REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » GODOWSKY, L.: Piano Music, Vol. 6 (Scherbakov) - Schubert Transcriptions
Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938)
Piano Music Volume 6: Schubert Transcriptions
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 suggestion
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 Passacaglia was published in 1928. It takes the
first eight bars of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and treats it as the basis
of 44 variations, following the traditional baroque form and including, among
other things, an apt allusion to the Erl-König. The variations, in which the
theme returns in various guises and registers, lead to a virtuoso cadenza and a
final fugue, in which the theme undergoes major transformations. The work, a
tour de force, was designed to mark the centenary of Schubert’s death.
Two of the transcriptions of songs by Schubert, Am Meer (By
the Sea), collected in Schwanengesang, and Trockne Blumen (Faded Blossoms) from
Die schöne Müllerin were included in Four Piano Transcriptions of German Lieder
(In Intermediate Grade), published in 1937. Trockne Blumen is the eighteenth
song in the cycle, settings of verses by Wilhelm Müller. The young miller, his
apprenticeship over, contemplates the flowers that his master’s daughter gave
him, now, in his despair, to be planted on his grave for her to see when she
passes. Am Meer is a setting of a poem by Heine in which the poet sits by the
sea with his beloved, seeing her tears fall. The transcription, essentially a
simple one, preserves the lower register of the original and the brief moments
of drama, as the mist rises and then as the poet’s soul dies of love, poisoned
by his beloved’s tears.
The Twelve Schubert Songs, freely transcribed for the piano
were published in 1927 and are much more elaborate in conception. Ungeduld
(Impatience), the last of the set, dedicated to Gertrude Huntley, paraphrases
the seventh of the Die schöne Müllerin cycle. Here the young miller proclaims
his love for his master’s daughter, the four strophes varied in arrangement, each
ending with the declaration Dein ist mein Herz und soll es ewig bleiben (Thine
is 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 Müller
cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey). The singer bids his beloved good night, as
he sets out on his journey through the winter snow, rejected. Godowsky again
varies each strophe of the original song.
Das Wandern (Wandering), is the first song of Die schöne
Müllerin in which the boy, his apprenticeship now finished, sets out on his
wandering. In his arrangement, the second of the set, dedicated to Isidore
Philipp, Godowsky reflects in his transcription something of the developing
poetic mood of the five strophes.
In Heidenröslein (Hedge Rose), dedicated by Godowsky to
Prince Mohammed Mohiuddin, Schubert set a poem by Goethe. A boy plucks a wild
rose, in spite of the rose’s warning, for which he finally cares nothing. In
this third of the set there is again variety in the transcription of the three
strophes, the essential simplicity of which is nevertheless preserved.
Liebesbotschaft (Love’s Message), the tenth of the
transcriptions, dedicated to Hans Heniot, treats the Schubert song that starts
the posthumously assembled collection, Schwanengesang (Swan Song), a setting of
a 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, a
pathetic child, kidnapped by gypsies, to be released by Wilhelm Meister, seems
to have symbolic significance for Goethe, here in a poem and song in which
there is underlying grief.
In Morgengruss (Morning Greeting), the fifth of the group,
dedicated to Joseph Gahm, and the eighth song in Die schöne Müllerin, the boy
bids the miller’s daughter good morning, wondering where she is and what she is
doing. The strophic song has four verses, in the last of which the lark is
heard, while love promises only suffering and sorrow.
Die Forelle (The Trout), the seventh of the set and
dedicated to Cora Neuer, is based on Schubert’s well-known setting of a poem by
Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart, three verses that tell of an angler
finally catching the trout that has eluded him, to the pity of the onlooker.
Wiegenlied (Cradle Song), the sixth transcription, dedicated
to Dr A.I.Ringer, preserves the simple beauty of the original, a setting of a
poem attributed, aptly enough, to Matthias Claudius.
In Wohin? (The Brooklet), the first transcription, dedicated
to Sergey Rachmaninov, Godowsky elaborates the second song of Die schöne
Müllerin, in which the boy hears the brook, its gentle sound reflected in the
piano version, beckoning him on, he knows not where.
The eighth transcription, Die junge Nonne (The Young Nun),
dedicated to David Saperton, is based on a setting of a poem by Jacob Nicolaus
Craigher. Here the young nun of the title contrasts the raging storm outside,
with the serenity of religious life and its eternal reward.
The ninth transcription, Litanei (Litany), dedicated to
Robert Braun, based on a setting of a poem by Johann Georg Jacobi, offers
prayers for the souls of the dead, that they may rest in peace. The song and
its transcription are permeated by a mood of serenity.
Godowsky’s Schubert transcriptions end with a concert
arrangement of the ballet music for Rosamunde, dated 1923, and an arrangement
of the third Moment Musical, Op.94, from 1922.
Last Albums Viewed
GODOWSKY, L.: Piano Music, Vol. 6 (Scherbakov) - ...