Arbiter Records 134

Busoni and his Legacy

Piano recordings by Busoni, Ley, Petri

  • Released Apr 1, 2018
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Track List

Advances in restoration technology have exposed for the first time all of the colors, shadings of touch, nuances, and dynamics on Ferruccio Busoni's 1922 recordings. Although recorded into a horn before the advent of the microphone, they resound the studio's Bechstein piano and reveal his sonic projection into the room's space. Egon Petri's performances survive as war trophies and reveal Busonian elements in his own interpretation: Petri was so influenced by his master that he could no longer distinguish between his own ideas and Busoni's, a problem for him but an insider's view for us. Ferruccio Busoni, piano: tracks 1-10;  recorded in London, 1922; Rosamond Ley, piano: tracks 11-12; recorded in London, 1942; Egon Petri, piano, with Hans Rosbaud and the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, tracks 11- 12; recorded in 1936 and 1932. In 2014 this CD was remastered for downloading.

  1. Bach WTC Book I: Prelude & Fugue in C: Prelude
  2. Bach WTC Book I: Prelude & Fugue in C: Fugue
  3. Bach-Busoni Nun freut euch, lieben Christen
  4. Beethoven-Busoni Ecossaises
  5. Chopin Prelude op. 28, no. 7in A
  6. Chopin Etude op. 10, no. 5 in G flat
  7. Chopin Nocturne op. 15, no. 2 in F sharp
  8. Chopin Etude op. 25, no. 5 in E
  9. Chopin Etude op. 10, no. 5 in G flat
  10. Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody no. 13
  11. Liszt Jeux d'eau a la Villa d' Este
  12. Liszt Dante sonata
  13. Liszt Totentanz (opening missing)
  14. Busoni Piano Concerto: IV

Busoni and His Legacy

Virtually all who heard Ferruccio Busoni’s pianism were astounded. Horszowski recalled his shading a Chopin Etude (Op. 25/6) like a rainbow, and how Busoni regrouped the final measures in the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 106, a daring idea of which Horszowski remarked, “I like it but we must defer to Beethoven.” The music he offered went beyond the norms of his time, as Busoni played Bach’s Goldberg Variations (publishing an edition-revision), Alkan, obscure masterpieces by Liszt, Mozart’s concertos, his own music, yet paradoxically he rarely performed piano works composed after Brahms’ death (but did so as a conductor). As an interpreter, Busoni brought an avant-garde approach to earlier repertoire, attacking the conventions of Chopin interpretation. Busoni deconstructed Chopin of any Romantic elements. When Ignace Tiegerman attended a Busoni recital, he could not accept Busoni’s manipulation of Chopin and stormed out of the hall. Liszt’s own pupils turned to Busoni for guidance in Liszt’s late works, considering him their colleague. Towards the end of his life, he favored Mozart and Bach, compositional into a Neo-Classic style.

The half-hour of recordings Busoni left us offer glimpses of a master attempting to reproduce his ideas in an environment hostile to spontaneity and inspiration, yet most of his performances remain an unsurpassed, masterly legacy.

Our restoration of Busoni’s discs through Sonic Depth Technology allows one to hear a Bechstein piano, every pedal nuance, left hand details and his tone’s colors and sonic palette changing for each composer. In the past, acoustic recordings were uncomfortable to listen to, as compression and distortion forced one to mentally reconstruct what was missing while listening. Now it is clear, uncompressed, allowing one to perceive every detail in the playing.
Busoni’s tribulations in making these 1922 recordings may be followed in his correspondence. On February 21, he wrote to his wife: “I wrote a fine letter on Berlioz yesterday to [Ernest] Newman: the previous Sunday he referred to him as an ‘opera-composer manque’! (The French have much on their conscience in this case.) I have to stay here until Monday to unburden myself of this absurd matter of the gramophone!”

