REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » GODOWSKY: Piano Music for Four Hands
Music for Four Hands
Although Leopold Godowsky a legendary figure as one of the
most remarkable wizards in the history of the piano, he has only recently begun
to emerge from an unjust obscurity as a composer. It is only now that many of
his original compositions are beginning to be performed with any regularity on
the concert platform and in the recording studio.
a performer, Godowsky was held in awe by such contemporaries as Hofmann, Josef Lhévinne,
de Pachmann, and Rachmaninov. His control of physical pianism was perhaps
unrivaled, although he was seldom willing to thunder like a Rachmaninov or
dream poetically like a Paderewski. Godowsky's incredible independence and
evenness of fingers were the envy of his colleagues, for he had an uncanny
ability to highlight the complex strands of counterpoint and inner voices which
were a hallmark of his compositional style. For the mass public, however, Godowsky
always lacked the sensual magnetism and human warmth of a Rubinstein, Anton or
Godowsky was born in 1870 in Vilna, then the capital of Lithuania
and now a part of Poland. Although a child prodigy, like Busoni he seems to
have been largely self-taught, with his only formal academic training a brief
and dismal three months spent at the Berlin Hochschule. A later extended period
of contact with Saint-Saëns in Paris which started in 1886 was largely
dismissed by Godowsky: "I must confess it was all encouragement and no
criticism...I would play, and he would say" 'Bravo, bravo!'...but of
lessons I had none." Godowsky had originally intended to study with Liszt,
but the latter¡¦s death in 1886 prevented this.
professional breakthrough came in 1900 when he gave his Berlin début. At the time
Berlin was virtually crammed with the most illustrious pianists of the day, and
Godowsky's audience included such giants as d'Albert and Rosenthai (two of Liszt's
most famous students), Busoni and de Pachmann. With the Berlin Philharmonic his
programme in two concerts included the first Piano Concertos of Brahms and of Tchaikovsky,
seven of Godowsky's own recently composed and fiendishly difficult studies
after the Chopin Etudes, and his own elaborate transcription of Weber's
"Invitation to the Dance". Word spread rapidly, and he was soon
heavily in demand throughout Europe.
the next three decades Godowsky would enjoy an active concert career that took
him repeatedly to the Far East, North and South America, Europe and Russia.
Although he recorded extensively, his expressive powers seem to have been at
their best in relaxed private surroundings before admiring colleagues and
friends. Increasingly an over-concern for technical perfection seemed to
inhibit Godowsky emotionally both on the stage and in the recording studio.
performance career was shattered when in 1930, during a gruelling series of
recording sessions in London, he suffered a stroke which permanently impaired
his right hand. The world financial crisis of 1929 had already caused problems
for Godowsky, for like many others, he had lost an enormous amount of money in
the collapse of the stock market. Now with his income from performing abruptly
terminated, he spent the last eight years of his life struggling both to earn a
living and to retain his professional identity by giving masterclasses and
making educational editions. In 1935 his former student, Heinrich Neuhaus, the
future teacher of both Richter and Gilels, tried to persuade Godowsky to teach
for three months a year in Russia, but when Godowsky initially visited the
former Soviet Union, he was so appalled at the political situation that he
quickly left, and even cancelled a scheduled meeting with Stalin.
last years were dark, for they saw the suicide of one of his sons in 1932, and
a year later the death of Frieda Godowsky, his devoted wife of forty-two years.
Unable to return to Germany because of Hitler (Godowsky was Jewish), he
occupied the final two years of his life largely with fruitless utopian plans
for a "World Synod of Music and Musicians". He died embittered and
lonely in New York City in 1938 from cancer. His will to compose had already
perished at the time of his stroke.
Godowsky was prolific as a composer, like Chopin he confined himself largely to
works for the piano. As Liszt had done for the level of virtuosity in his day, Godowsky
in such compositions as his 53 Studies based on the Chopin Etudes and several
of his Strauss waltz paraphrases carried the physical demands made on the
player to a higher level than ever before, but Godowsky was also capable of
writing extremely attractive, yet sophisticated works in small form.
"Miniatures" were published in 1918, and bear witness to Godowsky's
wonderful ability to charm, move, and amuse the listener, while solving the
difficult problem of musically blending two performing parts of often
contrasting difficulty. As in the other cycles of miniatures for four-hands
such as Schumann's "Twelve Four-Handed Pieces for Big and Little
Children", Op. 85, and Liszt's "Christmas Tree" Suite, Godowsky's
writing proves that extremely original and expressive music can be contained in
small structures. Godowsky's affection for the set is clear: "I have given
a great deal of thought and loving care to them and thought he pieces are
smaller and considerably less complicated than anything I have ever written,
they represent the best there is in me. The experience and assimilated
knowledge, the aims and aspirations, the hopes and ideals, the disappointments
and yearnings of a sensitive nature and an artist's soul are all to be
found..." Godowsky made solo versions of several from the set, and was
particularly fond of playing the "Humoresque" in his concerts.
set was immediately popular with both the general public and with Godowsky's
colleagues. Gabrilowitsch, Hofmann and Huneker warmly expressed their
enthusiasm, and even the usually dour Rachmaninov insisted on playing the
gleeful little "Toccatina" over and over again. An especially
charming incident is related by Bruno Walter, who visited Godowsky intending to
ask him play some of his new Bach transcriptions. Instead Walter started to
read through the "Miniatures" with Godowsky, then, upon leaving hours
later, remembered that he had been so enchanted with the "Miniatures"
that he had forgotten to ask his host to play the Bach pieces.
Miniatures are arranged in eight groupings, and range from such warmly
expressive, atmospheric pieces as the Meditation, Arabian Chant, and Nocturne,
to the impish humour of the Toccatina, Humoresque, and The Exercise, the last
of which must have owed something to Saint-Saëns' Pianists from the Carnival of the Animals. Dances
from various countries are explored, with Chopin himself getting a gentle
good-natured nod in the Mazurka.
charming, witty, and expressive pieces are filled with some of Godowsky's most
original writing, and undoubtedly express much of the composer's own loquacious
personality that emerged when he was in congenial surroundings away from the
concert stage. They are great fun for both listener and performer.
Chung Ming Chan was born in Hong Kong and had much of his musical training in
the United States. In 1984 he made his acclaimed début with the Central Opera
Orchestra of Beijing in a concert broadcast and televised by Chinese National
Television and Radio. He has won praise elsewhere for his technical command and
poetic sensitivity and has given concerts in Asia, Europe and North America.
Alton Chan is now a citizen of Canada.
Banowetz has performed on five continents. A graduate with a First Prize from
the Vienna Hochschule, and a pupil of Carl Friedberg (a student of Clara
Schumann), Banowetz has recorded with the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony
Orchestra, the Budapest Symphony, the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the Central
Opera Orchestra of Beijing. In 1987 his world-première recording of the Scherzi
and Mazurkas of Balakirev received a Deutschen Schallplattenkritik citation in
Germany as an outstanding recording for 1987. Banowetz and Chan first performed
as a duo in 1984, and since then have appeared widely both in recital and with
Last Albums Viewed
GODOWSKY: Piano Music for Four Hands