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From Bach to Busoni: transcription as visionary process in Ferruccio Busoni's Fantasia Contrappuntistica Kingsbury, Brett Alexander

Abstract

This thesis begins with a historical synopsis of the compositional considerations and processes that inspired Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica. A meeting in Chicago with Bernhard Ziehn and Wilhelm Middelschulte provided the impetus for the composition of the Fantasia Contrappuntistica. At this meeting, Busoni was shown Ziehn’s solution to the uncompleted Fuga a 3 Soggetti from Bach’s Art of Fugue, as well as Ziehn’s novel compositional technique employing symmetrical inversion of harmonies. Busoni’s efforts following this meeting resulted in four different forms of the Fantasia Contrappuntistica which were published throughout the course of his career. The second section of the thesis surveys the overall structure of the Fantasia Contrappuntistica with reference to Busoni’s love of architecture and also to the architectural drawings he provided for the structure of the work. The remainder of the thesis explores some of Busoni’s aesthetic principles (as presented in his Entwurf Einer Neuen Asthetik Der Tonkunst) and how they are realised in the Fantasia Contrappuntistica. Transcription is shown to be a broadly-defined process in Busoni’s thought, operating on many different levels in the realisation of musical works in general and of the Fantasia Contrappuntistica in particular. Transcription as a process is discussed largely with reference to Ziehn’s solution for completing Bach’s unfinished work. Ziehn’s concept of symmetrical inversion of harmony is also discussed, with reference to those sections of the Fantasia, such as the Chorale Prelude, Intermezzo, and Variations, in which Busoni is more composer than transcriber. These two compositional ideas, the completion and transcription of Bach’s work and the application of a new compositional technique, are linked in the thesis to the words Fantasia and Contrappuntistica respectively.

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