About this Recording
8.223793 - GODOWSKY, L.: Piano Music, Vol. 1 (Scherbakov) - Airs of the 18th Century / 3 Pieces / 4 Poems

Leopold Godowsky (1870 -1938) Piano Music Vol

Leopold Godowsky (1870 - 1938)

Piano Music Vol. 1


Immortalised among the greatest pianists of all time, intellectual and artist without peer, the Polish/ American-naturalised Leopold Godowsky was born in Lithuania. A Wunderkind, largely self-taught, protege of saint-saens, "the superman of piano playing... a pianist for pianists" (Huneker, 1901), teacher of Jan smeterlin, Issay Dobrowen and Heinrich Neuhaus, friend of Hofmann, Rachmaninov and Albert Einstein, his were the standards others tried to copy. His famous Berlin debut with the Philharmonic (Beethoven Saal, 6th December 1900), in the city where Busoni was emperor -when he played Brahms's First Concerto, the Tchaikovsky B flat minor, paraphrases on the Chopin studies and Weber's Invitation to the Dance, and several encores including the scherzo from saint-saens's G minor Concerto -was sensational in the Lisztomanic understanding. Huge, chandeliered, opulent, Bohemian, his New York salon was a mecca of its time and place. Here, according to friends, you could hear Godowsky the transcendentalist, "the dramatist and colourist" , play and take risks as he never allowed himself to do on the public stage. All "the significant artists of the day assembled at Godowsky's home with the regularity of homing pigeons," remembered Abram Chasins. "Wherever he hung his hat, whether in Europe, Asia, or the Americas, there arose a salon, a salon in the tradition of the Romantic era which attracted every intellectual within range. No musician was more capable of constantly gathering around him creative companions in so many fields of artistic work. Abroad, Dyagilev, Nijinsky, Gide, Matisse, and Derain were as much apart of the Godowsky circle as Ravel and Respighi. In New York you would find most frequently, among musicians, Rachmaninov, stravinsky, and Gershwin, Hofmann, Pachmann, Lhevinne, and [Artur] Rubinstein, Casals, Kreisler, Elman, and Heifetz. Once anyone entered Godowsky's door, he became a disciple: short and round, Godowsky suggested a slavic Buddha but with none of the timeless, resolved placidity of a saint. He had an encyclopedic knowledge and a jolly, insatiably curious mind. He loved mental fireworks, and his beaming blue eyes sparkled, his pot belly quivered through the smoke of verbal battle ...He was the merciless mentor of every artist who played for him; his compositional style of piano writing influenced nearly every contemporary who wrote for the instrument, and especially Medtner, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, and Ravel" (Speaking of Pianists , New York 1957).


The 28 pieces here included, spanning nearly fifty years, reveal an imaginative, unpretentious mind, they confirm a consummate, lyrical miniaturist, cadentially indulgent, interested in piano sound and articulation, in spacing and timbre, in a lattice-work of intertwining voices and chromatic acid, more open-spaced than the "close-range" polyphony of Bach. Romantically free yet classically structured, sometimes slight yet rarely trivial, they belong to an evocative experience of intimate gesture and perfumed grace, a dimension removed from the titanic trajectory of the more celebrated Godowsky.


Composed in 1927, inscribed to a devoted Irish/ Australian admirer Paul Howard, the first three Poems (Devotion, E major, Andante cantabile, 29th June; Avowal, D flat major, Moderato, cantabi!e, 25th July; Adoration, D flat major, Cantabile ed appassionato, 8th July) were completed in Evanson, Illinois, where Godowsky was spending the summer in the lakeside home of his friend and former student, Maurice Aronson. Written later in Paris, the fourth (Yearning, F sharp major, Moderato assai, 30th June 1931) asks a question: "Who can fathom the indefinable, tearful longings of a passionate soul?". Tender, nostalgic music of old-world half-lights resonant of late Brahms and Skryabin touched by Rachmaninov, here, says his biographer Jeremy Nicholas (1989), is "some of Godowsky's most heartfelt self-expression ...it was to these pieces that he invariably turned in later years when, left alone, he played quietly to himself". The first three he himself introduced to London at the Queen's Hall recital (14th Apri11928) which included the British first performance of the B minor Passacaglia on Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, his last major opus. At Heifetz's request Avowal was subsequently arranged for violin and piano.


