Adolf Busch

Picture of Adolf Busch

One of the most talented German families of musicians born in the last decade of the 19th century was the Busch's of Westphalia: Fritz Busch, founder conductor of the Glyndebourne Opera; Adolf Busch, noted violinist, leader of the famous string quartet which bore his name, and composer of concertos, symphonies and much chamber music; and Hermann Busch, a very fine cellist. All three of them were friends of Sir Donald Tovey who, in 1934 nominated Fritz and Adolf for honorary D.Mus. degrees at Edinburgh University. As soon as I heard of this plan, I wrote to Adolf Busch in Switzerland, asking him if there was a possibility of him giving us a concert. He replied by telegram; I have it here - it reads:

Chisholm, Active Society, 221 West George Street Glasgow In this moment I finished my new trio for piano violin and cello stop Programme would be sonate for piano and violin secondly sonata piano solo thirdly the new trio stop Propose in communication (he meant co-operation) with Edinburgh 11 or 14 December Greetings your Adolf Hitler - I mean Adolf Busch.

Some of the older members of my audience may remember the Busch Quartet, considered by many eminent authorities to be the most distinguished and classically integrated exponents of chamber music since the time of Joachim (although only the other day I read an eye-witness account - or rather an ear-witness account - of Joachim's leadership of his celebrated quartet: that in his latter days - Joachim - the friend of Brahms and editor of Brahms' solo violin parts - used to play just that little bit under the pitch). Adolf Busch was a tall, robust, hearty, open-air, energetic, slap-you-on-the-back sort of fellow, much more like a prosperous farmer than a sensitive concert violinist. He played with tremendous vigour, which, when required, could give way to great sensitiveness and subtlety. On the night prior to our Glasgow concert, the violin and cellist brothers, with Fritz conducting if my memory serves me right (though it could have been Tovey) had given a magnificent performance of the Brahms Double at one of Tovey's Reid Orchestral concerts in Edinburgh's Usher Hall. The Glasgow concert was entirely Busch's' own compositions; the most recent of the three novelties being the new piano trio of which this was the first performance. Adolf and Max Reger had been close friends and associates since about 1907, and undoubtedly the earlier compositions of Busch were influenced by Reger's close contrapuntal texture and great compression of detail, although he later developed individual characteristics of his own. Perhaps, too, there was a touch of Busoni in the violin sonata Op. 21. Re-reading the notice of this concert in the Glasgow Evening Times, written by Stewart Deas (one-time music professor at Cape Town) I find that Deas thought the contrary; that the new trio showed a tightening up of the structure as compared to the earlier sonatas, "which", wrote Deas "had a certain luxuriousness which gave them a charm of their own". The piano sonata is a very powerful work, and even thirty years afterwards, I still recall the great impression it made on me. After a strong first movement came an andante and variations, at first of a quiet meditative nature, and later, brilliant and lively. The finale is a gigantic fugue, which was played by Rudolf Serkin, with most striking effect. Rudolf Serkin was the pianist associated with Adolf, and was in fact, his son-in-law, and for, the last quarter of the century has been known as one of the most brilliant and intellectual pianists in America. Our Busch concert and the honouring of Fritz and Adolf by Edinburgh University (an honour which, by the way, include a civic reception) occurred in December 1934, a year after Adolf had made a voluntary renunciation of his German citizenship, and a year before he acquired Swiss citizenship. I don’t think the Busch's were Jewish, although Serkin, his son-in-law is, and Adolf’s voluntary exile from Germany was a protest against the ominous path along which the other Adolf was leading Germany.

I doubt very much if many Busch works have been performed anywhere in the past decade or so. This is not to say he was a bad composer; but that his music, like that of Tovey, Joachim, Rontjen, Busoni, van Dieren and a thousand others, is not just good enough to stay in the world repertoire. It is said that only about 1% of music written in any century is likely to live into the next century; and as time goes on, and more and more music is being created, 1% promises to be too high a figure. But, if you are a composer, don't worry too much about that - the signs are that in their own good time, all composers, all music, all art, everybody and everything will be flattened out and forgotten! It's all a question of time and relativity!

To return to the Busch's - the two brothers and Serkin were in high spirits after the concert and the next morning at the station, when we saw them off to London, they got so absorbed in playing with an automatic penny-in-the-slot football game on the station platform, that they all but missed the 10a.m. Flying Scot to London. The last I saw of these simple, kindly, jolly chaps who were such magnificent musicians, was Hermann lugging his wooden cello case clumsily up the platform, with Adolf and Serkin egging him on from behind, all laughing boisterously, and the three of them jumping into about the last carriage as the train drew out of the platform.

The Busch Quartet made many memorable recordings. Hear them now in the Schubert B flat quartet, Op. 168.

Schubert B flat quartet, Op. 168. RCA Victor recording 1938

I am sure many of you have records of Mozart operas made at Glyndebourne and conducted by Fritz Busch. Many people, including myself, consider they are unsurpassed by later recordings despite the advances made in recording technique. Tovey introduced me to Fritz Busch in Edinburgh, at the time I was preparing Mozart's "ldomeneo" for performances with the Glasgow Grand - an opera that Fritz was never allowed to do in Glyndebourne, though he had conducted it at Stuttgart and Dresden. We discussed some aspects of the work both regretting that Mozart was never given the occasion to produce it later in his life and allow him to re-write the tenor part for a baritone, as it would certainly have improved the tone colour of many ensembles, particularly the quartet which is for three sopranos and tenor: The celebrated Italian tenor Verbasco was an aging man, and very short of breath, when Mozart wrote the name part of Idomeneo for him; the composer breaks up the melissma passages every now and then to allow Verbasco to draw breath, but who can doubt that Mozart could have improved on his original, if the opportunity had arisen for him to rewrite the part of Idomeneo for a healthy lusty baritone? Tovey had shown Fritz Busch an essay I had just written on this and other problems of "Idomeneo", and he asked me if I could send him a copy.

For the rest of this morning's session, we will speak of lesser mortals than composers: performers - Egon Petri, Tatiana Mackushina and actress-pianist Yvonne Arnaud: beginning with Yvonne Arnaud. I will read you an excerpt from an article on this vivacious and versatile woman who enjoyed great popularity as a French actress in English plays like "French without Tears" after she had achieved considerable success as a concert pianist. This article was written by the Hon. secretary of the Active Society, Diana Brodie who was my first wife.