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The Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 39 (BV 247), by Ferruccio Busoni, is one of the largest works ever written in this particular genre. The concerto (which lasts around 70 minutes) is in five movements, the last of which also utilizes a male chorus singing words from the final scene of the verse drama Aladdin by Adam Oehlenschläger.

The inclusion of a chorus in a piano concerto was unusual, although Daniel Steibelt's Piano Concerto No. 8 (1st perf. March 16, 1820, in Saint Petersburgmarker) and the Piano Concerto No. 6, Op. 192 (1858) by Henri Herz both have a choral finale. The Choral Fantasy Op. 80 by Beethoven also includes a piano part.

The first performance of the concerto took place in the Beethoven-Saal, Berlinmarker, Germanymarker on November 10, 1904 at one of Busoni's own concerts of modern music. Busoni was the soloist, with Karl Muck conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Choir of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Churchmarker (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche). The reviews were decidedly mixed, some being filled with outright hostility or derision. The century following its premiere has seen relatively few performances, owing to the large orchestration, complex musical texture, the use of a male chorus, and the staggering demands put on the soloist.

Notable performers of the concerto have included Egon Petri (a student of Busoni's), John Ogdon, Garrick Ohlsson and Marc-André Hamelin. Other performances by Kun-Woo Paik, Randall Hodgkinson, Martin Jones, and Janos Solyom have also received some notice in the past few years.


The concerto is scored for a large orchestra. (For the instrumentation in Italian see below.)

1 Piccolo (4th movement only)
3 Flutes (3rd doubling piccolo in 2nd and 4th movements)
3 Oboes (3rd doubling cor anglais in 2nd, 3rd and 5th movements)
3 Clarinets (3rd doubling bass clarinet in 2nd and 3rd movements)
3 Bassoons

4 Horns
3 Trumpets
3 Trombones
1 Tuba

3 Timpani
3 additional percussion players:
:Glockenspiel (4th and 5th movements)
:Triangle (2nd, 4th and 5th movemens)
:Tambourine (2nd and 4th movements)
:Military drum (4th movement only)
:Bass Drum (2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th movements)
:Cymbals (2nd, 4th and 5th movements)
:Tam-tam (3rd movement only)

Piano solo

Male Chorus (5th movement only; invisible)
8 Tenors I
8 Tenors II
8 Baritones I
8 Baritones II
8 Bass I
8 Basses II

12 Violins I
10 Violins II
8 Violas
8 Violoncellos
6 Double basses (4-string)
2 Double basses (5-string)


Although the five movements are marked separately in the score, Busoni stated that the concerto should be played as a continuous whole, without breaks.
I. Prologo e Introito: Allegro, dolce e solenne
II. Pezzo giocoso
III. Pezzo serioso:
:Introductio: Andante sostenuto
:Prima pars: Andante, quasi adagio
:Altera pars: Sommessamente
:Ultima pars: a tempo
IV. All'Italiana: Tarantella: Vivace; In un tempo
V. Cantico: Largamente (with chorus)

The first movement, marked "Prologo e introito" is a little over fifteen minutes long on average, and is a broad Allegro movement which features a clangorous piano part.

The second movement, a kind of Scherzo, is mostly a light-fingered affair for the piano that makes use of "Italianate" rhythms and melodic material, even if the melodies are more evocative of Italian popular music than actual quotations from indigenous Italian folk music.

The third and longest movement is the "Pezzo serioso", a massive meditation and exploration in four parts in the key of D flat major which has a central climax that is once again pianistically challenging and brilliantly scored for both the piano and the orchestra.

The fourth movement "All' Italiana", is perhaps the most variegated in its use of the orchestra, with a terrifically virtuosic piano part, arguably more difficult than anything that has come before it in the work. There are also two cadenzas to this movement - one, included in the printed score; the other, an insert in the two-piano score that is an amplification of the one printed in the two-piano edition.

The final movement, "Cantico" with male chorus, brings full circle many themes that have been heard earlier in the work. The words sung by the chorus are from the final scene of Oehlenschläger's verse drama Aladdin.

Busoni and Aladdin

Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger
as a young man
Oehlenschläger's verse drama Aladdin, or the Magic Lamp was first published in Danish in 1805. Afterward, in 1806, Oehlenschläger spent several months in Weimarmarker with Goethe, who was in the process of completing the final version of Part I of Faust. Subsequently Oehlenschläger decided to prepare a German edition of Aladdin, translating and revising the work himself and adding an explanatory introduction for his intended German readers. This edition was published in 1808 in Amsterdam. The new version included a special dedicatory poem To Goethe and was split into two parts, intended to be given on two successive evenings. More especially, this version had a new finale differing considerably from the original Danish edition by having various magical scenic transformations.

