Music Home BWV.552 Korean

Johann Sebastian Bach's work
transcripted by Ferruccio Busoni

   1. On Busoni's transciptions for piano

[ Left photo ] Busoni(Photo from Hyperion CDA 66566)

   Ferruccio Dante Michelangiolo Benvenuto Busoni(1866~1924) was famous pianist and composer in his comtemporary. He published Bach's works by his transcription at Breitkopf und Härtel from 1888(at 22 years old) to 1920 for more than 30 years, which was task of his total life.
   He transcribed Bach's spirit to piano. If we judge him now, it's obvious that he reflected the romantic years when he had lived. But pianists have to watch how he traslated idioms of cembalo, organ, and even violin to piano. I think his translation of Chaconne(BWV.1004-5) and organ works have to be noticable. The former explicited Bach's various polyphonic lines, so Hugo Leichtentritt(famous musicologist and his first biographer) even said "It's easier to analyse this work with Busoni's transcription". And the latter used pedal very audaciously and delicately, which are indispensable to playing organ works by piano. Busoni said ;

...not believe in the legendary tradition, that Bach must be played without the pedal. While the pedal is sometimes necessary in Bach's piano works, it is absolutely essential in transcribed organ pieces... Consider, that the mixtures opened with the full organ contain the 5th and octave, or even the 3rd and 7th, of every tone struck. An approximate imitation of these tone-blendings can be obtained, on the piano, only by using the pedal. [In an appendix to Volume I of his performing edition of the Well-Tempered Clavier, 'On the Transcription of Bach's Organ Works for Pianoforte'(New York, Jan. 1894, G.Schirmer edition)]

   2. Busoni's pedaling in organ transciptions

   Busoni used piano's all three pedals freely in this transcriptions. He said "Real organ-effects can be obtained only by the combined action of the three pedals."

   In the organ pedal notes, he uses the sostenuto pedal(middle pedal of Grand piano) of Steinway. Left score is from Prelude and Fugue in D major BWV.532, in which he shows how to use the sostenuto pedal for imitation of organ's foot keyboard. Of course, this pedal is most suitable to this purpose without overblurring high register. But he played his works at the pianos with only two pedals(without middle pedal. Some European piano makers produce models not having this pedal by Steinway-patented technology. For example, Bösendorfer produces both the two types from now on), in which case he used damper pedal instead of middle pedal.
   In his opinion, left(shifting) pedal is not only for small sound volume but for different tone quality. So it is proper to express to the change of organ stops.

   In special, 'echo effect' is most effective to use this pedal. We can find the example in his transcription of 'St.Anne', BWV.552(score above).
   Busoni did not indicate directly to use all the pedals at one time, but these method can perhaps be used. (The method using middle and left pedal by left foot is precisely recommended by Percy Grainger)

   His transcription of organ works are '~ and fugues' (BWV.532,564,565,552) and chorale preludes(BWV.639,659, etc.), all of which are good and often played in concert with his marvellous Chaconne.

References ;

  1. Joseph Banowetz, The pianist's guide to pedaling, Indiana University Publishing, 1985
  2. Ates Orga and Nikolai Demidenko, Liner Note of Hyperion CDA 66566, 1992

      3. Recommended Disques

   Though pianaists play pretty often, there are only a bit CDs that totally comprised of Busoni's transcriptions. In 2000, Kun-Woo Paik's album(Decca) is released, which includes BWV.564, Chaconne, and 10 Choral preludes.

   1. Maria Tipo(EMI CDC 7 49066 2)
  • Prelude and Fugue BWV.552, Chaconne BWV.1004-5, Toccata and Fugue BWV.565, Toccata, Adagio and Fugue BWV.564, Prelude and Fugue BWV.532
  • Recording ; 8~10, Feb. 1988, Salle Wagram, Paris

   This CD includes most of frequently played works and chaconne, so I think it best in coupling, though Choral Preludes were not included because of CD time limit. But the tempo, is too slow on the whole, and magnificence of organ taste is insufficient. So, I'd not like to recommend this.