Dedicated to his older compatriot and friend, the incandescent Moritz Rosenthai, the G flat Toccata Op. 13 (published Boston 5th April 1899), was a re-working, a semitone up, of the Moto Perpetuo in F major of a decade earlier. A relentless "perpetual motion" shower of right-hand sextuplet semiquavers (Prestissimo - egualmente) with an interesting "double" left-hand part of tenor melody and bass support (Godowsky's left hand was always well developed), its dexterous digitality is more related to the gossamer froth of a Scarlatti or Mendelssohn than Schumann's mechanics or the percussive new-age motorism of Prokofiev.


Originally the Three Pieces Op. 14 (published New York 12th -14th August 1899) consisted of four numbers, an unissued Mazurka melancolique having come between the first two printed movements. Twilight-musing (E flat major, Andante placido) - a revision of the first piece (Impressions sur le fleuve de Hudson) of an earlier cycle, Twilight Thoughts (Paris 1889) - stylistically crosses a post-Chopin nocturne with a pre-Rachmaninov prelude. Valse-Idylle (E major, Allegretto grazioso, with a trio episode oscillating between G major and the tonic minor) and Scherzino (C sharp minor, Allegro vivace e capriccioso) both flirt with Chopinesque ideas and patterns - with just a glimmer perhaps of Schumannesque tension distilled through Brahms in the duple-time cross-rhythms of the latter.


Consisting of a gravely phrased, dotted rhythm Sarabande (C sharp minor, Larghetto espressivo, dedicated to the Chicago critic W.S.B. Mathews), a Minuet (A flat major, Allegretto grazioso, with a faster trio in the tonic minor, Piu Animato, the whole relishing a good deal of left-hand melody, cf the Toccata Op. 13), and a Courante (E minor, Allegro, with varied reprise and a central section in the tonic major based on a rhythmic/modal transformation of the opening eight right-hand notes), the Three Pieces Op.12 (published New York 14thAugust 1899, together with Opp. 11, 14) comprise a neatly crafted baroque dance homage. Real music, not pastiche.


Unlike Renaissance (1906-09) - old harpsichord music reborn for the modern grand piano - Airs of the Eighteenth Century (published New York 3rd April1937, with French subtitles) are brief, simple transcriptions, albeit subtle, detailed and not without the occasional tell-tale piquancy. Seven movements make up the collection, each addressing a different technical issue. [12] Exaudet's Minuet (G major, Allegretto grazioso, light staccato, with the odd sustained phrase). [13] Lisette (G major, Andantino, sustained legato in both hands). [14] Good Old Granny (A minor, Allegretto, legato melody, staccato accompaniment). [15] Mother, please explain (D minor, Un poco allegretto, staccato/legato contrasts; the second half, in the major with attentive left-hand work, predominantly legato). [16] Capricious Shepherd-Maid (G major, Un poco allegretto , legato/ staccato alternation between hands). [17] Would that I were the lowly fern (credited to Pergolesi [1710-36]; G minor, Andante, sustained legato in both hands. [18] Oh, come again, beautiful spring (F major, Allegretto grazioso, contrasted passages of crisp leggiero staccato and dolce legato melody).


"Despite his wide and fabled learning," Nicholas says, Godowsky "derived no musical inspiration from literature and very little from painting. His main sources of stimulation came from other piano music, dance rhythms (especially the waltz [viz his dizzy response to Weber and Johann Strauss]) and the sights and sounds of the various countries of the world through which he passed". Written in New York City in 1928, a year after the Passacaglia, the Two Waltz Poems (G major, Allegretto espressivo [slow one-in-a-bar], 21st October; A major, Moderato assai [quick three-in-a-bar], 17th November) are extended, progressively complex concert pieces -in the Ravellian sense more evocations of feeling than music for dancing. Each opens simply (deceptively so), reach an emotional, texturally intricate climax, and then, like Schumann's night-watchman, fade away into smoky, autumn silence. Existing also in versions for violin and piano (published a week earlier, 17th Apri11929, dedicated respectively to Heifetz and Kochartski), Godowsky later adapted both a semitone lower as Nos 1 and 5 of his set of six Waltz-Poems for the left hand (Paris 15th May, Vienna 18th May 1929).