As the session neared, he wrote his wife from Manchester: “Tomorrow, Saturday, I arrive in London just in time for Egon’s [Petri] recital, then I have to pack the books because he will take them. Sunday, to prepare the program for the gramophone. Monday – ‘recording’. Following that I’ll catch my breath Tuesday. Wednesday is March 1st.” To his manager John Tillett, Busoni described in English his past experience:

“I received the 25 pounds and I thank you for your kindness. Now, please do not ‘over-read’ the following: of course if the grammophone [sic] people insists on repeating the records, I will have to do it some time, but. . . The one time I did the thing first, I tried my very best [in 1919]; played some of the pieces four times; of some we made two records, on my own suggestion, and alltogether I worked with the best conscience and interest. I do not see the probability that the records should improve by repeating, the new ones may prove just as little ‘satisfactory’ as the original ones. And then? Had we to begin over again a third time?

“The conditions are most unfavorable. The room, the piano, the chair not inviting. I have to start like a race horse and to end before four minutes have elapsed. I have to manage the touch and the pedal differently from how I do it usually. . . What in heavens name, can be the result of it? Not my own playing, take it for granted! Please consider the objections seriously and put them before Mr. Brooks (I think this is the name of the ‘recording engineer’.) It is a good rule of the Englishman ‘not to make a fool of himself.’ I reassure you, that we ‘continentals’ have not less our pride and dignity, although we are considered to be only ‘paid artists’. But I hope you think better of me.”

Two days before the session, Busoni again writes to his manager: “I wished you would read my letters. In the preceding one I took the liberty of writing to you, that I felt
and deprived of music for the Records.
that under these circumstances, the Records would surely prove a repeated failure. Certainly I could not do anything this Monday. Meanwhile have the kindness of communications with Mr. Brooks, and let me know the result of your conversation, based on my objections. If I had not conscience of having tried my very best the first time (with no success) I should not feel so hopeless now. Many thanks. Yours devotedly, F. Busoni.”

A final letter before his session finds Busoni more agitated:
“I am so sorry to worry you again, but really I do not feel like playing for Mr. Brooks on Monday; I am tired and not well, since ten days or more. The new records, under these circumstances, would be a failure again! I have not counted on the possibility of playing for the Columbia when I came to England this time, as I knew that April was the date fixed on the paper for that ordeal. The list of pieces (w[h]ich insists of having repeated literally) is not ready in my mind and in my hands, and I do not have even the Music here, to recollect them. I wished Mr. Brooks would show you that paper; not because I do not trust him, but in view of the human possibility of a mistake of memory; on his side or on mine.”

Both sessions contained works rejected for publication and remain lost: Mozart-Busoni: Andantino (Concerto K. 271); Gounod-Liszt: Faust Waltz; Liszt: Sonetto del Petrarca (in A flat); Liszt: Valse Oubliée no. 1; Paganini-Liszt: Etude no. 5 in E; Weber: Perpetuum Mobile. Tillett wrote Busoni afterwards: “I hope you have recovered from the painful experience of the Columbia recording room . . .”

Made under duress and out of financial need, we have examples of a pianism which is extraordinary, despite unfavorable conditions and compromises. Bach’s first Prelude & Fugue is distinguished by an incomparable polyphonic clarity in the fugue’s voices. The stretto is hard to perceive as his bold projection of all the voices are so perfectly balanced and clearly articulated that they overwhelm one’s ability to grasp its totality. Busoni once sought to record the entire Well Tempered Clavier: he was uniformly refused.

One can understand Tiegerman’s reaction to Busoni’s Chopin: the works are perfunctorily played, demonstrating technique but little interest in the music. Busoni gave more thought to larger works: his pupil Edward Weiss described how Busoni pedaled the ‘chorale’ section of the Third Scherzo (Op. 39) with all three pedals – the damper for shading the descending runs, the una corda to adjust the dynamics, and again with the left foot, the sostenuto for keeping the harmonies in relief against the runs.

The only original compositions recorded by Busoni are an arrangement of Beethoven’s Ecossaise and his transcription of a Bach organ chorale. In addition to a rapid tempo and mixed articulation, the chorale sounds grey, distant, possibly a poor capturing of the instrument: instead Busoni’s tonal shading envelops it in a chiaroscuro fog and follows it with a boldly projected Beethoven.
Liszt’s 13th Rhapsody suggests the uniqueness of Busoni’s art, critiquing the work as he plays it, sensitive to modulations and harmonic balances, Busoni is less inhibited. The tempo of the final section is based on its underlying Gypsy style, its rushed cadential phrases played in the manner of a violinist with cymbalom accompaniment. The result couples its origin, Liszt’s transformation, and Busoni’s perception, a unique hint of his Liszt playing, otherwise entirely lost.

