About this Recording
8.225364 - GODOWSKY, L.: Piano Music, Vol. 12 (Scherbakov) - 6 Waltz Poems for the Left Hand Alone / Transcriptions
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Leopold Godowsky (1870–1938)
Piano Music • 12


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.

Ständchen (Serenade) is the second of six songs by Richard Strauss written between 1885 and 1887, settings of verses by Adolf Friedrich, Count von Schack. The singer calls on his beloved to awake, the piano accompaniment providing an intricate web of sound, into which Godowsky, in his transcription of 1922, introduces the vocal melody, at first in the left hand. He dedicated the piece to Samuel D. Stein.

Godowsky wrote in 1929 a series of six Waltz Poems, which he issued in the following year in a version for left hand alone. Written in France, in Paris and in Nice, the left-hand versions are dedicated to the French-born pianist Carl Engel.

Godowsky’s Three Concert Studies, Op. 11, date from 1899. The first of the set, in C major and marked grottesco, was dedicated, without permission to Edward MacDowell, who took exception to Godowsky’s intended compliment, having earlier entertained objections to Godowsky’s reworking of Chopin Etudes as disrespectful to the original composer. The Concert Study in question is, of course, an original work, but MacDowell’s attitude to the dedication seems, Godowsky thought, to have brought about a temporary cooling in enthusiasm on the part of the publisher that both composers shared, Schirmer.

Godowsky’s transcriptions of songs by Schumann, Brahms and Schubert rework very familiar material. The transcription of Schumann’s Du bist wie eine Blume (A flower to me thou seemest), a setting of a poem by Heine included in Schumann’s Myrthen, Op. 25, was published in 1921, Godowsky’s transcription of Schumann’s Burns setting, Hochländisches Wiegenlied (Highland Cradle-Song), also from Myrthen, has a similar simplicity in its direct transcription of two verses of the song. This last is included in a group of four piano transcriptions published in 1927, together with a version of Brahms’s Vergebliches Ständchen (Fruitless Serenade), originally a folk song, and two songs by Schubert, Am Meer (By the Sea), a Heine setting included in the posthumous compilation Schwanengesang, and Trockne Blumen (Faded Flowers), from Die schöne Müllerin. These transcriptions were published under the title Four Piano Transcriptions of German Lieder (In Intermediate Grade) and faithfully reproduce the songs in versions as near as may be to their original versions. Less familiar today is Still wie die Nacht, Op. 326, No. 27 (Calm as the night), a song by Carl Bohm (1844–1920), who enjoyed very considerable contemporary popularity, not least as a prolific composer of songs. The transcription is dedicated to Stravinsky’s fellow émigré, Alexis Kall, and published in 1921.

In 1929 Godowsky completed a Suite for the left hand alone, a series of modern pieces, following the traditional pattern of the French baroque dance suite. The suite was dedicated to the French pianist Isidore Philipp, as were the two movements Godowsky later arranged for two hands, a Menuet and a final Gigue, published in 1937. These movements are romantic in style rather than baroque pastiche, in spite of the titles.

Pastiche, however, was very much the stock-in-trade of the Austrian-born violinist Fritz Kreisler, who for years bamboozled audiences with pieces of his own composition, which he credited largely to lesser known composers of the past. These short pieces were well suited to the shorter time available on records before the days of long-playing or compact disc recordings, and in recital offered pieces convenient in length for encores. Kreisler’s Rondino on a theme by Beethoven, however, makes no pretence. In a piece published in 1915 and dedicated to the violinist Mischa Elman, Kreisler created an original composition from the Rondo for Violin and Piano, WoO 41, that Beethoven had sent from Vienna to Eleonore von Breuning in Bonn in 1794 and which remained unpublished. It is this that, in 1916, Godowsky transcribed for the piano.

The final works included here are both derived from Weber. His Aufforderung zum Tanz (Invitation to the Dance), a rondo for piano, offered a programme in which dancers gather, an invitation is issued to the dance, and is accepted by the lady in question. The couple dance and converse politely, finally resuming their seats. Godowsky creates, on this basis, a work he describes as a contrapuntal paraphrase, strands of counterpoint interwoven with the original waltz sequence structure. In 1904 Godowsky had published his paraphrase in a version for two pianos, with a part for an optional third piano, dedicating it to the American piano duo, Guy Maier and Lee Pattison, pupils of Schnabel. The following year Godowsky devised a version of his contrapuntal paraphrase for one player, dedicating it to Ferruccio Busoni. Godowsky’s Perpetuum mobile dates from 1903 and is a concert arrangement of the last movement of Weber’s Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 24, a movement that Weber called L’infatigable, a rondo in perpetual motion variously arranged by later composers, with a version by Brahms for the left hand and by Tchaikovsky, among others. Godowsky’s concert version, dedicated to the Dutch pianist and composer Johan Wijsman, provides a brilliant conclusion to the present recording.

Keith Anderson

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