On the wireless - Busoni

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

Brian seems to have been quite an enthusiastic radio-listener in the interwar years, and many of his 'La main gauche' columns comment on broadcasts that took his attention, as here:

It is often assumed that, if one objects to certain broadcasting, it is always easy to plug out. Nothing of the kind: as I found on a recent Sunday morning, when in a home not my own, I was conventionally compelled to listen to all the horrors of Radio Paris on a 'set' tuned to emulate the braying of an ass. I took a new-year's resolution never again to listen in to anybody or anything, but my selfdenying ordinance failed me when I saw that Dr Adrian Boult was to begin a broadcast of the great Busoni, for such he will be called by those who are acquainted with his masterpiece, the opera, Dr Faust: on the completion of which he died1. Those also will acclaim him great who know him through his edition of the Forty-eight, or his adaptations to the piano of Bach's most wonderful organ works.

The profundity of Busoni's mind seemed in a fair way to be acknowledged when in 1920 he was appointed to the chair of composition at the Berlin Academy of Arts, but there were those who could not brook the presence of a Tuscan in Prussia.

The works performed under Dr Adrian Boult date from Busoni's earliest years. The delightful Comedy overture is some thirty years old [actually 35 - composed 1897 - MM]. The violin concerto, played magnificently by Szigeti2, was written when the composer was thirty three, and the Turandot suite came to us some years before Puccini also was inspired by Gozzi's tragedy. Listening to the broadcast, I seemed to be in the presence of a new master in the realm of invention, one whose melodies have a sympathetic Bach-like contour, and whose method of development and masterly orchestration is entirely his own. The dialogue quality of his violin concerto gives it kinship with the comprehension of an unusually powerful drama. Nowhere in the programme was the dramatic sense more convincing or absolute than in the Turandot suite, each movement of which is a miniature masterpiece.

  1. In fact, the opera was still unfinished at his death and completed the following year by his pupil Philipp Jarnach; there is an alternative completion by Anthony Beaumont. ↩︎

  2. Szigeti eventually recorded Busoni's concerto in 1954, with the Little Orchestra conducted by Thomas Scherman: this excellent performance continues to circulate, most recently as far as I am aware in a Sony 'Masterworks Portrait' disc coupled with Busoni's Second Violin Sonata. ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, March 1932, p. 496