Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

WILLIAM BUSCH by Sinclair Logan

William was born June 25th 1901 and died at Woolacombe, Devonshire in January 1945. His parents, who were originally German, became naturalised British subjects some time before the first world war. Part of his early childhood was spent in South Africa, but he received most of his education at various schools in England and the USA. The variety of these early influences and environments no doubt played its part in the making of a man who belonged in no way to any ordinary type. Even as a boy he must have been completely bilingual, for he spoke in German with many of his relatives and English with most of his friends and teachers.

Music interested him when he was a child and he received piano lessons at an early age. But he was in no sense an infant or child prodigy and it was not until he was about 16 that his remarkable talent was revealed and he decided to make music his career. He was then in America and his first serious musical studies were under France Woodmansee. He returned to London after the first world war. In 1921 we went to Germany where he studied piano with Leonid Kreutzer and harmony under Hugo Leichtentritt. In May 1924 he returned once more to London and it was there that the major part of his musical training took place, under Miss Mabel Lander for piano, with Alan Bush, Ireland and Van Dieren for composition. He gave his first London recital in October 1929 at the Grotrian Hall and his first broadcast in December of the same year. He also appeared in Holland, Germany and the USA.

It was in composition however, that his chief talent lay. The first evidence of this was the Gigue for piano, composed in 1923 which, if it did not show the marked originality of his mature style, did at least reveal in a most effective piece, a composer who was in full command of his technique. This was followed in 1927 by two pieces for wind instruments, which were first performed in that same year. In 1928 he produced the first of his larger works, Theme, Variations and Fugue in F Minor for piano. Here we can see his mature style, his originality and vigorous contrapuntal thinking which is entirely fresh, unconventional and convincing.

Then follows another interval of five years during which Busch must have been too much occupied with concert work to allow him either the time or the undisturbed state of mind which he needed for composition. In 1933 came the Allegretto Quasi Pastorale, a pianoforte piece and his first three songs. From 1935 composition came more to take its rightful place in his life and concert appearances became rarer. In this year appeared an Intermezzo for piano and two more songs, none of these were published, though one of the songs, a setting of the sixteenth-century lyric "Weep You No More" ranks among his finest inspirations

1937 was an important year, for it produced a fine and original setting for voice and string quartet of the "Ode to Autumn" by Keats which, though it has received several performances, is not yet published. In this year he also composed one more song and began work on the Piano Concerto in F Minor which was completed in 1939.

1939-40 came the Piano Quartet, dedicated to The London Belgian Piano Quartet, who have given frequent performances of it with great success and in January 1939 his Piano Concerto received its first performance in a broadcast by the BBC Orchestra with Clarence Raybould conducting and the composer as soloist. In the same year he composed a Passacaglia for violin and viola. Shortly before the outbreak of the second world war he was invited to Paris to give performances of some of his compositions.

The war was to him a deeply personal tragedy, a fact which became sharply discernible in some of his later works. During the few years of his life which remained the profound distress which was wrought in his highly sensitive nature often caused periods of ill-health and the fact that he had relations and intimate friends on both sides of the conflict did not ease the pain. This also had an effect on his composition, which was brought to a standstill. In 1940, after a short illness, he wrote in his diary "more at ease now that composition is going more smooth/y. That is my life!"

He spent the rest of his life at Woolacombe, Devonshire and served in the Auxiliary Fire Service. The following works appeared during his last five years:

1940-41 the Cello Concerto, which was, in his own words, "inspired by and dedicated to Florence Hooton" who gave the work its first performance at a "Prom" with Sir Adrian Boult conducting.

1942 The 'Nicholas Variations' inspired by his three-year-old son, one of the most original and daring of his works.

1943 Three pieces for violin and piano, a suite for cello and piano (of which the Prelude is one of his noblest conceptions) and seven songs.

1944 A short but very remarkable song-cycle "There have been happy days" comprising settings of five poems by Wilfred Gibson. Also, four more songs, a piece for cello and piano entitled " A Memory" (Elegie) based on the concluding song of the cycle.

At the time of his death Busch was at work on a violin concerto but all that exists of this is a sketch of the first movement.

