LeopoldGodowsky (1870 -1938)
Piano MusicVol. II
The Polish-born,American-naturalised Leopold Godowsky was born in Lithuania. "The superman of piano playing... a pianist for pianists" JamesHuneker, 1901), he taught Heinrich Neuhaus, and included among his friends Rachmaninovand Albert Einstein. In Henry C. Lahee's Famous Pianists of Today andYesterday (London, Boston 1902), we read how his youthful conquest of thesalons of Paris led to his capture of "the most aristocratic homes inLondon... the palaces of the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Norfolk... lt wasduring the many festivities in connection with the Queen's golden jubilee in1887 that Godowsky was ordered to play at Marlborough House, when no less thanthirty crowned heads formed apart of his audience. On that occasion thePrincess of Wales was so much pleased with Godowsky's 'Valse Scherzo' that sheaccepted the dedication of it by a special court order [published 11th July1888]... There is no ostentation or frivolity in Godowsky's playing, but ratherlargeness and broadness of style, brilliancy, grace, fluency, and poeticfeeling. He has an immense repertoire, and it is said that he can give fromsixteen to twenty different programmes without repeating a single number, andevery selection a more or less important classical work [witness his remarkableseries of recitals at the Chicago Conservatory between October 1897 and May1898]".
Godowsky'soriginal compositions, his magnum opus - the 53 legendary elaborationsand transformations of Chopin's studies (22 alone for left hand, earning himthe sobriquet "Apostle of the left hand") - his transcriptions andcontrapuntal paraphrases, demand "a polyphonic brain, and fingers thatwork in co-operation with the brain. My piano music is like an orchestra, withdifferent independent voices played by different instruments. It requires tonaldiscrimination... [My compositions have] many voices (like Bach) and ...
genuine piano quality (1ike Chopin). If you bear this in mind, you have the keyto their interpretation" (letter, Berlin21st July 1931). In contrast to Rachmaninov's massivehands, Godowsky's were delicate -"chiselled out of marble" (Neuhaus)- yet immaculately trained to "master wide stretches and dangerous skipswith the greatest of ease" (his pupil Clarence Adler). "Some of [mymusic] is hard to read perhaps, but I insist that it is not difficult to play.
I have small hands and I write my music so that it is pianistic - to fit thehand".
Godowsky was amongthe last of the Romantic Bach revivalists, the forgotten final jewel in athunderous concert-grand tradition of leonine, iron-framed pianisticglorification going back to Liszt and Tausig. In the foreword to his "veryfreely transcribed" adaptations of the first two sonatas and first partitafor solo violin, published in New York on 5th May 1924, prefaced by a saying ofConfucius - "I am not concerned at not being known; I seek to be worthy tobe known", he says:
"It was withawe and reverence that I approached these imperishable works of JohannSebastian Bach [1685-1750]... the most significant compositions forunaccompanied solo [violin] in the literature of music. While... the mightygenius of the cantor of the Thomaskirche is everywhere apparent, yet theinsurmountable limitations of [the instrument] were obstacles to the freeunfolding of the master's supreme powers in contrapuntal style and emotionalpolyphony. The transcendental nature of his music, the profundity of his ideas,the grandeur of his vision and conception are inseparable from the mightinessof the organ and the vastness of a cathedral. Only the orchestra, and to alesser degree the piano, can express as impressively as the 'thunderer ofinstruments' the monumental ideas and the bewildering complexity of Bach'scompositions. In these sonatas... one feels a colossus in chains, a giantendeavouring to adjust his powers to the limitation of his medium ofexpression.
"To exploreinner meanings; to probe hidden beauties; to give utterance to vaguelysuggested thoughts; to project undivulged ideas - in articulated subconsciousimpressions - was for me a labour of love and an inexhaustible source ofinspiration.
\In venturing totranscribe these works I fully realised the burden of such a responsibility. Ilikewise took into consideration the possibility of the adverse criticalopinion which I was courting by treading on such sacred soil, by trespassingthe portals of tradition.
"In a number ofinstances Bach himself has shown that he approved of transcriptions, arrangements,adaptations and diversified versions of the same work. Nor has he limited himselfto his own compositions, for he has not hesitated to arrange freely works byother composers of his period for instruments other than those for which theywere originally intended.
"However, in thepresent instance I may be accused of greater intrepidity in that I have notmerely transcribed, but have created new contrapuntal parts and introducedoccasional harmonic modifications, while fully availing myself of the developmentsof our modern pianoforte and the strides we have made in the technique of pianoplaying.
"In extenuation ofsuch procedure... my endeavour has been to develop the polyphony and theharmony in the spirit of the master and his period. At times aestheticconsiderations have prompted me to deviate slightly from this reverentialattitude, a course I believe Bach would not have disapproved, in view of theamazing harmonic modernisms so frequently found in his compositions andconsidering his very free amendments of his own and other composers' works.
"On severaloccasions I have been tempted to slightly modify the architectural design inorder to give the structural outline a more harmonious form. Thus, when thereturn to the first subject of a movement seems imperative, I have interpolatedapart of the main idea before the close of that movement.
"I wish to make itclear that I have never introduced any themes, motives, or counter-melodieswhich were not a logical outgrowth of the inherent musical content. Appended toeach transcription will be found the complete original text of Bach'scomposition upon which these free elaborations were made. The performer is thusenabled to discriminate fully and intelligently between the original thought ofthe composer and the adaptations and elaborations of the transcriber.
"... Inediting these piano versions... no effort has been spared to make theseeditions as complete as was within my power. Since infallibility is foreign tohuman nature, I believe that in some instances my own conceptions could bereplaced by interpretations of a different character without injury to the art-work. However, I do request the performer to notice and observe all marks ofexpression, and to disregard them only when there is a logical reason for thedivergence... Repetitions [where marked] may be omitted in long and slowmovements...