Busoni was quite taken with this early German version of Aladdin and planned to adapt it as a one-evening work. In a letter to his wife, dated London, February 10, 1902, Busoni wrote:
I have thought it out and decided not to use Oehlenschläger's Aladdin for an opera, but to write a composition in which drama music, dancing and magic are combined – cut down for one evening's performance if possible. It is my old idea of a play with music where it is necessary, without hampering the dialogue. As a spectacle and as a deep symbolic work it might be something similar to the Magic Flute; at the same time it would have a better meaning and an indestructible subject. Besides this, I have planned 6 works for the summer, the principal one being the pianoforte Concerto. How beautiful!

However, Busoni never completed his adaptation of Aladdin, although he did compose music for the final chorus in the magic cave; this soon made its way into the Piano Concerto. As Busoni's biographer Edward J. Dent remarks:
One may indeed wonder why an essentially Italian work should end with verses in praise of Allah. The plain fact was that Busoni at the moment happened to be interested in Aladdin and had set the final chorus to music. When he planned the Concerto he saw that this chorus, which has something of the mystical character of the concluding stanzas of Geothe's Faust, was exactly the music to give the general sense of serenity that he required for his own finale. It was from the original Aladdin chorus that he took the theme which occurs in the first movement; when he came to write out the last movement he felt that he missed the words, and therefore directed that a chorus of men's voices should sing them.

Hebt zu der ewigen Kraft eure Herzen;
Fühlet euch Allah nah', schaut seine Tat!
Wechseln im Erdenlicht Freuden und Schmerzen;
Ruhig hier stehen die Pfeiler der Welt.
Tausend und Tausend und abermals tausende
Jahre so ruhig wie jetzt in der Kraft,
Blitzen gediegen mit Glanz und mit Festigkeit,
Die Unverwüstlichkeit stellen sie dar.

Herzen erglüheten, Herzen erkalteten,
Spielend umwechselten Leben und Tod.
Aber in ruhigen Harren sie dehnten sich
Herrlich, kräftiglich, früh so wie spät.
Hebt zu der ewigen Kraft eure Herzen
Fühlet euch Allah nah', schaut seine Tat!
Vollends belebet ist jetzo die tote Welt.
Preisend die Göttlichkeit, schweigt das Gedicht!

Lift up your hearts to the power eternal,
Feel Allah's presence, behold all his works!
Joy and pain interweave in the light of the world;
The world's (mighty) pillars stand peacefully here.
Thousands and thousands and once again thousands
Of years - serene in their power as now -
Flash by purely with radiance and strength,
They display the Indestructible.

Hearts glowed (so brightly), hearts became colder.
Playfully interchanged Life and Death.
But in a peaceful awaiting they stretch out,
Glorious, powerfully, early and late.
Lift up your hearts to the power eternal,
Feel Allah's presence, behold all his works!
The inanimate world is now consummately animate.
In praise of Divinity, the poem falls quiet!

The words appear at the very end of the final scene of Aladdin, sung by a distant Chorus; Busoni follows the text exactly, only omitting a few verses which were not appropriate. As Oehlenschläger stated in his introduction to the 1808 version of Aladdin, he was not a native speaker of German; he admitted to incorporating various Danish modes of expression (Danismen) into his translation. This may go some way towards explaining the somewhat obscure - if exalted - nature of the words that Busoni uses.

Oehlenschläger's "unidiomatic and erroneous" use of German had hindered the play's success. In preparing a later German edition (1820 at the latest), he made a large number of changes and minor improvements, also correcting his imperfect German: but he dropped the magical 1808 ending, reverting to the original Danish 1805 finale. The first complete English translation, by Theodore Martin, published in 1863, is also based on a later edition, thus the first editions in German are the only ones to incorporate the words which Busoni uses.

According to Dent:
"The actual meaning of the words hardly matters.
The chorus is directed to be invisible; it sings in plain chords, like a body of soft trombones added to the orchestra.
The effect which Busoni desired was stated by him once in a letter to a friend who had mistakenly suggested to him that it might be better to re-write the chorus for mixed voices; he replied that he had no desire to convert his Concerto into an oratorio; he insisted that the chorus should be invisible, and said that its function was 'to add a new register to the sonorities which precede it'."

