About this Recording
8.225276 - GODOWSKY, L.: Piano Music, Vol. 10 (Scherbakov) - Walzesmasken
English  German 

Leopold Godowsky (1870–1938)
Piano Music Volume 10

 

The great Polish-American pianist Leopold Godowsky was born at Soshly, a village near the Lithuanian city of Vilnius, in 1870, the son of a doctor. The first signs of his exceptional musical ability were clear by the age of three and he wrote his first compositions four years later, in 1879 making his first public appearance as a pianist. There followed a series of concerts in Germany and Poland and a very short period of study with Ernst Rudorff, a pupil of Clara Schumann and of Moscheles, at the Berlin Musikhochschule. Four months at the Hochschule proved enough and in the same year, 1884, Godowsky made his first appearance in the United States in Boston, under the auspices of the Clara Louise Kellogg Concert Company, then touring with that singer and with the singer Emma Thursby. 1885 brought appearances at the New York Casino, in weekly alternation with the Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreño, and the following year he undertook a tour of Canada with the Belgian violinist Ovide Musin, for whom Saint-Saëns had written his Morceau de concert. In the hope of studying with Liszt, Godowsky returned to Europe, but, learning of the latter’s death from a newspaper, he travelled, instead, to Paris, with the object of studying with Camille Saint-Saëns, distinguished equally as a pianist and a composer. Saint-Saëns was impressed by Godowsky’s playing and suggested that he should adopt him, on condition that he changed his name, a proposal that Godowsky rejected. For the better part of three years, however, their relationship continued, with Sundays spent together, Godowsky playing to Saint-Saëns, before the latter played to his disciple his own compositions. The contact was a valuable one and allowed Godowsky to meet leading figures in contemporary musical life, including Tchaikovsky, whose music he played in that composer’s presence at the Paris chamber-music society, La Trompette. In 1927, six years after the death of Saint-Saëns, Godowsky transcribed for piano his mentor’s La Cygne (The Swan), from The Carnival of the Animals, and on his own deathbed in 1938 had a friend play this to him.

In 1890 Godowsky returned to America, where he joined the staff of the New York College of Music, married, and took out American citizenship. While continuing his career as a performer, he visited Philadelphia in 1894 and 1895, as the head of the piano department at the music school founded by Gilbert Raynold Combs, and from 1895 to 1900 led the piano department of the Chicago Conservatory. A successful concert in Berlin persuaded him to settle there in the latter year, teaching and using the city as his base for concert tours throughout Europe and the Near East. In 1909 he moved to Vienna to direct the piano masterclass at the Akademie der Tonkunst.

There were American tours between 1912 and 1914 and with the outbreak of war Godowsky settled again in the United States, giving concerts and clarifying his innovative theories of keyboard technique in a series of editions and publications. At the same time he continued to write music of his own for the piano. He gave his last concert in the United States in 1922, but continued to tour throughout the world, acknowledged as one of the leading virtuosi of his time. His career as a performer was curtailed by a stroke in 1930, depriving him of the ability to play for the last eight years of his life. He was now increasingly led to pin his hopes for a lasting place in the history of music on his compositions and transcriptions for the piano. Such recognition, however, has been slow to come.

The publication of Godowsky’s Walzermasken: 24 Tonfantasien im Dreivierteltakt für Klavier (Waltz Masques: 24 Fantasies in Triple Time for Piano) is dated 12 February 1912, with a dedication to Dr Wilhelm Stekel. The pieces were issued in four albums, each containing six pieces, with some of them also published separately.

Karneval (Carnival), Maestoso con brio and in E major, its title an obvious homage to Schumann, provides a characteristically virtuoso opening, followed by the first of the allusive pieces, Pastell (Fr. Sch.), an A major Allegretto, with its suggestions of Schubert. Brahms of the Liebeslieder Waltzes, among other works, is alluded to in Skizze (Joh. Br.) (Sketch), in E major and Con spirito, with hints of Brahms’s favourite cross-rhythms. The fourth piece, Momento capriccioso, marked Allegretto and in C sharp minor is followed by a D flat major Berceuse, with the direction Moderato e con moto, dolcissimo e legato. Kontraste, Allegro vivace and in B flat minor, conjures up the world of Florestan and Eusebius, with its contrasting moods of agitation and tranquillity.

The seventh piece, Profil (Fr. Ch.), in B flat minor and marked Molto moderato, seems to make overt use of Chopin’s Waltz in A flat, Op. 61, No. 1 and the Waltz in A flat, Op. 64, No. 3, among other references, and Silhouette (Fr. L.), Allegro impetuoso and in F sharp, more than hints at Liszt, with its stormy opening, quasi-cadenza passage and bravura. Satire, Moderato, and grazioso e dolce, suggests the world of Debussy, not least in the subtle indication of the whole tone scale. Liszt seems near enough in the tenth piece, Karikatur, ambiguous in tonality and marked Molto moderato, a moment of respite before Tyll Ulenspiegel (Till Eulenspiegel), in F sharp major and Allegro con brio, the legendary prankster, who presumably meets his final fate, as he had in Richard Strauss’s tone-poem. Marked Moderato, mesto and una corda, the E flat minor Legende ends the second album.

The seventh piece, Profil (Fr. Ch.), in B flat minor and marked Molto moderato, seems to make overt use of Chopin’s Waltz in A flat, Op. 61, No. 1 and the Waltz in A flat, Op. 64, No. 3, among other references, and Silhouette (Fr. L.), Allegro impetuoso and in F sharp, more than hints at Liszt, with its stormy opening, quasi-cadenza passage and bravura. Satire, Moderato, and grazioso e dolce, suggests the world of Debussy, not least in the subtle indication of the whole tone scale. Liszt seems near enough in the tenth piece, Karikatur, ambiguous in tonality and marked Molto moderato, a moment of respite before Tyll Ulenspiegel (Till Eulenspiegel), in F sharp major and Allegro con brio, the legendary prankster, who presumably meets his final fate, as he had in Richard Strauss’s tone-poem. Marked Moderato, mesto and una corda, the E flat minor Legende ends the second album.

The sinister C minor Valse macabre mounts in intensity, to be followed by the A flat major Abendglocken (Evening Bells), Angelus written at Ischl on the 25th anniversary of the death of Franz Liszt, to whose Années de Pèlerinage (Suisse) there is a subtle reference. Orientale, an F minor Andante cantabile, has a charm of its own. It leads to the F major Wienerisch (Viennese), marked Allegretto grazioso, an embodiment of the Viennese waltz in its interplay of rhythms. Eine Sage (A Tale), Moderato and in B flat minor, tells a story that ends with some harmonic ambiguity, to be followed by the final mask, Portrait (Joh. Str.), a G flat major Allegro con fuoco, a tribute to the Waltz King Johann Strauss.

The publication of Godowsky’s Symphonische Metamorphosen Johann Strauss’scher Themen, Drei Walzerparaphrasen für das Pianoforte. I. Künstlerleben (Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Johann Strauss, Three Waltz Paraphrases I. Artists’ Life) is dated 16 September 1912 and dedicated to Herr und Frau Josef Simon. The metamorphosis transforms Strauss’s waltz sequence into a piano piece of great virtuosity, a monument, if nothing else, to Godowsky’s own phenomenal prowess as one of the great pianists of his time.


Keith Anderson


Close the window