Rumors of a private recording were traced by Dr. Antonio Latanza, director of the Museum of Musical Instruments in Rome:
“About 25 years or so, I heard that Igea Buzzi (friend or pupil of Busoni) possessed a disc privately recorded by Busoni in her home in Turin. According to the information, the disc was said to have been surreptitiously recorded, containing a composition written by the Maestro. Marco Contini of Milan suggested it might have been a 78 rpm disc or wax Edison cylinder. Nevertheless, Contini doubts that it was possible, given the awkward machinery and the noise which it would have produced to have clandestinely recorded him on such equipment. Mrs. Buzzi died without heirs in the 1980s in Turin.”

Egon Petri is recognized as Busoni’s most important pupil, yet felt overshadowed by Busoni’s musical and artistic personality, being at odds to separate his music-making from Busoni’s imprint. The influence Petri received from Busoni may be glimpsed in one comparison, as both recorded the Bach chorale transcription. Petri is nearly as fast yet employs a fuller tone, unlike the submerged remoteness of Busoni’s coloring.

Two rare surviving documents, never before published, represent Petri’s earliest recorded public performances: a nearly-complete Liszt Totentanz and an entire movement from Busoni’s concerto. Both sets of discs were seized by Soviet troops invading Berlin in 1945, taken to Moscow where they remained for decades. The first disc of the Totentanz is missing, part of a radio broadcast on which Petri and Rosbaud also gave the entire Busoni Concerto (this surviving fourth movement comes from an earlier transmission on which Petri and Rosbaud only performed this movement.) A manic boldness inhabits the Totentanz, with gripping effects such as glissandos employing strong crescendos, an abandon resulting from rapid tempos and the peerless artistry of Rosbaud, shaping the brass into an audible Durer etching. While Petri played in Germany as late as 1936, he is seen in an accompanying photo taken the same year in Moscow (with Prokofiev, whose music he performed on occasion). Petri was a resident of Zakopane, Poland until the Blitzkrieg broke out (on a tip from a Dutch diplomat, their family fled on one of the last trains to leave unoccupied Poland).

Petri understates the basic Italian tarantella rhythm in favor of a remarkable virtuosic display. Busoni intended his work to be a modernist evocation of a dance which originated in Southern Italy as an ancient folk cure for tarantula bites in the belief that its rhythm would provoke a spasmodic dance in the victim, effecting a healing. (A fragment from a performance, c.1941, in Washington, D.C. of part of the 3rd and 4th movements finds Petri less involved, of interest for Petri’s sense of proportion.) Rosbaud again emerges as a remarkable architect. In 1954, Francis Poulenc stated: “The taste of music buffs little resembles that of professional musicians. Music buffs believe that the greatest living conductor is Toscanini; musicians know that it is Hans Rosbaud.” One hopes that reports of the 1936 Petri-Rosbaud performance languishing in Moscow will someday prove true. – Allan Evans © 2002.

Best known as the teacher of Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter, Heinrich Neuhaus wrote a memoir-critique of Busoni. Here follows the first English translation of Neuhaus’ article on Busoni, originally published in The Moscow Conservatory’s Centenary (to be included in a collection of Neuhaus’ writings edited by his pupil Valery Voskobojnikov).

