|CD 1 (79:38)|
|BRUNSWICK RECORDINGS, 1925–1926|
|1.||Polonaise in A-flat, op. 53 [abridged]||4:41|
|2 October 1925; (XE16482) 50075|
|2.||Marche Militaire No. 1||4:18|
|7 October 1925; (XE16547) 50078|
|3.||Prelude in C-sharp Minor, op. 3, no. 2||3:03|
|September 1926; (E20014) 15123|
|4.||Rustles of Spring, op. 32, no. 3||2:33|
|3 September 1926; (E20026) 15125|
|5.||Scarf Dance, op. 37 [abridged]||1:42|
|6.||The Flatterer, op. 50||2:15|
|3 September 1926; (XE20028) 50101|
|7.||Witches’ Dance, op. 17, no. 2||2:55|
|3 September 1926; (E20030) 15125|
|8.||Melody in F, op. 3, no. 1||3:17|
|3 September 1926; (E20032) 15124|
|9.||Waltz in C-sharp Minor, op. 64, no. 2||3:08|
|3 September 1926; (E20034); 15124|
|10.||Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, op. 14||5:40|
|4 September 1926; (XE20045) 50131|
|11.||Rigoletto Paraphrase [abridged]||5:38|
|4 September 1926; (XE20048) 50131|
|12.||June (Barcarolle), op. 37, no. 6||4:15|
|7 September 1926; (XE20060) 50101|
|13.||Etude in G-flat, op. 10, no. 5, “Black Keys”||1:47|
|14.||Etude in G-flat, op. 25, no. 9, “Butterfly”||1:05|
|10 September 1926; (E20080) 15123|
|15.||Morgengruss (Morning Greeting), from “Die schöne Müllerin”||4:33|
|11 September 1926; (XE20092) 50133|
|16.||Gute Nacht (Good Night), from “Winterreise”||4:46|
|11 September 1926; (XE20095) 50133|
|ENGLISH COLUMBIA RECORDINGS, 1928–1930|
|Carnaval, op. 9|
|26.||A.S.C.H. – S.C.H.A. “Lettres dansantes”||0:35|
|31.||Pantalon et Columbine||0:58|
|37.||Marche des “Davidsbündler” contre les Philistins||3:33|
|28 and 29 May 1929; (WAX 4967-3, 4968-2, 4969-2, 4970-2, 4975-2, 4976-2) LX 32-34|
|CD 2 (74:02)|
|ENGLISH COLUMBIA RECORDINGS, 1928–1930|
|1.||Nocturne in B-flat Minor, op. 9, no. 1||4:10|
|23 June 1928; (WAX 3807-4) L 2165|
|2.||Nocturne in E-flat, op. 9, no. 2||3:56|
|23 June 1928; (WAX 3808-6) L 2164|
|3.||Nocturne in F, op. 15, no. 1||3:50|
|23 June 1928; (WAX 3811-4) L 2169|
|4.||Nocturne in F-sharp, op. 15, no. 2||3:20|
|23 June 1928; (WAX 3812-4) L 2169|
|5.||Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, op. 27, no. 1||4:31|
|23 June 1928; (WAX 3813-4) L 2170|
|6.||Nocturne in D-flat, op. 27, no. 2||5:32|
|23 and 26 June 1928; (WAX 3830-3 and 3831-4) L 2171|
|7.||Nocturne in B, op. 32, no. 1||3:43|
|23 June 1928; (WAX 3814-6) L 2167|
|8.||Nocturne in G Minor, op. 37, no. 1||4:08|
|20 and 23 June 1928; (WAX 3815-6) L 2168|
|9.||Nocturne in G, op. 37, no. 2||6:20|
|20 and 23 June 1928; (WAX 3809-1 and 3810-6) L 2166|
|10.||Nocturne in F-sharp Minor, op. 48, no. 2||4:22|
|22 June 1928; (WAX 3827-4) L 2170|
|11.||Nocturne in F Minor, op. 55, no. 1||4:13|
|23 June 1928; (WAX 3829-2) L 2167|
|12.||Nocturne in E Minor, op. 72, no. 1||3:47|
|23 June 1928; (WAX 3828-3) L 2165|
|Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, op. 35|
|13.||Grave – Doppio movimento||7:29|
|14.||Scherzo – Piu lento – Tempo I||6:28|
|15.||Marche funebre: Lento||6:34|
|25 April 1930; (WAX 5549-2, 5550-1, 5551-2, 5552-2, 5553-3, 5554-2) LX 124-126|
|CD 3 (77:28)|
|ENGLISH COLUMBIA RECORDINGS, 1928–1930|
|1.||Ballade in G Minor, op. 24 (Variations on a Norwegian folk melody)||17:01|
|27 May 1929; (WAX 4963-2, 4964-3, 4965-3, 4966-1) LX 9-10|
|Sonata No. 26 in E-flat, op. 81a, “Lebewohl”|
|2.||Adagio - Allegro||7:17|
|31 May 1929; (WAX 4985-2, 4986-1, 4987-1, 4988-2) L 2354-2355|
|5.||Scherzo No. 4 in E, op. 54||8:56|
|17 June 1930; unissued matrices WAX 5624-? and 5625-1|
|PRIVATE RECORDING, ca. 1935|
|6.||The Gardens of Buitenzorg, from “Java Suite”||3:14|
