Ferruccio Busoni's Piano Concerto -- a 70-minute, five-movement work whose performing forces include a male chorus -- is likely the most massive work for soloist and orchestra in the repertory; the composer himself once referred to it as "my Skyscraper Concerto." What is most remarkable about the Concerto is that the immense labor of the musicians yields a momument of absolute music, signifying nothing but itself. Stylistically, the work is a synthesis of turn-of-the-twentieth century past and present, as well as the twin legacies of the composer's German and Italian parentage.
Busoni eschews a "display" role for the soloist -- though the piano part requires both considerable technique and stamina -- instead calling for an equal partnership of piano and orchestra. The opening movement, Prologo e Introito, begins with a lengthy orchestral introduction, followed by the piano's entrance with an extended series of massive chords. This expansive movement progresses through a variety of moods, introducing motives that recur throughout the work. The second movement, Pezzo giocoso, is a lively rondo filled with dance rhythms, which finally drifts into silence. The central Pezzo serioso, about 20 minutes long, is itself divided into four parts: "Introdactio," darkly colored and suggestive of some primordial mist; "prima pars," which rises to a great and noble climax; "altera pars," stormy music marked by harmonies that anticipate the mature language of Prokofiev and Stravinsky; and "ultima pars," in which the music returns to its mysterious beginnings. The fourth movement, All' italina, is a spectacular, virtuosic tarantella which leads directly into the final Cantico. Here the chorus joins in with words from Oehlenschlaeger's Aladdin: "Now the dead world is fully enlivened/Praising godliness the poem grows silent." The piano underscores the chorus and orchestra before bursting free in a jubilant coda.