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8.573058 - GODOWSKY, L.: Violin and Piano Music - 12 Impressions / Avowal / Waltz Poems (Rashidova, Chadwick)

Leopold Godowsky (1870–1938)
Music for Violin and Piano


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 master-class 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.

Godowsky’s compositions are chiefly for the piano. They do, however, include some arrangements of piano pieces for violin and piano. Avowal is a transcription of Poem No 2, published in 1927. The version for violin and piano, dedicated to the violinist Mischa Elman, has fingering and phrasing of the violin part by Leo Godowsky Jr and was published in 1929. Leopold Godowsky’s son Leo, with his friend Leopold Mannes, were instrumental in establishing the scientific basis for colour photography. Both, however, combined this scientific interest with careers in music, with both of them trained as violinists. The young Godowsky married a sister of the Gershwins. The central section of the piece, with double stopping and abrupt dynamic changes, is followed by the return of the original romantic melody, now heard an octave higher, before the final bars, with the melody treated with double stopping.

All except the fifth of Godowsky’s Twelve Impressions for violin and piano, were published in 1916, with the whole set dedicated “To my dear friends Harriet and Fritz Kreisler”. The violin parts were fingered and bowed by Kreisler. In 1917 four of the pieces were arranged for cello and piano, with the same dedication. The first of the set, Larghetto lamentoso, is an arrangement of the fifth movement of Godowsky’s Sonata in E minor of 1911. This B minor movement had the title Retrospect, a solemn march of sombre and gentle melancholy, reflected in the arrangement of part of it for the first Impression.

The second piece, Profile (Chopin), in the same key, is taken from the seventh of Godowsky’s Walzermasken (Waltz Masques), a set of 24 fantasies in triple time. Marked Moderato, it seems to make overt use of Chopin’s Waltz in A flat, Op 61, No 1 and the Waltz in A flat, Op 64, No 3, among other references. The opening theme gives way to rapider figuration, an Allegretto and then an Allegro, played off the string. The third Impression, Légende, in E minor, is a version of the twelfth of the Walzermasken, like the preceding piece transposed up a semitone, with the violin part in double stopping through most of the piece. Tyrolean (Schuhplattler), taken from the eighteenth of the Walzermasken, is in C major and marked Allegro con umore, a lively clog-dance.

The series continues with the fifth piece, the C major Poème (Andante cantabile), based on the second movement of the Sonata in E minor, a slow movement breathing an air of romanticism both in its singing melody and in its textures. The following sixth piece, Perpetuum mobile, in G major and derived from the sixteenth of the Walzermasken, finds a place for double stopping during its headlong course. It leads to Elégie, a B minor piece taken from the thirteenth of the Walzermasken, as its title suggests, gently elegiac, moving to more rapid movement in the central section. The eighth Impression, in D major and taken from the fourteenth of the Walzermasken, Französisch, is an elegant Valse, its melody broken, as fashion dictated. To this the ninth piece, a sinister B minor Valse macabre, derived from the nineteenth of the Walzermasken, provides a contrast. Orientale, in E minor, is arranged from the twenty-first of the Walzermasken. Touches of the East are provided in a bass part that often repeats the key notes, underpinning a melody of suggested oriental contour. The eleventh piece, Saga, in A minor and an arrangement of the twenty-third of the Walzermasken, tells a varied tale, its sinister implications ending in a touch of harmonic ambiguity. The final Impression is Viennese (Wienerisch), an arrangement of the F major twenty-second of the Walzermasken, which captures the mood and manner of Vienna, and, like all the pieces in the set, provides music well suited to Fritz Kreisler, whose fingerings and bowings are meticulously reproduced.

Waltz Poem No 1, in G major and phrased and fingered for the violin by Godowsky’s violinist son, was published in 1929 and dedicated to Jascha Heifetz. It follows the usual pattern, with a contrasting central section, after which the principal melody returns. Waltz Poem No 2, in A major, its violin part similarly edited by Leo Godowsky, is dedicated to the Polish virtuoso Pavel Kochanski. At the heart of the piece is a passage in C sharp minor, marked malinconico, its sadness dispelled at the return of the lilting main theme. The Waltz Poems were originally part of a set of six piano pieces for the left hand alone.

Godowsky’s Triakontameron, Thirty Moods and Scenes in Triple Measure, was completed in 1920. The best known of all the pieces that make up the work is Alt Wien (Old Vienna), which starts the third volume of the six published volumes. The many arrangements include the present version for violin and piano transcribed by Jascha Heifetz. The Viennese waltz, replete with Luftpause and suggesting an age that has passed, is further explained in the words of the subtitle: Whose yesterdays look backwards with a smile through tears. Night in Tangier opens the Triakontameron. It was later transcribed for violin and piano by Fritz Kreisler and evokes the mood of the place by the use of exotic melodic material.

Keith Anderson

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