Dent's assertion that "The actual meaning of the words hardly matters" should be balanced against Aladdin's subsequent speech (not set by Busoni in the concerto) as he looks around the magic cave for the last time:

Hier ging ich als ein Knabe, da mir noch
Selbst von den Innern nur die Außenseite
Ins Auge fiel. Ein guter Geist beglückte
Mein Leben, schenkte mir ein starkes Mittel,
Um mich durch diese Endlichkeit zu kämpfen
Zum ew'gen Gipfel. Ha, da steh' ich nun!
Wohlan, so will ich auf die Ewigkeit
Auch ferner einzig und allein vertrauen.

I came here as a boy, when as yet
Only the exterior of my inward being
Caught my eye. A good spirit charmed
My life, bestowed upon me a powerful means
By which to struggle through this finitude
Towards the eternal peak. Ha, there I stand now!
Well then, in Eternity I will furthermore
Exclusively and solely place my trust.

Problems of performance

Ferruccio Busoni at the piano.
Apart from the immense demands required of the soloist and the large forces needed, there is a further difficulty that can affect performances of this work: the role of the soloist.

As Busoni himself wrote, piano concertos tended to be modelled after either Mozart or Beethoven. In Mozart's case, the concerto centres around the spotlit virtuoso composer-performer, who appears to spontaneously create the work before us, on-stage. The orchestra mostly provides a background accompaniment. But with Beethoven, the work is conceived in symphonic terms; the piano takes the secondary role, reflecting on or responding to ideas that have already been introduced by the orchestra.

Busoni combined both these precedents in the Piano Concerto, Op. 39, creating a huge work of symphonic proportions which was originally accused of having only a piano obbligato. The work presents exceptional challenges for the soloist, who is often nevertheless required to incorporate a glittering cascade of notes into the overall orchestral sound. This self-abasement of the familiar 19th-century heroic soloist's role thus requires careful consideration of balance in performance. But as Dent comments:

Despite the incredible difficulty of the solo part, Busoni's concerto at no point offers a display of virtuosity.
Even its cadenzas are subsidiary episodes.
At the same time the pianoforte hardly ever presents a single theme in its most immediate and commanding shape.
It is nearly always the orchestra which seems to be possessed of the composer's most prophetic inspiration.
Busoni sits at the pianoforte, listens, comments, decorates, and dreams.


Recording Date Pianist Conductor Orchestra Label & Cat. No.
January 1948 Noel Mewton-Wood Sir Thomas Beecham BBC Symphony Orchestra Somm-Beecham 15
January 15-16, 1956 Gunnar Johansen Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt NDR Symphony Orchestra Music & Arts CD-1163
1967 John Ogdon Daniell Revenaugh Royal Philharmonic Orchestra EMI Classics 94637246726
February 28, 1985 Boris Bloch Christoph Eschenbach Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra Aperto APO 86106
October 1986 Volker Banfield Lutz Herbig Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra CPO 999 017-2
August 5, 1988 Peter Donohoe Mark Elder BBC Symphony Orchestra EMI CDC 7 49996 2
February 1989 Viktoria Postnikova Gennadi Rozhdestvensky Orchestre National de France Apex 2564 64390-2
February 4, 1989 Garrick Ohlsson Christoph von Dohnányi The Cleveland Orchestra Telarc 80207
September 1989 Giovanni Battel Silvano Frontalini Warmia National Orchestra Bongiovanni GB5509/10-2
February 8-13, 1990 David Lively Michael Gielen Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra Koch International CD 311 160 H1
May 1990 François-Joël Thiollier Michael Schønwandt Nicemarker Philharmonic Orchestra Kontrapunkt 32057
June 20-21, 1999 Marc André Hamelin Mark Elder The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Hyperion CDA67143
February 19, 2008 Pietro Massa Stefan Malzew Neubrandenburgmarker Philharmonic GENUIN 88122

Noncommercial recordings: A performance of the concerto by Pietro Scarpini with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus was broadcast on New York's WQXRmarker on July 10, 1966. They had previously performed the concerto in Carnegie Hallmarker, New York, on February 7, 1966.

The amateur pianist, industrialist, and philanthropist Sir Ernest Hall (a contemporary of John Ogdon at the Royal Manchester College of Musicmarker) performed the concerto in 2000 with the Sheffield Symphony Orchestra and the Halifax Choral Society conducted by John Longstaff. A recording is available through the SSO website [399951] Accessed 11 September 2009.

Video recording with fourth movement: It's All About the Music (Hyperion DVDA68000) is a video documentary about the pianist Marc André Hamelin. The bonus features include a performance of the fourth movement ("All' Italiana: Tarantella") with Osmo Vänskä conducting the Lahtimarker Symphony Orchestra, which was originally telecast on March 31, 2001 on the Finnish commercial television station MTV3.