Busoni, as is known, received an ideal ‘contrapuntal’ polyphonic instruction from his father. He already knew as an adolescent or youth how to improvise a perfect fugue on a given theme or on one he invented. Afterwards he became a good pianist, well-esteemed, but without much success in public. Goldenweiser and others told me that during his period as a professor in Moscow (1890-91) his interpretations were intelligent, definite, technically perfect, extraordinarily objective (without any hyper-romanticism), but in the sense of sound (as many told me, but does this only concern sound? – it’s a myopic judgement) it was rather monotonous and grey. He didn’t touch the listeners’ deepest heartstrings, as they hadn’t forgotten the overwhelming performances of Anton Rubinstein. (It is interesting to note that a few years later, Hanslick, who heard Busoni for the first time in Vienna, defined him as the only heir to Rubinstein). Afterwards, Busoni not only wore himself out but almost changed direction, choosing Liszt and his works for himself as demiurge, sovereign and master, gradually becoming that incomparable virtuoso-wizard, master of colors and ‘orchestrator’ of the piano, of which I had heard, later becoming history. In this ‘reconstruction’ there is something extremely passionate which captures my deepest devotion, a devotion in front of an intellect, of the will, of the profundity of self-consciousness (here it is, the self-critic, of which we so often speak), not to mention talent, this ‘X’ of strength and overpowering musical mentality. And the tons of technical work, so many man-hours spent at the piano during these years of formation.

The apogee of Busoni’s pianistic activity, evidently, were his six concerts of Liszt’s works, given in Berlin in 1911 on the centenary of the great Hungarian’s birth. Alas! I did not hear them, for that winter after Italy I lived in Elisavetgrad but my acquaintances who heard that feast spoke of its marvels and defined them as a heroic sacrifice – eine Heldentat.

When I heard him for the first time in 1906 and afterwards many other times, my enthusiasm was great, I felt a like pygmy (with my weak virtuosic abilities) compared to him, even if I couldn’t agree (he didn’t convince me) in the interpretation of some works (for example, Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 53 as played by Paderewski left a far deeper impression than Busoni, even if Paderewski played on an awful Kerntopf in Ekaterinoslav while Busoni, in Berlin, had a stupendous Bechstein). I have written enough about Busoni in my 1960 diary but it is not the occasion to cite it here. I will sincerely state (without fear of being seen as shameless) that the strongest impressions of Busoni were in Liszt’s fantasies – the Don Juan, Figaro, Muette de Portici, Norma, Rigoletto, Brahms’ Handel and Paganini Variations, the 24 Etudes of Chopin (but above all the virtuosic side, while many things in the poetic and musical sides seemed doubtful to me), in the grandiose Bach organ transcriptions, Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 106 (!!), in Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes. I was emphatically against his performances of Chopin’s Four Ballades, 24 Preludes, Schumann’s Papillons and Toccata, the Polonaise-Fantasie of Chopin, etc.
(It is very difficult to speak of Busoni with this ‘sincere’ tone; he was too great, this man. Moreover, inside myself, there arose a continuous battle between admiration and devotion towards him with an unsurmountable disagreement, to the point of not accepting some of the sides of his creativity).

More than once while listening to him, there came to mind the severe critique placed on him by Romain Rolland, the great connoisseur [Neuhaus met Rolland when the French writer visited Moscow, playing for him Shostakovich’s recently composed Preludes, Op. 34]; speaking of Beethoven’s Fourth concerto, Rolland writes that the brilliantly virtuosic performance by Busoni had not a trace of primary beauty, shining luminosity, goodness, internal sensitivity and the profundity of this composer (quoting him approximately).

Busoni himself said he was ‘enamored of form’ (in this he was an authentic Italian), but I couldn’t free myself from the impression that he often did not uncover this ‘enamorment of form’, closing himself to the content’s truth. He was truly histrio [histrionic – in ancient Rome and during the Middle Ages, it was used to define musicians, jesters, singers, acrobats, animal tamers, etc.], he represented and depicted music in a totally individualistic manner, almost narcissistic; he was not always granted the possibility of arriving at the final stage of thought and sentiment, or to the ultimate penetration possible of truth in music and its creators (in effect it is an ethical problem, clear to me, but I cannot go deeply into it now, even if I were to wish so).

Busoni rightfully inherited some of Liszt’s character traits in being not too simpatico to certain persons (to those I would say of the Schumann-Brahms type mentality), traits developed following his enormous power over men, traits of a prophet-histrionic (I recall again that excellent expression of V. Soloviov: to show oneself in front of others!), along with the magical virtuosity of Liszt, all of which evolved him, bringing him to the maximum limits.

In communicating with people (according to the testimony of those who knew him), ‘before the people’, when all involuntarily turned their gazes towards him, Busoni was the man-actor par excellence, possibly more than Liszt.

