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Firstly, there was the eventual world-wide dissemination of music via radio and recordings. Secondly there grew the ever-more-sophisticated electronic sounds.

Busoni must have been overjoyed, for at long last his dreams of a music for the Future had come true. Electronics had arrived to stay. Even before Busoni died in 1924, music, like economics, had gone 'global'. Some sixteen years after the emergence of his first Violin Sonata in E minor -- to be precise in July 1906 -- the American McClure's Magazine published an article about an invention by a certain Doctor Thadders Cahill which the learned doctor called a dynamophone.

Busoni referred to it in his New Aesthetic essay, describing it as a 'comprehensive apparatus which makes it possible to transform an electric current into ... an infinite gradation of the octave ...'

For Busoni, the dynamophone had brought heaven down to earth. Nor did heaven ever again retract skywards.

The dynamophone made it possible to hear the otherwise inaudible changes in electrical wavelengths. By 1920 the theremin was first heard in Russia and by 1927 in the USA. The sound ranged over five octaves, undivided by traditional 'intervals' and uncannily resembling the human voice. In 1928 a French musician named Martenot produced his 'waves', the Ondes Martenot beloved of Messiaen and still alive and well.

These modest but nevertheless striking electronic instruments have, in the ensuing eight decades, developed complexities which could only have entranced poor Busoni who died even before the Ondes Martenot's first appearance on the concert platform.

Hardly a stone's throw from London, the electronic research centre IRCAM flourishes in Paris while in Amsterdam Steim is dedicated to numerous performances of electronic-based multimedia performances in-house and at many European venues. To cap all this, Austria, home of no less than the Second Viennese School, has a yearly international electronic Fest at Graz.

Bearing all this in mind, Busoni's violin sonata comes as a shock. It is one of his youthful masterpieces and is beautiful [listen -- track 5, 0:56-1:51]. The listener may well wonder whether the destruction of the diatonic system was necessary at all. The frantic search for a new Aesthetic of Music was pursued not only by Busoni but by many other philosopher/composers. Did it really spring from the perceived inadequacy of the diatonic system or from some deeper panic, perhaps a desire to escape the decadence and materialism of the nineteenth century's fin de siècle?

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Copyright © 10 May 2006 George Balcombe, London UK


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