Manuscript and publication details


Title: Concerto per un Pianoforte obligato principale e diversi strumenti, ad arco a fiato ed a percussione; aggiuntovi un Coro finale per voci d'uomini a 4 parti. Le parole alemanne del poeta Oehlenschlaeger, danese. la Musica di Ferruccio Busoni, da Empoli.
[Concerto for obbligato principal piano and diverse bowed, wind, and percussion instruments; additional final chorus for men's voices in 4 parts. The German words by the poet Oehlenschläger, Dane. Music by Ferruccio Busoni, from Empolimarker.]
Description: 48 loose sheets, partly written on one side, and partly on two; partly folio, partly not.
Note: Also contains material relating to the ending without chorus (BV 247a).

  • Busoni Archive No. 232 (sketch)
Title 1: Busoni Concerto
Title 2: Concerto per un Pianoforte principale e diversi Strumenti, ad arco, a fiato ed a percussione; aggiuntovi un Coro finale per voci d'uomini a quattro parti. Le parole alemanne del poeta Oehlenschlaeger, danese; la Musica di Ferruccio Busoni, da Empoli. (Secondo abbozzo, in esteso.)
[Concerto for principal piano and diverse bowed, wind, and percussion instruments; additional final Chorus for men's voices in four parts. The German words by the poet Oehlenschläger, Dane; Music by Ferruccio Busoni, from Empoli. (Second full sketch.)]
Date: 18. Agosto 1903. (at the end of the composition)
Description: 2 title sheets; 81 leaves, written on both sides, numbered by Busoni from 1 to 41, on every second leaf (recto), corresponding to the number of quires.
Note: The sketches comprise partly piano extracts, partly short score (particell).

  • Busoni Archive No. 233 (score)
Title: Conzert für Klavier u. Orch. Op. 39
On the edge: Partyt. Ms. Autogr. Busoni-Nachlaß Nr 233
Note: Lost in 1945. Now at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow.

  • Score (Partitur)
Title: Concerto per un Pianoforte principale e diversi strumenti ad arco a fiato ed a percussione. Aggiuntovi un Coro finale per voci d'uomini a sei parti. Le parole alemanne del poeta Oehlenschlaeger danese. La Musica di Ferruccio Busoni da Empoli Anno MCMIV. opera XXXIX
[Concerto for principal piano and diverse bowed, wind, and percussion instruments. Additional final Chorus for men's voices in six parts. The German words by the Danish poet Oehlenschläger. Music by Ferruccio Busoni from Empoli in the year 1904. opus XXXIX.]

Date: Finis. il 3.d'Agosto 1904. (at the end of the composition)

Instrumentation: Un pianoforte principale, 2 Flauti piccoli, 3 Flauti, 3 Oboi, 1 Corno inglese, 3 Clarinetti, 1 Clarinetto basso, 3 Fagotti, 4 Corni, 3 Trombe, 3 Tromboni, 1 Tuba, 3 Timpani, Tamburo militare, Gran Cassa, Tamburino, Triangolo, Piatti, un giuoco di Campanelli a tastiera (Glockenspiel), un Gong chinese (Tamtam), 12 Violini primi, 10 Violini secondo, 8 Viole, 8 Violoncelli, 6 Contrabassi a 4 Corde, 2 Contrabassi che discendono al Do di 16 piedi, un Coro di voci d'uomini composto di 48 cantori.

Published: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1906, cat. no. Part B. 1949; (328 pages); cat. no. Ch. B. 1844; (men's chorus)

  • Arrangement for 2 pianos; revised extended cadenza
Published: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1909. EB 2861, ed. Egon Petri; score (178 pages); extended cadenza rev. by Busoni, 1909 (5 pages).

Downloadable scores

  • The score of the two-piano reduction by Egon Petri is available as a downloadable PDF file:
  • The study score and the score for Busoni's revised, extended cadenza for the 4th movement are available at IMSLP