|APPENDIX ONE: ALTERNATIVE TAKES|
|7.||Berceuse in D-flat, op. 57||4:40|
|10 April 1913; (36700-1) A 5597|
|8.||Berceuse in D-flat, op. 57||4:27|
|10 April 1913; (36700-2) A 5597|
|9.||Morgengruss (Morning Greeting), from “Die schöne Müllerin”||4:13|
|11 September 1926; (XE 20093) 50133|
|APPENDIX TWO: GODOWSKY COMPOSITIONS ON|
|CONTEMPORANEOUS EARLY RECORDINGS|
|10.||Study No. 15 (on Etude, op. 10, no. 7)||3:27|
|11.||Study No. 47 (“Badinage,” Etudes op. 10, no. 5 and op. 25, no. 9 combined)
David Saperton, pianist
|23 June 1940; unissued Victor matrix 051355-1|
|12.||Etude in G-flat, op. 25, no. 9, “Butterfly”||0:57|
|13.||Study no. 39 (on Etude, op. 25, no. 9)
Victor Schiøler, pianist
|1929; (A9435) Columbia 2262D|
|14.||Tango in D, op. 165, no. 2
Wilhelm Backhaus, pianist
|June 1928; (Bb 13829-2) HMV DA 1018|
|15.||Moment Musical, op. 94, no. 3
Lev Pouishnoff, pianist
|1927; (A5393) Columbia 4830|
Shura Cherkassky, pianist
|26 June 1925; Victor 45508|
Emil Gilels, pianist
|1935; USSR 524|
|18.||Alt Wien (Old Vienna) from Triakontameron
Isabelle Yalkovsky, pianist
|1929; Victor 4115|
Producer: Donald Manildi
Audio Conservation: Ward Marston
Audio Assistance: J. Richard Harris
Digital Restoration for CD 3, Track 6: Seth B. Winner Sound Studios, Inc.
Photographs: Gregor Benko and The International Piano Archives at Maryland
Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi
Marston would like to thank Donald Manildi and Eugene Pollioni for their help in the production of this CD release.
Marston would like to thank Raymond Edwards, The International Piano Archives at Maryland, R. Peter Munves, and Jon Samuels for their help in the production of this CD release.
The Leopold Godowsky series was made possible through the generosity of the individuals listed below.
Anonymous (2), Mark Arnest, Robert H Challinor, Bill DesChamps, Ray Edwards, Charles D. Gangemi, Leopold Godowsky III, Allan Gotthelf, Peter Greenleaf, Donald R. Hodgman, Christian Jensen, Chase Kimball, Hyperion Knight, Marc Levin, Farhan Malik, Donald Manildi, Jonathan Mann, Terry McNeill, Miguel Montfort, Mark S. Morrison, Robin O’Renick, Natasha Paremski, Joseph Patrych, Robert Rimm, Francis Romano, Peter Schenkman, Robert Smith, Joseph Stephens, Martyn Storey, Carl Tait, Erkki Valsta, and William E. Wellborn.
Leopold Godowsky was born in 1870 in the small town of Sozly, near Vilna (now Vilnius), at the confluence of the Polish, Russian, and Lithuanian borders. There is little evidence that he underwent any kind of extensive musical education. He briefly attended classes in Berlin around 1884, then traveled to Paris where Camille Saint-Saëns gave him a limited amount of musical advice. Meanwhile Godowsky began establishing a reputation as a formidable pianist in a wide repertoire, performing in several European cities and making his official American debut in 1890. A sensational Berlin debut ten years later attracted much attention. Godowsky also maintained a constant interest in teaching and composing. During the 1890s, for instance, he held important pedagogical positions in Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago. Following his 1900 Berlin concert, he set up residence there and was in great demand as a teacher. At about the same time Godowsky embarked on a series of remarkable compositions that carried the polyphonic aspects of piano technique to new heights. Chief among these is his extensive series of Studies based on the Chopin Etudes.