Certainly, both were simple persons, modest, natural, for when they met persons on par with them (or in ‘working circumstances’, for example when working with young people) they were faithful in a moving way, ready to sacrifice when meeting a person beloved by those for whom they bore limitless devotion. The relationship between Liszt and Wagner is a shining example, an immortal monument to friendship in which, one must be frank, all our purely human sentiments and sympathies lie with Liszt. (One who can cross the span of human sentiments will understand that he hasn’t the right to condemn even Wagner: both friends behaved themselves according the laws of their natures and destinies). From Busoni’s life we also note similar examples of loyalty, esteem, and devotion.

A young pianist will certainly be interested in how Busoni worked. I haven’t detailed information, nor the pleasure to have been his waiter or cook with intimate knowledge of this great pianist, who probably could have been able to satisfy the curious. I hadn’t known his wife either, an exceptional woman and Busoni’s best friend. But I read his Briefe an seine Frau (Letters to his Wife) and advise all to read this splendid document on Busoni’s life and times.

Some observations by his pupils M[ichael] Zadora, E[duard] Steuermann and Egon Petri have remained with me. They related that on occasion, Busoni devoted many consecutive hours to a specific technical problem, trills, double notes, octaves, etc. He never played exercises, but excerpts from works, the so-called difficult passages. All know the difficult trills found in Beethoven and the types of complex octaves in Liszt (rarely in Chopin, but how valuable is his Etude in B minor from Op. 25!) and in successive composers (even in Beethoven one can find octaves ‘worthy of attention’, for example in the Fifth Concerto, the Sonata op. 106, etc.). Busoni gathered all these examples of a specific technical problem encountered in the piano’s literature, sometimes spending an entire day on one.

These accounts of Busoni’s pupils coincide with what he unequivocally stated in his revision of the first book of the Well Tempered Clavier (the division of piano music into formally technical principals, that which I term ‘elements’ or ‘preparatory phases’). This division is old and noted by all, spoken of in detail by Adolph Kullak in his Aesthetik des Klavierspiels (I’ve never been able to read it to the end); Isidor Phillip formed his method along these lines, which I in my youth thoroughly studied and ‘practiced’. I think that there has yet to be a reasonable school able to evade this separation of technique from the totality, the practice of a safe analysis of the phenomenon. The ancient Latin saying ‘divide et impera’ obtained also in our own work confirms it. Busoni’s idea is not new, but is new in his realization. I repeat, in his Bach edition and also in various articles (see Von der Einheit der Musik) he created a catechism on contemporary virtuosic technique, which every dedicated pianist ought to study.

Goldenweiser once heard him one morning in a hotel (eavesdropping behind the door) as Busoni prepared for his evening recital. He meticulously played over the program in a slower tempo without any expression (without any music!), coldly, without passion, ‘without soul’, not letting out any passion for even a minute, controlling only the absolute precision of the physical task. Eduard Steuermann (who afterwards became a pupil and primary interpreter of Schönberg) happened to hear from a nearby room how Busoni was practicing for a concert to be given some days later, relating the same experience as Goldenweiser, yet adding how he varied the playing, at times underlining a specific passage, even a fragment of a phrase, a separate sound, several times, lightly changing the shadings, listening to and searching for what came out best. In the technical sense, everything was impeccably ‘ready’, everything ‘went’, using students’ terminology. Nearly all was played with a restrained, scaled-down sound, fortissimo passages were taken in mezzo forte. Only rarely, as if it were just for practicing, did he repeat a passage with full force and in tempo before reverting to his earlier cautious way. This is all quite normal and reminds one a great deal of Carl Tausig’s method.

One certainly shouldn’t think that Busoni, Tausig, or any other great pianist might have studied and prepared themselves in this way. This method is appropriate for works that are ready, played over many times, controlled and elaborated on to the utmost, needing final verification. I would have defined this type of work as a struggle with the unknown ‘X’, with dangerous fleeting falterings, variations of the physical and psychic states, and all that can suddenly occur to the interpreter on stage, as a concert performance, more than any other type of artistic activity, is subject to the powers of the moment and therefore requires more responsibility and is more ‘dangerous’. Several great pianists have told me that they were able to truly play a work well only the second time – the first time they ‘couldn’t do it.’

