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8.223794 - GODOWSKY, L.: Piano Music, Vol. 2 (Scherbakov) - Transcriptions of Violin Sonatas by J. S. Bach

Leopold Godowsky (1870 -1938) Piano Music Vol

Leopold Godowsky (1870 -1938)

Piano Music Vol. II


The Polish-born, American-naturalised Leopold Godowsky was born in Lithuania. "The superman of piano playing... a pianist for pianists" James Huneker, 1901), he taught Heinrich Neuhaus, and included among his friends Rachmaninov and Albert Einstein. In Henry C. Lahee’s Famous Pianists of Today and Yesterday (London, Boston 1902), we read how his youthful conquest of the salons of Paris led to his capture of "the most aristocratic homes in London... the palaces of the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Norfolk... lt was during the many festivities in connection with the Queen's golden jubilee in 1887 that Godowsky was ordered to play at Marlborough House, when no less than thirty crowned heads formed apart of his audience. On that occasion the Princess of Wales was so much pleased with Godowsky's 'Valse Scherzo' that she accepted the dedication of it by a special court order [published 11th July 1888]... There is no ostentation or frivolity in Godowsky's playing, but rather largeness and broadness of style, brilliancy, grace, fluency, and poetic feeling. He has an immense repertoire, and it is said that he can give from sixteen to twenty different programmes without repeating a single number, and every selection a more or less important classical work [witness his remarkable series of recitals at the Chicago Conservatory between October 1897 and May 1898]".


Godowsky's original compositions, his magnum opus - the 53 legendary elaborations and transformations of Chopin's studies (22 alone for left hand, earning him the sobriquet "Apostle of the left hand") - his transcriptions and contrapuntal paraphrases, demand "a polyphonic brain, and fingers that work in co-operation with the brain. 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 (1ike Chopin). If you bear this in mind, you have the key to their interpretation" (letter, Berlin 21st July 1931). In contrast to Rachmaninov's massive hands, Godowsky's were delicate -"chiselled out of marble" (Neuhaus) - yet immaculately trained to "master wide stretches and dangerous skips with the greatest of ease" (his pupil Clarence Adler). "Some of [my music] is hard to read perhaps, but I insist that it is not difficult to play. I have small hands and I write my music so that it is pianistic - to fit the hand".


Godowsky was among the last of the Romantic Bach revivalists, the forgotten final jewel in a thunderous concert-grand tradition of leonine, iron-framed pianistic glorification going back to Liszt and Tausig. In the foreword to his "very freely transcribed" adaptations of the first two sonatas and first partita for solo violin, published in New York on 5th May 1924, prefaced by a saying of Confucius - "I am not concerned at not being known; I seek to be worthy to be known", he says:

"It was with awe and reverence that I approached these imperishable works of Johann Sebastian Bach [1685-1750]... the most significant compositions for unaccompanied solo [violin] in the literature of music. While... the mighty genius of the cantor of the Thomaskirche is everywhere apparent, yet the insurmountable limitations of [the instrument] were obstacles to the free unfolding of the master's supreme powers in contrapuntal style and emotional polyphony. The transcendental nature of his music, the profundity of his ideas, the grandeur of his vision and conception are inseparable from the mightiness of the organ and the vastness of a cathedral. Only the orchestra, and to a lesser degree the piano, can express as impressively as the 'thunderer of instruments' the monumental ideas and the bewildering complexity of Bach's compositions. In these sonatas... one feels a colossus in chains, a giant endeavouring to adjust his powers to the limitation of his medium of expression.


"To explore inner meanings; to probe hidden beauties; to give utterance to vaguely suggested thoughts; to project undivulged ideas – in articulated subconscious impressions - was for me a labour of love and an inexhaustible source of inspiration.




“In venturing to transcribe these works I fully realised the burden of such a responsibility. I likewise took into consideration the possibility of the adverse critical opinion which I was courting by treading on such sacred soil, by trespassing the portals of tradition.


