Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938)
Piano Music Volume 6: Schubert Transcriptions
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 ErnstRudorff, 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 theauspices of the Clara Louise Kellogg Concert Company, then touring with thatsinger and with the singer Emma Thursby. 1885 brought appearances at the NewYork Casino, in weekly alternation with the Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreno,and the following year he undertook a tour of Canada with the Belgian violinistOvide Musin, for whom Saint-Sa?½ns had written his Morceau de Concert. In thehope of studying with Liszt, Godowsky returned to Europe, but, learning of thelatter'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, their relationshipcontinued, with Sundays spent together, Godowsky playing to Saint-Sa?½ns, beforethe latter played to his disciple his own compositions. The contact was avaluable 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, six yearsafter the death of Saint-Sa?½ns, Godowsky transcribed for piano his mentor's LaCygne (The Swan), from the Carnival of the Animals, and on his own deathbed in1938 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 visitedPhiladelphia in 1894 and 1895, as the head of the piano department at the musicschool founded by Gilbert Raynold Combs, and from 1895 to 1900 led the pianodepartment of the Chicago Conservatory. A successful concert in Berlin persuadedhim to settle there in the latter year, teaching and using the city as his basefor concert tours throughout Europe and the Near East. In 1909 he moved toVienna to direct the piano master-class 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 ofeditions and publications. At the same time he continued to write music of hisown for the piano. He gave his last concert in the United States in 1922, butcontinued to tour throughout the world, acknowledged as one of the leadingvirtuosi of his time. His career as a performer was curtailed by a stroke in1930, depriving him of the ability to play for the last eight years of hislife. He was now increasingly led to pin his hopes for a lasting place in thehistory of music on his compositions and transcriptions for the piano. Suchrecognition, however, has been slow to come.
Godowsky's Passacaglia was published in 1928. It takes thefirst eight bars of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony and treats it as the basisof 44 variations, following the traditional baroque form and including, amongother things, an apt allusion to the Erl-Konig. The variations, in which thetheme returns in various guises and registers, lead to a virtuoso cadenza and afinal fugue, in which the theme undergoes major transformations. The work, atour de force, was designed to mark the centenary of Schubert's death.
Two of the transcriptions of songs by Schubert, Am Meer (Bythe Sea), collected in Schwanengesang, and Trockne Blumen (Faded Blossoms) fromDie schone M??llerin were included in Four Piano Transcriptions of German Lieder(In Intermediate Grade), published in 1937. Trockne Blumen is the eighteenthsong in the cycle, settings of verses by Wilhelm M??ller. The young miller, hisapprenticeship over, contemplates the flowers that his master's daughter gavehim, now, in his despair, to be planted on his grave for her to see when shepasses. Am Meer is a setting of a poem by Heine in which the poet sits by thesea with his beloved, seeing her tears fall. The transcription, essentially asimple one, preserves the lower register of the original and the brief momentsof drama, as the mist rises and then as the poet's soul dies of love, poisonedby his beloved's tears.
The Twelve Schubert Songs, freely transcribed for the pianowere published in 1927 and are much more elaborate in conception. Ungeduld(Impatience), the last of the set, dedicated to Gertrude Huntley, paraphrasesthe seventh of the Die schone M??llerin cycle. Here the young miller proclaimshis love for his master's daughter, the four strophes varied in arrangement, eachending with the declaration Dein ist mein Herz und soll es ewig bleiben (Thineis my heart and shall ever be).
Gute Nacht (Good Night), the fourth of Godowsky's set,dedicated to Berthold Neuer, is a transcription of the first song in the M??llercycle Winterreise (Winter Journey). The singer bids his beloved good night, ashe sets out on his journey through the winter snow, rejected. Godowsky againvaries each strophe of the original song.
Das Wandern (Wandering), is the first song of Die schoneM??llerin in which the boy, his apprenticeship now finished, sets out on hiswandering. In his arrangement, the second of the set, dedicated to IsidorePhilipp, Godowsky reflects in his transcription something of the developingpoetic mood of the five strophes.
In Heidenroslein (Hedge Rose), dedicated by Godowsky toPrince Mohammed Mohiuddin, Schubert set a poem by Goethe. A boy plucks a wildrose, in spite of the rose's warning, for which he finally cares nothing. Inthis third of the set there is again variety in the transcription of the threestrophes, the essential simplicity of which is nevertheless preserved.
Liebesbotschaft (Love's Message), the tenth of thetranscriptions, dedicated to Hans Heniot, treats the Schubert song that startsthe posthumously assembled collection, Schwanengesang (Swan Song), a setting ofa poem by Ludwig Rellstab. Godowsky preserves the pace and spirit of the song,giving greater prominence to elements hidden in the texture of the original.
An Mignon (To Mignon), the eleventh of the transcriptions,dedicated to Herman Wasserman, is based on a setting of a poem by Goethe,written in 1796 and published the following year in Schiller's Musenalmanach.The mysterious Mignon, who appears in Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister, apathetic child, kidnapped by gypsies, to be released by Wilhelm Meister, seemsto have symbolic significance for Goethe, here in a poem and song in whichthere is underlying grief.
In Morgengruss (Morning Greeting), the fifth of the group,dedicated to Joseph Gahm, and the eighth song in Die schone M??llerin, the boybids the miller's daughter good morning, wondering where she is and what she isdoing. The strophic song has four verses, in the last of which the lar