I will conclude my critical reflections (but also those apologetic ones which are not few) on Busoni with a rather banal declaration (but which requires an explanation and some comments): I cannot call him a genius in the full sense of the word because he lacked the sufficient immediacy (one felt too much a will, intention, preconceptions of a high intellect, an attitude towards music) unlike the immediacy of Mozart-Schubert-Glinka, who never cease to occupy our imaginations and will be the eternal measure for superior artistic gifts, for human genius.

Busoni was a great man (ein Geist, spirit, intellect: these words speak much to Germans), a genius virtuoso. The fullness of his erudition, intellect, the height of his culture, refined talent, extreme intellect as composer, all that remains will never be forgotten. To analyze him solely from the viewpoint of his pianism, even if epochal, would be ridiculous, as it would be even more ridiculous to consider Liszt, Rachmaninoff, even Anton Rubinstein in this way. I remember another side: one can deeply know Busoni the man-musician-pianist (now, when one cannot see nor hear him in life) only after having read and analyzed his book Uber die Einheit der Musik (a collection of articles – profound and significant, others – light, sarcastic, playful, all united in formal literary perfection, ‘style’), and furthermore (not to be missed!) his Letters to his Wife – not merely letters, but an authentic diary, a precious biographical document which opens the eyes to some secrets of this unrepeatible life, inaccessible to the superficial and indifferent observer to whom Busoni was only ‘one of the celebrated pianists at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century’ (as is usually written in encyclopedias).

These letter-diaries of Busoni have struck me even deeper, the tragedy of the contemporary musician-composer-thinker more than that of the pianist who gave thousands of concerts which at times weighed on him heavily (not the concerts in which he attained the highest satisfaction, but the complex regimen of the life of a pianist), clearly aware of the harm it had brought him, those which were better, living intimately within, – this tragedy, impressed on him with such simplicity, lacking artificiality (without any ‘tragedy’) on the numerous pages of his letters, is able to move even a reader made of stone and arouse in him a mixed feeling of admiration and compassion, which often are born from meeting a truly great man and contemplating his life’s path and destiny.
– Heinrich Neuhaus


It was in 1908 that Rosamond Ley met Ferruccio Busoni, whose music and cause she championed for the rest of her life. She did Busoni’s memory a service by translating his letters to his wife Gerda; these were published in 1938 as well as The Essence of Music and other papers in 1957. Born on 21st June 1882, Ley was given a scholarship to the Wimbledon School of Music in 1895 where she studied under John Hart Gordon. At the Royal Academy of Music in London she was taught by the famous pedagogue Oscar Beringer, distinguishing herself by gaining many awards and honours, including the Bronze Medal in 1899, the Fine Arts Society’s Silver Medal in 1901, the Walter Macfarren Gold Medal, the Sterndale Bennett Prize (‘a purse of ten guineas’) and the Louisa Hopkins Memorial prize. She also was the holder of the Thalberg scholarship founded upon the memory of the well known pianistic rival of Liszt.

Her London debut at the Wigmore (then Bechstein) Hall on 7th February 1905 received very favourable notices. The Telegraph noted “In the evening the platform was occupied by Miss Rosamond Ley, a young pianist who has studied to good purpose with Mr. Oscar Beringer. Her performance of the opening movement of Schumann’s Sonata in G minor showed that she had at command plenty of fluency and strength, and her interpretation of the work was marked at all points by intelligence and sound judgement. Afterwards, Miss Ley added to favourable opinions by her able treatment of a Chopin selection, the pieces presented being the poetical Ballade in F minor, the Impromptu in F sharp, and Polonaise in C minor – both of which were attacked with the needful boldness and decision – and the Barcarolle, which was very tastefully interpreted. The promising pianist also played Brahms’ delicate Intermezzo from Op.118, a showy piece by Schutt introducing some of Johann Strauss’ waltzes, and some solos by Liszt [Chant Polonaise and Rhapsody No.6]. She was heartily applauded by a large and well pleased audience.”

She briefly studied piano with Busoni in 1908 and in that same year gave two more recitals at the Wigmore Hall. A review of the first recital in February comments at length on her “frequent lapses of memory” whilst the programme of the second recital in December shows the influence of Busoni in its unusual repertoire. Although she did not perform any of his works, the programme included two pieces by Sigurd Lie, Smetana’s Am Seegestade and Glazunov’s Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 74. “It seems a pity that a programme which was unconventional and gave the impression of being the result of an individual taste should end with the empty effusions of Liszt with which every thoughtless pianist takes leave of an audience.”

A recital at Aeolian Hall on 2nd May 1911 did include works of Busoni. Two arrangements of Bach, the Chorale Prelude Ich ruf’ zu Dir and the Toccata and Fugue in D minor were followed by the London premiere of a Fantasia, a Sonatina (not specified), All’ Italia and the Beethoven-Busoni Ecossaises. The second half consisted of two large works – Liszt’s Variations on Weinen, Klagen and Chopin’s Sonata in B flat minor. Reviews were mixed, but concerning the Busoni items the Sunday Times noted “The latter included a new Sonatina, ultra-modern in character, and by no means grateful to the ear, but a plagu[e]y thing for the player. Miss Ley has, however, the advanced technique and brilliant style that this and the other Busoni numbers demanded, and her vigorous, confident handling of them evoked warm admiration.”

After the war, on 13th February 1919 another Wigmore Hall concert included Medtner’s Sonata, Op. 22 and In Turandot’s Harem, an intermezzo by Busoni. Further recitals in November 1920 and April 1925 received only passing mention and one would imagine that Ley was not really happy playing in public and decided to spend her time teaching and writing, translating memoirs by Schubert’s friends in 1958.

Ley was also a close friend of Egon Petri who, in 1935 from Zakopane in Poland sent her this glowing reference. “It gives me great pleasure to recommend Miss Rosamond Ley most warmly as a solo pianist, accompanist and teacher. She has been studying with me for many years and has not only taken private lessons but has been following the development of my playing and teaching continually, having been present at many of my concerts, master-courses, classes and lectures. We have repeatedly and at length discussed all the various problems of pianoforte technique until I found her such a perfect exponent of my views and methods that I have frequently entrusted her with the preliminary work of preparing my pupils for me as well teaching advanced students in my absence, always with the most satisfactory and in some cases even surprising results. She is an excellent musician, a proficient pianist, cultured, intelligent and wonderfully human and patient. I can completely and sincerely vouch for her ability to train and coach piano students and singers of all grades. She is eminently fitted to fill a responsible post at an important school of music, possessing all the necessary qualities needed for such work.”

Ley was responsible for presenting two concert performances of Busoni’s Doktor Faust in England, one before the war, the other at the Royal Festival Hall on 13th November 1959 with Fischer-Dieskau as Faust and Sir Adrian Boult conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. She died on 9th April 1969.

In Oscar Beringer’s book Fifty years’ experience of Pianoforte teaching and playing which was published in 1907, he lists what he calls a talented band of younger artists who are now rapidly forcing their way to the front. Such are Adela Verne, Irene Scharrer, Winifred Christie, Marguerite Elzy, Rosamond Ley, Margaret Bennett, Vera Margolies, Arthur Newstead, Marmaduke Barton, York Bowen, Percy Grainger, Felix Swinstead, Meyrick, and Herbert Fryer.

While some of the names are familiar it should be remembered that Ley is now known only for her publications because she made no commercial recordings. It is possible that she was dissuaded by Busoni who famously hated recording. It is therefore fortunate that Ley recorded three works in private recording studios in London during the Second World War. In October 1942 she recorded Les Jeux d’eau of Liszt at Levy’s Sound Studios and in December went to Star Sound Studios to record Liszt’s Dante Sonata. In April 1943 she returned to Star Sound Studios and recorded Busoni’s completion of Liszt’s Fantasie on Mozart’s Don Giovanni. This last recording is a rather cautious performance and a retake of one of the sides had to be made. The Dante Sonata is altogether different; it begins a little tentatively, but gradually gains momentum so that by the final few pages Ley produces some extremely fine and exciting playing in which can be detected the school of pianism of Busoni and Petri. – Jonathan Summers ©2002.