“In a number of instances Bach himself has shown that he approved of transcriptions, arrangements, adaptations and diversified versions of the same work. Nor has he limited himself to his own compositions, for he has not hesitated to arrange freely works by other composers of his period for instruments other than those for which they were originally intended.


“However, in the present instance I may be accused of greater intrepidity in that I have not merely transcribed, but have created new contrapuntal parts and introduced occasional harmonic modifications, while fully availing myself of the developments of our modern pianoforte and the strides we have made in the technique of piano playing.


“In extenuation of such procedure... my endeavour has been to develop the polyphony and the harmony in the spirit of the master and his period. At times aesthetic considerations have prompted me to deviate slightly from this reverential attitude, a course I believe Bach would not have disapproved, in view of the amazing harmonic modernisms so frequently found in his compositions and considering his very free amendments of his own and other composers' works.


“On several occasions I have been tempted to slightly modify the architectural design in order to give the structural outline a more harmonious form. Thus, when the return to the first subject of a movement seems imperative, I have interpolated apart of the main idea before the close of that movement.


“I wish to make it clear that I have never introduced any themes, motives, or counter-melodies which were not a logical outgrowth of the inherent musical content. Appended to each transcription will be found the complete original text of Bach's composition upon which these free elaborations were made. The performer is thus enabled to discriminate fully and intelligently between the original thought of the composer and the adaptations and elaborations of the transcriber.


"... In editing these piano versions... no effort has been spared to make these editions as complete as was within my power. Since infallibility is foreign to human nature, I believe that in some instances my own conceptions could be replaced by interpretations of a different character without injury to the art- work. However, I do request the performer to notice and observe all marks of expression, and to disregard them only when there is a logical reason for the divergence... Repetitions [where marked] may be omitted in long and slow movements...


"... Nothing in the treatment of the piano is so elusive as the use of the pedal. The quality of the instrument; the size and acoustics of the auditorium [studio]; the performer's degree of clearness, evenness and accuracy; his dynamic and agogic adjustments; his general conception of the work -all influence the use of the pedal in its distribution of harmonic and colouristic values...


"...The minimum and maximum of speed shown by the metronome [Godowsky provided his own tempo markings] should be interpreted as permissible tempo fluctuations in defining the rate of speed at the beginning of the movement and also as tempo undulations during the movement. Due to the character of the pianoforte tone, to the augmented volume and range of dynamics, and to the added polyphony, the tempo indications had to be occasionally at variance with the prevalent tempi adopted by violinists...


"While clearness and expressiveness in the upper, lower and middle voices are a sine qua non in performing polyphonic music, yet it should be understood that bass-notes demand even greater attention and discrimination."


Godowsky, his biographer Jeremy Nicholas reminds us (1989), was "proud of these Bach transcriptions, proud of the refined and restrained technique he applied to them and of their musical scholarship and adroitness... when... they were subsequently generally ignored, increasing doubt beset him as to his purpose in life and the worth of his achievernents". Aesthetically, they are much less translations from one medium to another, as highly concentrated intensifications of pre-existent material. Godowsky's instincts as a composer were always more keenly developed than his gifts as a copyist. Evident throughout is not just a monumental pianism but -as the opening Adagio of the First Sonata so powerfully bears out (with its 22 bars broadened to 43, exchanged voicings, augmented time values, re-aligned rhythmic balances, added cadenzas, and emotionally-tensioned dynamics) -an obsessive passion for re-creation through a language of burgeoning variation, embellishment and textural discourse. Here is twentieth century Romantic Bach on a grandiose, metamorphic scale.


Transcribed in random order (each movement carefully dated), the First and Third Sonatas are in the sonata da chiesa style (with slow introductions and epic fugues); the Second (a dance suite) is in the form of a sonata da camera .The solo violin versions appended to the published piano score were taken from the heavily marked, dynamically corrupt performing edition of Leopold Auer (some of whose ideas Godowsky may have borrowed).


Sonata No.1 in G minor, BWV 1001

In his manuscript (Cöthen 1720), following baroque convention, Bach w rote the Sonata No.1 in G minor with a key signature of one B flat, adding the necessary E flat as an accidental as and when needed. Godowsky substitutes the modern key signature. Transcribed New York City 1923. Dedicated to Franz Kneisel.


