Ferruccio Busoni was an Italian composer, pianist, conductor, editor, writer and piano teacher. He was born in the Tuscan town of Empoli, Italy, the only child of two professional musicians. His father, Ferdinando, was a clarinetist. His mother, Anna, was a pianist from Trieste. They were often touring during his childhood, and he was brought up in Trieste for the most part.
Busoni was a child prodigy. He made his public debut on the piano with his parents, at the age of seven. A couple of years later he played some of his own compositions in Vienna where he heard Franz Liszt play, and met Liszt, Johannes Brahms and Anton Rubinstein.
Busoni had a brief period of study in Graz with Wilhelm Mayer (who published his own compositions under the pseudonym of W. A. Rémy and also taught Felix Weingartner) and was also helped by Wilhelm Kienzl, who enabled him to conduct a performance of his own composition Stabat Mater when he was twelve years old, before leaving for Leipzig in 1886 where he studied with Carl Reinecke (a former pupil of Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann). He subsequently held several teaching posts, the first in 1888 at Helsinki, where he met his wife, Gerda Sjöstrand, the daughter of Swedish sculptor Carl Eneas Sjöstrand, and began a lifelong friendship with Jean Sibelius. In 1890 he won the Anton Rubinstein Competition with his Concert Piece for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 31a. He taught in Moscow in 1890, and in the United States from 1891 to 1894 where he also toured as a virtuoso pianist.
In 1894 he settled in Berlin, giving a series of concerts there both as pianist and conductor. He particularly promoted contemporary music. He also continued to teach in a number of masterclasses at Weimar, Vienna and Basel; among his pupils were Egon Petri and Stanley Gardner.
In 1907, he penned his Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, lamenting the traditional music "lawgivers", and predicting a future music that included the division of the octave into more than the traditional 12 degrees. His philosophy that "Music was born free; and to win freedom is its destiny," greatly influenced his students Percy Grainger and Edgard Varèse, both of whom played significant roles in the 20th century opening of music to all sound.
During World War I, Busoni lived first in Bologna, where he directed the conservatory, and later in Zí¼rich. He refused to perform in any countries that were involved in the war. He returned to Berlin in 1920 where he gave master classes in composition. He had several composition pupils who went on to become famous, including Kurt Weill, Edgard Varèse, Friedrich Löwe, Aurelio Giorni and Stefan Wolpe.
Busoni died in Berlin from a kidney disease. His compositions were largely neglected for many years after his death, but he was remembered as a great virtuoso and arranger of Bach for the piano. Around the 1980s there was a revival of interest in his work. He is commemorated by a plaque at the site of his last residence in Berlin-Schöneberg, Viktoria-Luise-Platz 11, and by the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition.