Adolf Busch

1891 1952

Adolf Busch

Composer • Violin • Conductor


Adolph Busch was a much-admired German-Swiss violin virtuoso during the first half of the 20th century. He is often referred to as the successor of Joseph Joachim, despite their very distinct styles, as he was taught by two of Joachim’s pupils—Willy Hess and Bram Eldering. A significant portion of his career took place outside of Germany, as he greatly opposed the Nazi party. Busch is perhaps most remembered as the co-founder of the Marlboro Festival in Vermont and the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland. He also left behind a significant number of remarkable recordings as a soloist and also as a member of the Busch Quartet and the Busch Chamber Players.

Adolph Busch was born in 1891 in Siegen, Germany to the luthier Wilhelm Busch. His brothers include conductor Fritz Busch, cellist Hermann Busch, pianist Heinrich Busch and actor Willi Busch.

Busch studied composition in Cologne with Fritz Steinbach and also with Hugo Grüters, who would become his father-in-law. A noticeable connection toMax Reger was prevalent throughout his compositions, especially his Concerto for Orchestra (1929), one of the first compositions of the genre. Other compositions include his Violin Concerto in A minor op. 20 (1922), String Sext in G major op. 40, Quintet for Saxophone and String Quartet and several organ works. Just a small collection of Busch’s works have been recorded, including the Violin Concerto and String Quartet. His pieces are rarely performed today.

With Hitler’s rise to power, Busch moved with his family and the young pianist Rudolf Serkin to Basle, Switzerland. Though Busch, himself, was not Jewish, he was not in favour of the Nazi party. In protest of the anti-Semitism, he cancelled and/or refused his engagements in both Germany and Italy. He remained in Basle for 12 years, and in answer to Germany’s requests that he return, he replied that ‘return with joy on the day that Hitler, Goebbels und Göring are publicly hanged’.

In addition to taking in Serkin, Busch showed much kindness as a mentor to other musicians, including Stefi Geyer, Erica Morini and Yehudi Menuhin. Busch trained them during the summer months at his home in Switzerland. He insisted that his students participate in physical exercise, including long walks and swimming, as this was a component of his holistic teaching method. Later, Serkin would marry Busch’s daughter, giving him his pianist grandson, Peter Serkin.

In 1939, together with his family and Serkin, Busch moved to the United States, where he would become a citizen. There, he would establish himself as a pedagogue, cofounding the Marlboro Music School and Festival in Vermont in 1951.

During Busch’s long recording career, he made many live and studio recordings. Many of the recordings feature Busch as part of a quartet. He first performed with the Vienna Konzertverein Quartet with players from the Konzertverein Orchestra and later with the influential Busch Quartet. The Busch Quartet was formed after World War I and consisted of Gösta Andreasson (violin), Karl Doktor (viola) and Paul Grümmer (cello). Later, Paul Grümmer would be replaced by Adolph Busch’s brother, Hermann Busch. The ensemble, which was particularly admired for its mastery of the Romantic German repertoire, continued until 1951. Of their recordings, the 1935 recording ofSchubert’s Der Tod und das Mädchenis particularly impressive.

After the addition of Rudolf Serkin to the group, they became the Busch Chamber Players. This group was partially responsible for the popularity of the modern chamber orchestra. Innovations within the group included the performance of Baroque repertoire with piano continuo, as opposed to a basso-continuo with cellos and basses. With this group, Busch played and directedBach’s Brandenburg Concertos.

In addition to his recordings as a chamber musician, Busch recorded many solo albums, including of the Brahms-JoachimHungarian Dances Nos. 2, 5 and 20 in 1921. Noticeable in these recordings are a preference for the 19th-century portamenti and controlled vibrato. He also recordedSchumann’s Op. 105 in the 1930s and again in 1951, along with a spectacular recording ofBeethoven’s Op. 24 ‘Spring’ Sonata’ in 1933. In his recording of Beethoven’s sonata, he displays remarkable staccato playing that retains its vocal feel. He also recorded his own arrangement of Vivaldi’s Sonata RV31.

Busch’s concerto recordings include both the Brahms Violin Concerto (1943) and Double Concerto (1949, together with his brother Hermann). According to Naxos, these live recordings ‘have a white-heat intensity that transcends occasional lapses of control’. It was Brahms’ Violin Concerto, in fact, that launched Busch’s solo career. He also recorded concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorak and Busoni.

While he was often referred to as the natural successor of Joachim, Busch’s style was very different. While many violinists were practicing spiccato, Busch still used on-string staccato. Some changes in his playing are also evident throughout his career. In his earlier performances, Busch displayed a greater fondness for portamento than in his later years. Additionally, his vibrato became wider. He employed bowing from the German school and was known for his minimal finger movement and superior wrist flexibility. Though he was not the most technically capable violinist ever, he was admired for his phrasing and musicianship, which was far more important to him than technical showmanship.