Relying on knowledge of Karl Engel's edition of the Volksschauspiel, Karl Simrock's version of the puppet play, Gotthold Lessing's Faust fragments, and versions of the Faust legend by Christopher Marlowe and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, among others, Ferruccio Busoni crafted his own hybrid libretto that depicts a mystical and broadminded Faust. Busoni's music reflects the richness of Faust's mind, combining heterogeneous timbres, forms, and styles. Busoni juxtaposes a Gregorian Credo, Palestrina-style choral settings, a reformation hymn, a Baroque instrumental dance suite, an organ fantasia, recitatives, a lyrical ballad, and orchestral variations, with impressionistic symphonic writing, and experimental passages. While stylistic heterogeneity can be heard throughout many of his mature instrumental and vocal works, Busoni also used this heterogeneity in a descriptive way in Doktor Faust to characterize Faust.
At the same time, Busoni sought to write “a history of man and his desire” rather than of a man and the devil. It is Faust's own dark side, rather than the devil, that distracts him and prevents him from completing his greatest work. With Kaspar removed from the plot, Mephistopheles, who as spirit is not always distinct from Faust the man, becomes Faust's alter ego. This duality is expressed musically when Faust assumes Mephistopheles's characteristic intervals.
Although Busoni's incomplete Doktor Faust, BV 303, has already been studied by several scholars, including Antony Beaumont, Nancy Chamness, and Susan Fontaine, there is still no detailed analysis of Busoni's treatment of Faust. Through analyses of autobiographical connections, Busoni's early settings of Faustian characters, and the text and music in Doktor Faust, with special attention on the Wittenberg Tavern Scene that has no precedent among the versions of the Faust legend, this article reveals Busoni's vision of Faust as a broadminded, and yet conflicted character, shaped idiosyncratically to convey Busoni's personal artistic ideals. In so doing, the article not only contributes to ongoing discourse about Doktor Faust, but also expands knowledge about ways the Faust legend was interpreted and set musically in the early twentieth century through intertextual comparisons.