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Widely Divergent Composers

Music for violin and piano -
reviewed by

'... clear and consistent ...'

Twentieth Century Romantic Works for Violin and Piano - Elgar, Busoni, Prokofiev - Gerald Itzkoff, violin; Philip Amalong, piano. © 2005 Sirius Music Inc

It is odd that two such widely divergent composers as Busoni and Elgar should both produce a violin and piano sonata in E minor, with three distinct fast-slow-fast movements, the slow ones each containing a sublime melody. Even odder is the thirty year gap between the two works, Busoni's of 1891 and Elgar's of 1918/19.

Did Elgar copy Busoni? Probably not, but he may well have heard the earlier sonata which was popular, critically praised, and won the then-prestigious Rubinstein Prize.

In his programme notes for this disc, Mark L Lehman refers to '... a substantial number of extraordinarily assured and polished sonatas, quartets, and other chamber pieces early in his career. Though most of this music is seldom performed today, a surprising portion of it is very worthy of rediscovery, certainly including the First Violin Sonata ...'

Despite Busoni starting his career as an infant prodigy of the piano and ending it in 1924 as a posessor of every musical acclaim imaginable, much of his work, including the first Violin Sonata, got swept away by the tidal wave of Modernism.

This is ironic because nowadays Busoni is sometimes described as one of the founding fathers of modernism, and of electronic music in particular.

He acquired this reputation by virtue of his search for a New Aesthetic of Music, which turned out to be a jumble of ideas cobbled together and presented as a not-altogether coherent essay of that name. It was first published at Trieste in 1907, the Adriatic city where as a seven-year-old piano genius he first came to public notice.

The early 1900s saw the crumbling of many centuries-old European traditions. The foundations of diatonic music began to tremble and with the emergence of Serialism, collapsed altogether. Having mastered all things diatonic, Busoni dreamt of a non-diatonic future. This happened, of course, a hundred years ago. Après Busoni, le deluge. The flood, however, swept in from completely unexpected directions. Technics displaced aesthetics.

This had two tradition-shattering results.

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Copyright © 10 May 2006 George Balcombe, London UK


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