BUSONI Elegien. An die Jugend (Carlo Grante)
The nicely chosen image on the front cover shows a nude, elderly woman, depicted from the back, gazing as if into the past. This is Umberto Boccioni’s portrait of his mother, completed in 1909, the same year as Marinetti’s Futurist manifesto, and a prime example of the artist’s transition from neo-Impressionism to Futurism.
Busoni himself considered his Elegies as a ‘transformation’ in his musical output; the first is actually titled ‘Nach der Wendung’ (‘After the turning point’). Shortly prior to their completion in 1907, he had published his own Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, calling for freedom from pre-existing forms and rules. Scarcely as forwards-looking as close contemporaries, such as Scriabin’s Fifth Sonata or Schoenberg’s Second Quartet, the Elegies could equally well be illustrated by Paul Klee’s Angelus novus: a figure apparently moving forwards while looking backwards. They certainly create a bridge between Busoni’s past and future works – No 3 is raw material for the future Fantasia contrappuntistica, for instance, while No 4, with its reworking of ‘Greensleeves’, is an arrangement of earlier incidental music for Gozzi’s Turandot.
Three of the four pieces making up An die Jugend (1909) showcase Busoni’s trademark art of creative arrangement, most curiously in the second, which juxtaposes, then superimposes Bach’s D major Prelude and Fugue: a close cousin to Godowsky’s then recent arrangements of Chopin’s Studies.
Carlo Grante has the first-rate technique and fanatical devotion necessary for this repertoire. So far as colour and timbral imagination go, however, his Elegies lag far behind Marc-André Hamelin. This may be partly due to the matt tone-quality and congested bass register of his chosen Bösendorfer. Still, for all my reservations over this instrument, the sound falls more gratefully on the ear than Geoffrey Douglas Madge’s clangorous Steinway. Confusingly, Grante reverses the order of the second and third pieces of An die Jugend, something his less than entirely lucid booklet essay fails to mention.