[1] Adagio (Fantasia): Maestoso; 4/4. 17th November

[2] Fuga: Allegro con brio; 4/4. 27th October. Deciso

[3] Siciliana: Andante espressivo; 12/8; B flat major. 13th November. Dolce. The siciliana was a 17th/18th century pastoral dance of aria-like character.

[4] Presto (Finale}: Vjvace, con fuoco; 6/8. 8th November. Bach's original was in 3/8 time.


Sonata (Partita) No.2 in B minor, BWV 1002

The Sonata No.2 in B minor is a cycle of four binary dances, al1 in the tonic key and each with their own “double” or variation. In his treatment, Godowsky turns them virtually into a group of eight studies, independently addressing different areas and problems of technique. Transcribed during a concert tour of the Far East, partlyon board ship, 1922-23. Dedicated to Rachmaninov.

[5] Allemande: Maestoso largamente ; 4/4. Harbin, Manchuria, 15th December 1922. In his Plaine and Easie Introduction (1597),

Thomas Morley described the allemande as a “heavie daunce ... (fitlie representing the nature of the people [German], whose name it carrieth) so that no extraordinarie motions are used in dauncing of it". By Bach's time it was already old-fashioned. (Bach specified no tempo; Auer proposed Adagjo.)

[6] Double: Moderato; 4/4. SS Gorjistan between Hong Kong and Singapore, 5th February 1923. Sempre quasj staccato

[7] Courante: Andante cantabjle; 3/4. SS Gorjistan between Singapore and Batavia, Java, 10th February 1923. The testing articulation calls for a sustained right hand melody, “molto espressivo”, with a detached accompaniment in both hands, “staccato e leggiero”. Additionally, Godowsky invites the use of the una corda pedal, and offers the pianist the opportunity to either "entirely" omit the sustaining pedal "in the first part, or when repeating the first part". The Italian courante was usually a brisk dance: Godowsky's tempo reversal is correspondingly the more unusual.

[8] Double: Presto con fuoco; 3/4. 55 Gorjistan near Singapore, 7th February 1923. Egualmente e ben articolato. Godowsky follows Bach's change of tempo, but exaggerates the contrast.

[9] Sarabande: Largo; 3/4. Shanghai, China, 1st January 1923. Molto espressivo. The Bachian sarabande was typically modeled after the zarabanda francese, with the accent placed on the second beat. By the eighteenth century it had become a slow, stately dance. In its original form, however, it must have been quite different: "a dance and song," says Mariana, "so lascivious in its words, so ugly in its movements, that it is enough to inflame even very honest people" .Philip II of Spain had to have it banned.

[10] Double: AIlegretto vivace; 9/8. Shanghai, 2nd January1923. "Leggiero. Una corda. Senza pedale". Quickening the tempo was Godowsky's idea, prompted perhaps by habitual tradition as well as Auer's marking, staccato volant (flying).

[11] Bourree: AIlegro con spirito ; 4/4. Shanghai, 31st December 1922. This French dance-type derives from the Auvergne region. Bach's original was in 2/2 time.

[12] Double: AIlegro ; 2/2. Shanghai, 5th January 1923. Leggiero. Una corda.



Sonata No.3 in A minor, BWV 1003

Transcribed New York City, Atlantic City New Jersey 1924. Dedicated to Leopold Auer.

[13] Grave (Fantasia): 4/4. New York, 18th February. Largamente

[14] Fuga: AIlegro confuoco; 2/4. Atlantic City, 2nd March. Energico

[15] Andante (Aria): Molto espressivo e cantabile; 3/4; C major.

New York, 4th January. "The repeats should be played with the soft pedal (una corda)".

[6] AIlegro (Finale); 4/4. New York, 9th January. Deciso. Marcato. Godowsky ignores (or was unaware of) the written-out terraced dynamics of Bach's original.



1997 Ates Orga

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