to him!)

Far from being a conservative "transcription" making some scraps of organ music available to a pianistic public, Busoni’s Fantasia nach J. S. Bach stages a harrowing exorcism. Listening to John Ogden’s late recording of the work (this pianist had undergone an enormous amount of suffering that finally led to a nervous breakdown, dementia and death), one senses all the pain and release of a symbolic parricide. To quote Pasolini : "Ho uccido mio padre, ho mangiato carne humana, e tremo di gioia!"

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Ferruccio Busoni • Pianist and Composer
Last update: Aug-22-2008