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8.225372 - GODOWSKY, L.: Piano Music, Vol. 14 (Scherbakov) - 53 Studies on the Chopin √Čtudes, Vol. 1
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Leopold Godowsky (1870–1938)
Piano Music Volume 14

 

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, making his first public appearance as a pianist in 1879. 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 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 US 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 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 US, 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 US 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.

Godowsky’s Studies on the Chopin Études were written over a period of some 20 years, the first, on Chopin’s Étude, Op. 25, No. 6 in 1894, a study in thirds, arranged for the left hand, dedicated to Camille Saint- Saëns. Chopin’s Études were issued in two groups of twelve—Op. 10 and Op. 25—with three further Études composed in 1839 for the Méthode de méthodes, commissioned by Moscheles. Godowsky’s virtuoso studies on Chopin’s Études include 53 pieces in all. Étude, Op. 10, No. 1, for example, appears in an elaborate first version, dated 4 June 1899, followed by a second version for the left hand, dated 3 September 1909. The second study included here is the second version of Étude, Op. 10, No. 2 in A minor, known as ‘Ignis fatuus’ (‘Will-o’-the-wisp’) with the right hand part given to the left. Op. 10, No. 3, in D flat major (originally in E major), dated 3 September 1909, is for the left hand alone, as is the following Op. 10, No. 4 in C sharp minor, of the same date, a Presto.

Op. 10, No. 5, in G flat major, marked Vivace, gave rise to nine versions, with the first version here making principal demands on the left hand. Op. 10, No. 6, in E flat minor for the left hand only, is followed by Op. 10, No. 7 in C major, the first of three versions, described as a Toccata. Op. 10, No. 8 in F major transfers the rapid right hand figuration to the left hand, and Op. 10, No. 9 in C sharp minor, dated 14 May 1903, the first of three versions, is a treatment of the original F minor Étude, marked Allegro molto agitato, but now Allegretto. Op. 10, No. 10, in A flat major is transformed in its second version into a study for left hand alone, dated 1 December 1914. Op. 10, No. 11, in A major is also for the left hand, as is Op. 10, No. 12 in C sharp minor, originally in C minor, based on Chopin’s Revolutionary Étude, dedicated by Chopin to Franz Liszt.

Op. 25, No. 1, in A flat major, has a third version dated 25 July 1904, based on a Chopin Étude originally dedicated to Liszt’s mistress, the Countess Marie d’Agoult. Op. 25, No. 2, in F minor, is a waltz, the second of its four versions dated May 1904. Op. 25, No. 3, in F major, has a first version written on 25 July 1904, followed here by Op. 25, No. 4, in F minor, in a second version Polonaise, marked by Godowsky Allegro drammatico. Op. 25, No. 5, in C sharp minor, dated July 1904, is described as ‘In the form of a Mazurka’ in the second of its three versions. Op. 25, No. 6, in in G sharp minor, is a study in thirds, followed by Op. 25, No. 8, in D flat major, a study in sixths. Op. 25, No. 9, in G flat major, offers a first version, dated 24 June 1899, and Op. 25, No. 10, in B minor, marked Allegro con fuoco, dated 1 December 1914 and for the left hand. Op. 25, No. 11 in A minor opens with the original Lento, replaced almost at once by an Allegro con brio. The Study is dated 15 July 1904. Op. 25, No. 12, in C sharp minor, dated 3 September 1909, is for left hand.

In 1839 Chopin wrote three Études for the Méthode de méthodes of Moscheles and Fétis. The first of these brought Godowsky’s F minor, Op. posth. No. 1, of December 1914 for the left hand, followed by the E major first version of the second of these pieces.

Keith Anderson


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