GODOWSKY: Piano Transcriptions of Bach Cello Suites Nos. 2, 3 and 5
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Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938)
Piano Music, Vol. 7 - Transcriptions of Bach Cello Suites
The great Polish-American pianist Leopold Godowsky was bornat Soshly, a village near the Lithuanian city of Vilnius, in 1870, the son of adoctor. The first signs of his exceptional musical ability were clear by theage of three and he wrote his first compositions four years later, in 1879making his first public appearance as a pianist. There followed a series ofconcerts 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. Fourmonths at the Hochschule proved enough and in the same year, 1884, Godowskymade his first appearance in the United States in Boston, under the auspices ofthe Clara Louise Kellogg Concert Company, then touring with that singer andwith the singer Emma Thursby. 1885 brought appearances at the New York Casino,in weekly alternation with the Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreno, and thefollowing year he undertook a tour of Canada with the Belgian violinist OvideMusin, for whom Saint-Sa?½ns had written his Morceau de concert
. In thehope of studying with Liszt, Godowsky returned to Europe, but, learning ofLiszt's death from a newspaper, he travelled, instead, to Paris, with theobject of studying with Camille Saint-Sa?½ns, distinguished equally as a pianistand a composer. Saint-Sa?½ns was impressed by Godowsky's playing and suggestedthat he should adopt him, on condition that he changed his name, a suggestionthat Godowsky rejected. For the better part of three years, however, theirrelationship continued, with Sundays spent together, Godowsky playing toSaint-Sa?½ns, before the latter played to his disciple his own compositions. Thecontact was a valuable one and allowed Godowsky to meet leading figures in contemporarymusical life, including Tchaikovsky, whose music he played in that composer'spresence at the Paris chamber-music society, La Trompette
. In 1927, sixyears after the death of Saint-Sa?½ns, Godowsky transcribed for piano his mentor'sLa cygne
(The Swan), from the Carnival of the Animals
, and on hisown deathbed in 1938 had a friend play this to him.
In 1890 Godowsky returned to America, where he joined thestaff of the New York College of Music, married, and took out Americancitizenship. While continuing his career as a performer, he visited Philadelphia in 1894 and 1895, as the head of the piano department at the music schoolfounded by Gilbert Raynold Combs, and from 1895 to 1900 led the piano departmentof the Chicago Conservatory. A successful concert in Berlin persuaded him tosettle there in the latter year, teaching and using the city as his base for concerttours 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 theoutbreak of war Godowsky settled again in the United States, giving concertsand clarifying his innovative theories of keyboard technique in a series of editionsand publications. At the same time he continued to write music of his own forthe piano. He gave his last concert in the United States in 1922, but continuedto tour throughout the world, acknowledged as one of the leading virtuosi ofhis 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. Hewas now increasingly led to pin his hopes for a lasting place in the history ofmusic on his compositions and transcriptions for the piano. Such recognition,however, has been slow to come.
Johann Sebastian Bach served from 1717 to 1723 as CourtKapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen. His time theremarked the social summit of his career. Here he enjoyed the favour of anenlightened young prince and avoided the kind of problems that were to besethim in Leipzig, where, from 1723 until his death in 1750, he was an employee ofthe city council at the choir school of St Thomas. Bach wrote his six Suites for unaccompanied cello at Cothen, about the year 1720. They have attractedless attention from transcribers and arrangers than the Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin, particularly the famous Chaconne in Dminor. These works for solo cello and for solo violin inevitably leave agreat deal implied rather than openly stated. Both instruments are essentially melodic;chords of two or, on occasion even three notes, can be played simultaneously onadjacent strings, while four-note chords have to be split. Performance on a keyboardinstrument allows the possibility of chords up to ten notes strucksimultaneously. The violin and cello suggest contrasting polyphonic voices bychanges of register. The piano is able to give full statement to what the othertwo instruments can only imply.
Godowky's transcriptions of Bach's works for solo violin andsolo cello were published in 1924, described as 'very freely transcribed andadapted for the pianoforte'. The fifth of the cello suites, the Suite in Cminor, which Bach himself later arrange for lute, was originally written forthe cello in scordatura
, a practice sometimes found in string music ofthe period, with the top A string of the instrument tuned down to G. The transcriptionis dedicated to the cellist Casals. It opens, as all Bach's cello suites do, witha Prelude. The opening section, much expanded by Godowsky in its harmonies anduse of contrasting registers, is followed by a fugue which, in transcription,is given a much fuller treatment than was possible in the original version. TheAllemande that follows is also greatly expanded in range, with contrapuntaladditions that remove it still further from the original dance of the title.
This is duly followed by its companion Courante, treated more lightly intranscription. The Sarabande, that in the original avoids the chordal patternof its predecessors, is given an added melodic line, with the original in the bass,and with the implied harmonies further expanded. The first Gavotte is treateddelicately, framing the now rapid second Gavotte, with its compound rhythm. Thefinal Gigue, in dotted compound rhythm, is again given additional melodic interest.
Suite No. 2 in D minor, the transcription dedicated to the Belgian cellist JeanGerardy, opens ominously with a repeated key note in the bass, providing apedalpoint in the transcription for the first few bars. Godowsky makes much ofthe great climax of the Prelude and its final bars. The Allemande is offered, expanded,tending to obscure, in its rapidity, the original form, offset by the virtuosotreatment of the Courante, with the original cello line in the upper part. The Sarabanderestores a measure of tranquillity, the original melody again largely in theupper part. The first Minuet is treated with some delicacy, framing a D major secondMinuet, provided now with a little added melody, that seems to belong inanother century. The suite ends with a lively Gigue, similarly transformed.
The transcription of Suite No. 3 in C major is dedicated tothe pianist Mario Paci, conductor of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, to whichhe had recruited the young Italian violinist Arrigo Foa as concertmaster in theearly 1920s, together with other players from Europe. The Prelude opens boldlywith a descending scale, the texture greatly expanded in transcription, withmelodic implications realised in figuration that has a familiar Bachian air.
The original Allemande has relatively elaborate figuration, which allowsidiomatic embroidering. The Courante, with its octave treatment of the melodyproposed, is followed by a tranquil Sarabande, a well-known movement in which theharmonies are already supplied in the original. This leads to the still morefamiliar pair of Bourrees, the sec