In January 1945 a daughter, Julia, was born. While visiting his wife in a nursing home at Ilfracombe, all transport ceased owing to unusually heavy falls of snow. It was essential he should return to his little boy that night so Busch walked back to Woolacombe along the now almost impassable cliff path which the snow had made dangerous. On reaching home he was excessively exhausted and very soon serious internal haemorrhage set in. No doctor could be obtained in time and thus he died.

Busch' s nature was both sensitive and responsive and he had a great capacity for strong and lasting friendship. He rated humanitarian, ethical and spiritual values so highly that one would be tempted to describe him as deeply religious, were it not that the term usually implied an orthodox type which he in no way resembled. Part of his nature was in close touch with his fellowmen, understanding their weakness with a kindly sympathy, but another side of his character was intensely introspective - remote and very much alone. For one who shrank in acute distress from hurting anyone, his fearlessness in saying what he felt should be said, on occasions when others would seek refuge in silence, was a remarkable attribute.

He was unsparingly self-critical in all matters and this together with the distraction of concert work may account for the reason why his output was comparatively small. His music is invariably the expression of his own nature and this is manifest in his work.

Busch was a composer whose work reveals a steady growth in all its aspects, so much so that it is interesting to imagine what he might have achieved if he had lived longer. By the time he had found his maturity in the Theme, Variation and Fugue for pianoforte and in the early songs, his music bore characteristic features which were unmistakably his own. These never became mere mannerisms, but they constantly recur in all his work. There is, for instance, his fondness for the falling augmented fifth from the leading note in a minor key; his use of isolated fragments of melody, in quiet octaves, involving the use or suggested of the augmented second; and, in especially in the later songs, his uncompromising handling of major sevenths and minor seconds. The earlier works, even of his mature period tend to be a little profuse in material- excluding the Theme, Variations and Fugue for piano, which is a model of concentrated, closely woven conciseness. As he developed, however, his style became more economical and his writing, though often highly complex, far less j complicated. His music is essentially contrapuntal in character and he rarely uses a purely harmonic medium. The few instances of this occur only in the songs and then only when some element in the poem seems to him to demand it. His most strikingly effective use of purely harmonic writing occur in the powerfully arresting little song "The Snowdrop in the Wind" of 1943 and the Song-Cycle of the following year. It is rarely, if ever, possible to judge even the best of Busch' s melodies independently of their background in the music or their position in the work as a whole: it is the total effect of all the elements in the texture which matters.

His large scale compositions are finely wrought works, thoughtful in conception and impressive in performance. The Theme. Variations and Fugue have already been described and the 'Nicholas Variations' for piano of fourteen years later have an uncompromising boldness and a startling originality in their presentation, the child soul urgently clamouring to grow. The two concertos are symphonic works of a very high order, in which form and content are finely balanced: they are also well written for soloist and orchestra alike. The Piano Quartet is a fine, virile work, brimming over with vitality and of all the larger works is probably the one which makes the most immediate appeal to audiences.

Lastly, the Song-Cycle "There have been Happy Days" though it consists of only five short songs and occupies no more than ten minutes in performance, should rank with the large-scale works, because of its masterly design and its significant character. This is perhaps his best achievement, the Work in which all his finest qualities seem to reach a climax of concentration. None of the early profusion here, only a ruthless economy of material. The work is complex, yet stark in its clear-cut conciseness. A group of themes (and one of these in particular) dominates the cycle throughout and these are handled with intensely dramatic effect. This song-cycle is the complete expression of Busch's life. It is in fact in his songs that Busch was most original, always excepting the 'Nicholas Variations', and it is not yet generally realised that he actually wrote a new page in the history of song. With Busch, more than any other composer, except Van Dieren, the song must be regarded as a complete fusing of all its constituent elements, but Busch, by a flash of intuition and in the simplest possible way, often achieves a result similar to that which Van Dieren arrives by far more complicated and elaborate methods. Busch is at his best in his more serious songs, and at his least effective in his settings of Blake's "Laughing Song" and Herrick's "Fairies". Many of Busch's songs were written for and dedicated to his friend Sinclair Logan

Among Busch' s smaller instrumental compositions, players will search in vain for the "Morceaux" or the effective trifle, but they may seek and find music of a sincerity and a poetic beauty of which they will never tire.

Sinclair Logan May 30th 1950


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