Magazine article Gramophone

Godowsky-The Pianists' Pianist

Magazine article Gramophone

Godowsky-The Pianists' Pianist

Article excerpt

Godowsky--The Pianists' Pianist

By Jeremy Nicholas

Travis & Emery, HB, 402pp, 24.95 [pounds sterling] ISBN 978-1-84955-128-1

Godowsky--The Pianists' Pianist, written by Gramophone contributor Jeremy Nicholas, was the first extensive study devoted to the life and work of Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938). Originally published by APR in 1989 and long out of print, the book now resurfaces 25 years later courtesy of Travis & Emery, one of London's premiere bookshops. Its 345 numbered pages essentially fall into two parts. The first 151 pages are given over to an informative and vividly written biography resulting from 10 years of meticulous research, abetted by the Godowsky family's generous archival access. The book's remaining half contains reference-material appendices. Here one finds comprehensive lists of Godowsky's disc recordings, piano rolls and compositions (including transcriptions and teaching pieces), a large though not necessarily complete list of Godowsky compositions

recorded by other pianists, selected recital programmes, and Godowsky's extensive draft plan for a 'World Synod of Music and Musicians' and an extensive, idealised music education curriculum that never came to fruition yet abounds with ideals that remain relevant nearly 80 years after the fact. Nicholas's preface to the new edition acknowledges the wealth of Godowsky recordings and publications that have appeared since 1989, together with numerous online resources. For example, recordings of Godowsky works were rare events 25 years ago, whereas the current catalogue boasts multiple versions of everything from miniature sets like the charming Walzermasken and Triakontameron and the large-scale Strauss transcriptions to the ambitious five-movement Piano Sonata (1911), the Passacaglia based on the first eight bars of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony and the celebrated (indeed, infamous) Studies on Chopin's Etudes.

Born in the small town of Soshly near Vilnius on February 13, 1870, Godowsky's prodigious technique and musicianship seemed to spring from out of nowhere despite his lack of formal training. He made his debut at nine and, as a teen, received advice from Saint-Saens. At 14 he toured the United States for the first time, and he began his teaching career in New York in 1890, moving on to the Chicago Conservatory. He became famous for lengthy, demanding programmes and solidified his international reputation in December 1900 with a highly acclaimed Berlin concert featuring concertos by Brahms and Tchaikovsky bracketing an extended solo group that included several of his Chopin studies. Pianist colleagues of all ages began to look upon Godowsky with awe. Nicholas unearths colourful letters in which Godowsky describes 'shop talk' summit meetings between himself and Liszt pupils Arthur Friedheim and Moriz Rosenthal, with the irrepressible Vladimir de Pachmann in tow. Correspondence also reveals Godowsky's uncanny prescience on certain topics, such as his detailed description of how the burgeoning industry of international air travel would radically change the world and society.

Wherever Godowsky, his wife and his four children made their home, an expansive, open-door party atmosphere prevailed, where everyone, from luminaries from the arts to family friends, was welcome to drop in at any time to eat, drink, make music and converse. …

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