   2. Nikolai Demidenko(Hyperion CDA 66566)
  • Toccata and Fugue BWV.565, Toccata, Adagio and Fugue BWV.564, Prelude and Fugue BWV.552, Capriccio BWV.992, Chorale Prelude BWV.639, 659,734
  • Recordings ; 27 & 28, Aug. 1991, Wigmore Hall, London

   This CD does not include Chaconne and BWV.532, but Capriccio and famous 3 Chorale preludes. Its liner note is very good as is an usual case of Hyperion's CD. Demidenko's style is grandeur taste, but too romantic and arbitrary, I think. Of course the works are transcriptions from original, but I can't help considering added cadenza to the end of Prelude of BWV.552 as too much 'overaction'. ^^

   I'd rather recommend the nexts by piano maestros than the formers. Some notable records ;

   1) Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV.532
  • Emil Gilels(Melodiya-JVC VICC 2087, Music & Arts CD 773)
  • Recording ; 2nd Feb. 1969, Carnegie Hall, New York(live)

   Released as 'Carnegie Hall Recital', this CD shows Gilels' perfectness in recital well. BWV.532 has both delicacy and power, and his very beautiful tone color and astonishing power of ff reveal charm of Busoni's transcription on a large scale. Beethoven's Moonlight and Variation WoO.80 show his powerful and stable interpretation with a large scale, too.

   2) Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV.564
  • Vladimir Horowitz(Sony Classical S3K 53461, 3CD)
  • Recording ; 9th May 1965, Carnegie Hall, New York(live)

   This recording is really deserved to to the word 'Historical return', and I think this is one of the best piano recital. The first program was BWV.564. He made a very big mistake at the beginning due to very large strain, but after a while he was completely 'Perfect Pianist Horowitz'. His colorful tone made this work alive and cleared the texture of organ. Other programs - Schumann's Fantasy in C major, Chopin, Scriabin - are very beautiful. Coupled recording is live in 1966 at the same hall, which are also good. Very strongly recommended.

   3) Chaconne in d minor, BWV.1004-5
  • Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli(EMI CDH 7 64490 2)
  • Recording ; 27th Oct. 1948, No.3 Studio, Abbey Road

   Michelangeli recorded this album in his 19~28 old years at Italy and Abbey Road. First is Chaconne, which gives me very intense impression by perfect technique and firm constuction of musical span. Sound quality is less than normal 78's transfer, but large scale and magnificent style make us know that he was already a completed virtuoso. Later live recording in 1973(Music and Arts) is surely inferior to this in impression.

   4) Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in d minor BWV.903, etc.

      * Edwin Fischer(EMI Références LP 2912221)
      * Recordings ; 1931~49, Berlin & Abbey Road Studios

   Not to know the reason, this precious recordings are reissued only fragmentarily. This LP comprises of next works ;

- Chromatic fantasy and fugue in d minor, BWV.903 (1931)
- Fantasy and fugue in a minor, BWV.904 (1937)
- Fantasies ; c minor BWV.906 (1949), a minor BWV.922 (1937)
- Toccata in D major, BWV.912 (1941)
- Chorale Prelude 'Ich ruf zu dir' BWV.639 (1941)
- Adagio(arrgt. E.Fischer from Concerto BWV.974 after Marcello)(1933)
- For String Orchestra ;
    Fugue in a minor BWV.865(arrgt. E.Fischer, from Well-Tempered Clavier Book I) (1939)
    Air(from Ouverture No.3 BWV.1068) (1939)

   BWV.903,904, and 906 were released in CDH 7 64928 2, but now deleted from catalog. BWV.639,903,904 and 922 are in 'Edwin Fischer Vol.I' of Philips Pianist Series, and Pearl's issues are coupled by Well-Tempered Clavier. BWV.903 and 912 have very intense power, and tone quality of BWV.639 is really as beautiful as that of a bell. Fischer recorded BWV.552 also, but it is not yet in EMI issue(Pearl GEMM 9481 and 0017 contains this).

   5) Chorale Preludes ; BWV.639,659, etc.

   BWV.639 and 659 are perhaps most frequently recorded in Busoni's transcription. At first, I recommend Lipatti's reissue item including famous 'Siciliano'(EMI CDM 5 67003 2) and Brendel's recording in 1976(Philips 412 252-2, including BWV.903, Italian Concerto, and BWV.922 etc. Brendel re-recorded BWV.639 and 659 in digital era). For only BWV.639, Fischer's is the best in Philips Pianist Series. Horowitz's BWV.639(Sony SK 48903) is very good, also.

ps. Many Bach-transcription records are sold except Busoni's. I want to recommend Kempff's recording including Siciliano(DG 439 108-2 and Double series) and Nikolaeva's(Melodiya).


  1. Ferruccio Busoni's home(Japanese) ; Very good, but Japanese - however, discography of Busoni's works is in English, which includes the recordings of his Bach transcriptions.

(c) 2000~, Youngrok LEE ; Link free, but please get my approval before you reuse, copy, or quote this materials.

Music Home BWV.552 Korean

Created ; 28th Feb. 2000
(original Korean text created on 4th Jan. 2000)
Last Update ; 26th Sep. 2008