  1. Schonberg, p. 68
  2. Henri Herz: List of works at In French. Accessed 8 September 2009.
  3. Beaumont , p. 61.
  4. Dent, p.135
  5. Busoni , pp. 1, 65, 106, 187, 286, 294.
  6. Kindermann, p. 225.
  7. Roberge, p. 32
  8. The three additional percussion players are required simultaneously in the "All' Italiana" (4th) movement at the point in the score marked "Tumultuoso." Busoni , p. 222.
  9. Capable of descending to "16-foot" C, the C three octaves below middle C (Kindermann, p. 225). See also Double basses#Tuning.
  10. Dent , p.142
  11. Oehlenschläger
  12. Oehlenschläger
  13. Beaumont , p. 62.
  14. Ley, p. 54.
  15. In a letter to Egon Petri (dated Amsterdam, October 6, 1906) Busoni mentions having completed the text for the first act of his stage adaptation of Oehlenschläger's play Aladdin. The complete text remains unpublished. Beaumont , pp. 79-80.
  16. Dent, p. 148.
  17. Oehlenschläger , pp. 560-564
  18. The English translation of the Oehlenschläger text was aided by reference to Betteridge, The New Cassell's German Dictionary.
  19. Compare Oehlenschläger , pp. 560-561 and 564 to Busoni , pp. 294-324.
  20. Oehlenschläger , pp. 21-23.
  21. Oehlenschläger
  22. Oehlenschläger
  23. "Il Coro nel Concerto dovrebbe del resto rimanere invisible, ed aggiungere un nuovo registro alle sonorità che lo precedono." Dent, pp. 148-149.
  24. Oehlenschläger , p. 562
  25. Dent, p. 143
  26. Dent, pp. 143-4
  27. Dent, p. 145
  28. "This Week's Radio Broadcasts," New York Times, July 10, 1966. Accessed 10 September 2009. Registration and purchase required.
  29. Harold C. Schonberg, "Music: Busoni Revisited. Giant Concerto Played by the Clevelanders," New York Times, February 8, 1966. Accessed 10 September 2009. Registration and purchase required.
  30. Sitsky, 2008, p. 373.
  31. Sitsky, 2008, p. 383.


Beaumont, Antony (1985). Busoni the Composer. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0571131492
Beaumont, Antony, ed. (1987). Busoni: Selected Letters. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231064608
Betteridge, Harold T. (1958). The New Cassell's German Dictionary. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co.
Busoni, Ferruccio (ca. 1950). Concerto für Klavier und Orchester mit Männerchor. Study Score, cat. no. PB 5104 (reissue of the original 1906 score). Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel. See this work page of the International Music Score Library Project. Accessed 3 September 2009.
Dent, Edward J. (1933). Ferruccio Busoni: A Biography, London: Oxford University Press. (Reprint: London: Ernst Eulenburg, 1974) ISBN 0903873028
Kindermann, Jürgen (1980). Thematisch-chronologisches Verzeichnis der Werke von Ferruccio B. Busoni. Studien zur Musikgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, vol. 19. Regensburg: Gustav Bosse Verlag. ISBN 3764920335
Ley, Rosamond, translator (1938). Ferruccio Busoni: Letters to His Wife, London: Edward Arnold & Co.
Oehlenschläger, Adam Gottlob (1805). Aladdin, eller Den forunderlige Lampe. Et Lystspil (in Poetiske Skrifter, Vol. II). Copenhagen: J.H Schubothe. Facsimile pages Accessed 5 September 2009 ; Online text Accessed 5 September 2009
Oehlenschläger, Adam Gottlob (1808). Aladdin oder die Wunderlampe. Dramatisches Gedicht in zwei Spielen. Amsterdam: Kunst und Industrie-Comptoir. Google Books full preview Accessed 3 September 2009.
Oehlenschläger, Adam Gottlob (1820). Aladdin, oder: die Wunderlampe. Ein dramatisches Gedicht. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus. Google Books Part 1; Part 2. Accessed 3 September 2009.
Oehlenschläger, Adam Gottlob (1863), tr. Theodore Martin. Aladdin; or, The Wonderful Lamp. A dramatic poem – in two parts. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons. Google Books full preview Accessed 3 September 2009.
Roberge, Marc-André (1991). Ferruccio Busoni: a bio-bibliography. New York: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313255873
Schonberg, Harold. C. (1963). The Great Pianists. New York: Simon and Schuster. (1987 edition: ISBN 0671638378)
Sitsky, Larry (2008). Busoni and the Piano. The Works, the Writings, and the Recordings. (2nd ed.) Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press. ISBN 9781576471586| [First edition, Westport: Greenwood Press,1986. ISBN 0313236712]

External links

  • Roberge, Marc-André (1981). "Le Concerto pour piano, orchestre et chœur d’hommes, op. 39 (1904), de Ferruccio Busoni: étude historique et analytique" (M.A. thesis, McGill University, 1981), ix, 254 pp.; Microcard copy available at the National Library of Canada . Accessed 3 November 2009.

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