About this Recording
8.225367 - GODOWSKY, L.: Piano Music, Vol. 13 (Scherbakov) - 6 Pieces for the Left Hand Alone / Transcriptions
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Leopold Godowsky (1870–1938)
Piano Music Volume 13

 

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 and composer 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 Le 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.

Something of Godowsky’s life as a performer may be seen in the places and dates of composition, while his dedications are evidence of a wide and distinguished circle of friends. His version of the Adagietto is taken from Bizet’s L’Arlésienne, an originally unsuccessful collaboration with Alphonse Daudet in a love tragedy set in Provence. The Adagietto, the third movement of the first Suite derived with greater success from the original incidental music was originally scored for string quartet. Godowsky’s adaptation of 1927 was dedicated to his wife’s kinsman, Leonard S. Saxe.

Godowsky dedicated his Meditation, dated 2 January 1929 and written in Paris, to Dmitri Tiomkin, the Ukrainian-born pianist who had settled in America, later to forge a career for himself as a composer of film music. The Meditation, in E flat major and marked Andante tranquillo was issued first in a version for left hand only, followed by publication for both hands.¹ Godowsky dedicated his E flat minor Impromptu, again written in 1929 and published in 1930 in a version for left hand only, to another pianist, Josef Lhévinne. A version for both hands followed.1 A third piece, Capriccio (Patetico), in C sharp minor and with an expressive central section in contrast, was written in Vienna in May 1928 and published in December 1931, dedicated to the Australian-born pianist Ernest Hutcheson, who had settled in America in 1914. The Intermezzo (Malinconico), an E major Allegretto, dated 6 August 1928 in Evanston, Illinois, has a dedication to the distinguished Ukrainian pianist Alexander Siloti, pupil and friend of Tchaikovsky, who had settled in America after the Russian Revolution. Godowsky dedicated his Elegy to Gottfried Galston, a pianist born in Vienna, who had served as an assistant to his friend Ferruccio Busoni in Berlin and in the late 1920s moved to America. In B minor, the piece was written in Paris, dated 6 March 1929. The sixth of Godowsky’s pieces for left hand, all also published in versions for both hands1, is the D minor Etude macabre, the only one of these pieces for left hand only to be written on a single stave. A moto perpetuo, the study was written in Paris, dated 31 January 1929, and dedicated to the Swiss pianist and composer, Emile-Robert Blanchet, a pupil of Busoni.

Godowsky’s transcription of Benjamin Godard’s Canzonetta from the latter’s 1876 Concerto romantique for violin and orchestra is more technically demanding. The arrangement, dated 15 August 1927, is dedicated to the light-music composer Jerome Kern. The concert arrangement of Weber’s Momento capriccioso is an earlier work, written in 1904 and dedicated to the Dutch pianist and composer Johan Wijsman. Still earlier is Godowky’s arrangement of Chopin’s Concert du Rondo in E flat major, written during the latter’s first year in Paris. Godowsky’s arrangement was completed in 1899 and dedicated to the German-born pianist Carl Faelton, who later established himself as a teacher of distinction in America. Le Cygne, from Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals, is transcribed with great delicacy and dedicated to Godowsky’s pupil and assistant John George Hinderer.

A concert version of a D major Tango by Isaac Albéniz, dated Chicago, 12 July 1921, is dedicated to Dr Alexis Kall, who had taught at the Imperial University in St Petersburg and, after the Revolution, settled eventually in Los Angeles, earning a living as a musicologist and piano teacher. Kall was able to welcome Stravinsky to the West Coast and to assist him in other ways. Godowsky also made a concert arrangement of Triana, from the second album of Iberia, dated 24 October 1922, on board the SS Empress of Canada, en route from Vancouver to Yokohama. He dedicated the virtuoso arrangement to Arthur Rubinstein.

Godowsky’s own recordings in America include his version of Sir Henry Bishop’s popular Home Sweet Home and his grandiose 1921 concert version of John Stafford Smith’s The Star-Spangled Banner. Godowsky left a recording on a piano roll of The Last Waltz by Oscar Straus, an arrangement that demonstrates the breadth of his taste, or the demands of his audiences.

In 1912 Godowsky published three Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Johann Strauss, Three Waltz Paraphrases for the Piano forte. The second of these, dedicated to Frau Johann Strauss, is based on Die Fledermaus and offers a technically demanding medley of familiar melodies from the operetta, helpfully cued in the score with fragments of the libretto. The work opens with an Alla burla, from the scene in which Rosalinde, her husband Eisenstein and their maid, Adele, prepare to part, although all three will meet again, in disguise, at Prince Orlosky’s supper-party. Melody after melody is woven into the texture, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein, the Dui-du chorus, Mein Herr Marquis, Erst ein Kuss, while the final verdict is given to Adele, ja sehr komisch ist die Sache.

Keith Anderson

¹ Available on Marco Polo 8.225350.


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