Of the Three Pieces Op 15 (published Boston 29th August 1899), the second - Nuit de printemps, the original second movement of the earlier Tu'ilight Thoughts suite (1889) - was unissued, leaving just No 1 ([21] Melodie meditative, E flat major, Andante espressivo) and No 3 ([22] Capriccio in C minor, Allegretto scherzaudo). Dedicated to Frieda Godowsky, the composer's wife and childhood sweetheart, the Melodie, in the form of a ritornello and aria (so marked in the score), suggests a blend of religioso Grieg and Brahms interinezzo accompanied and cadenced by Chopin. Anticipating things in Medtner, the Capriccio, inscribed to the Liszt pupil Richard Burmeister, is a five-part rondo, based on a leggierissimo rhythmic/melodic refrain (shades of the fourth Dvorak Slavonic Dance) variously repeated, developed and counterpointed. How the episodes - the first in F sharp minor (dolce), the second in E flat major (semplice e con tenerezza , on new material)' - artfully modulate back to the home key make one conscious, time and again; of a genuine compositional sensibility at work, not just a clever pianist. There are no easy tricks here, no gratuitous effects. Old master quality informs the introspective coda, a beautifully judged page of dialogue, phrasing and low pedal tones.


In August/September 1918 Godowsky published a progressively graded anthology of 46 Miniatures for piano duet -educational material to be shared between pupil and teacher, admired (and played) by the likes no less of Hofmann, Rachmaninov and Bruno Walter. “My aim is to interest while I instruct; to educate while I entertain”. In his foreword he confirmed how he had “given a great deal of thought and loving care to them and though the pieces are smaller and considerably less complicated than anything I have ever written, they represent the best there is in me. The experience and assimilated knowledge, the aims and aspirations, the hopes and ideals, the disappointments and yearnings of a sensitive nature and an artist's soul are all to be found in this series of simple five-finger pieces”. The Five Miniatures recorded here are solo arrangements of numbers drawn from the six volumes of the collection. In their almost orchestrally-differentiated textures, contrasts of register, distinctions between pedalled and dry sound, attack, touch and dynamic finesse, their bravura is of a type more to do with technical security and transcendental control than physical display or extravagance of gesture. Godowsky was never a pianist to “shout”. Popular with audiences (the composer himself cutting an Ampico “expression” roll), the polka-like Humoresque (Vol VI/xv, B flat major, Allegretto grazioso, published New York 14th September 1918) was dedicated to the Polish/ American Alexander Lambert -who nearly thirty years before, as Director of the New York College of Music, had employed Godowsky, newly wed, to teach piano for $10.50 a week. Rigaudon (Vol II/iii, C major, Allegro con spirito, 14th September 1918) and The Miller's Song (Vol IV/ii, C major, Allegretto, 16th August 1920) paraphrase respectively uancient danceu and Schubertian Lied. Processional March (Vol IV /vi, G major, Maestoso, 26th August 1920) is a study in effect and detail, the composer's exact markings never letting us forget how the pianist's art is as much one of foot-response as fingerwork. Softly kissing a single note, Arabian Chant (Orientale) (Vol V /viii, modal E minor, Placido, 26th August 1920) takes a lascive tune and caressing triplets to create a fragrant, bass-rich cameo of sweetly unveiled love.


In relation to the epic vision of Chopin or the thundering heroics of Liszt, the youthful, cliched Polonaise in C major (published Paris 1889, with a dedication to Eugend' Albert) is about as contrived and uncomfortable as Beethoven's Op. 89. Yet while critics will argue its tonal tedium and note-spinning, admirers will thrill to the intensifying climax and resolution of its closing pages {from the E flat grandio50 - a skilful blending of introductory material and principal refrain), no less than piano - philes will relish its confirmation that even as a boy Godowsky must have had a quite remarkable left hand. A curious sound feature, reminiscent of the Alkan solo Concerto, is the recurrent low register presence of repeated octaves, octave tremolandi and quasi-octave tri1ls.


“My piano music is like an orchestra, with different independent voices played by different instruments. It requires tonal discrimination... [My compositions have] many voices (like Bach) and... genuine piano quality (like Chopin). If you bear this in mind, you have the key to their interpretation” (letter, Ber1in 21st July 1931).



Close the window