From 1909 until the outbreak of World War I, Godowsky lived and taught in Vienna. He then moved permanently to the United States with his wife and four children. He traveled and performed widely on several continents, continuing his master classes and compositional pursuits. In addition to further transcriptions and paraphrases, Godowsky’s output embraced numerous original compositions, both large and small. At a 1930 recording session in London, he suffered a stroke that effectively ended his public career. The final phase of Godowsky’s life was marked by disillusionment, owing to further personal tragedies. He died in New York in 1938.
Leopold Godowsky’s Final Recordings
Leopold Godowsky was the most original transcriber and arranger of piano music since Liszt. His reputation as a great pianist, however, has been eclipsed by the subsequent fame of those arrangements. Such was not always the case. To contemporaries, it was his piano playing that impressed. Josef Hofmann exclaimed, “He is the master of us all,” while the astute piano journalist James Gibbons Huneker wrote, “He is the superman of piano playing. His ten digits are ten independent voices.”
Godowsky made a sensation at his first concert appearance in Berlin on 6 December 1900, perhaps the most astonishing debut of any pianist in history, and was immediately thrown into the spotlight, acknowledged as a great pianist, the equal of d’Albert and Busoni. His career as a pianist then took him around the entire world.
But Godowsky’s reputation as a pianist never really soared. Although he was widely heard, he never gained the popularity or universal appeal of colleagues such as Josef Hofmann, Ignace Jan Paderewski, and Vladimir de Pachmann, though he was certainly their equal and in certain ways, their superior. He became the quintessential connoisseur’s pianist. His recitals attracted musicians who were sympathetic, while the wider public stayed away. He felt that most listeners were beneath him, and observed that there were only a few who could really appreciate him. “The multitudes did not understand,” he was quoted saying.
Godowsky evolved from a traditional romantic virtuoso into a nearly unique figure, whose playing was unlike every other pianist’s save Pachmann. These two played in a way totally different from other pianists of their era, eschewing the Lisztian orchestral “grand manner” then prevalent, substituting instead a more abstract and perhaps purer form of pianism, sometimes divorced from the emotional content of the music. In Pachmann’s case, it was the beauty of his seductive touch that hid the abstraction of the notes. With Godowsky the abstraction was less hidden. He delighted in intellectualizing technique, producing inner voices, contrapuntal melodies, hidden bass lines, and touches of color that no one else thought possible, all achieved with a Herculean mastery of the instrument, which would stun his listeners.
He never compromised in his playing, and some found it lacking in warmth and poetry. Defenders would reply that his playing went beyond emotion. Despite his restraint, Godowsky could not be called a modern pianist, and was very much of his time, reflecting the ideal of beauty of tone. The depth and richness of his chord playing, for instance, is utterly beyond most of today’s players.
Godowsky subordinated everything to his concept of beauty of sound. Like Pachmann, he often sectionalized works to bring out a particular tonal image in specific sections. But when he forgot these obsessions in his recordings and “let go,” he transcended all, as in Chopin’s Fourth Scherzo and the Grieg Ballade. The extreme finish of his art represents idealized perfection in piano playing, from which all pianists could learn. Apart from any question of “emotion,” Godowsky remains one of the greatest of all recorded pianists because of the imperial grandeur of his playing, almost as if his perfection were above all earthly comparison.
The Brunswick electricals, while well-recorded for the period, consist mostly of potboilers and thus didn’t offer Godowsky much opportunity to exhibit his greatest traits. However, Rubinstein’s Melody in F is played with a simplicity and dignity that rescues this hackneyed work from the maunderings of thousands of amateurs. Liszt’s Rigoletto paraphrase displays his fluid mastery of virtuosity, but seems to lack a certain intensity. One of several paradoxes of Godowsky’s playing was that while he tended to underplay emotional works, in others that were sentimental in nature, or had become vulgarized by too much popular exposure, his cool and reasoned approach made the pieces more attractive. An example would be the way he invested the melody in Tchaikovsky’s Barcarolle (“June”) with a disembodied tone, beautifully entwining it with the subsidiary theme underneath. The stillness of the performance evokes the feeling of a starry summer night. This is one of Godowsky’s most magical performances.
But it is in his own two Schubert song transcriptions that Godowsky achieved his greatest triumph in the recording studio. These are without doubt his very best recordings of all: nowhere else was his art captured with such inner conviction, nowhere else does he employ such subtleties of pedal, touch, and beauty of tone. Here we find emotional depth and feeling, and hear the true greatness of Godowsky, using all the resources of his pianism for a moving evocation of Schubert’s melodies, made richer by his interweaving of contrapuntal voices and endless variety of textures, and by his harmonic and melodic use of chords. We also find a true lyrical impulse in the way he uses the treble register to express different moods. If only he had been allowed to record more music as congenial to him as this!
Godowsky’s electrical Columbia recordings, made between 1928 and 1930, also illustrate various inconsistent features of his playing. Compared to Rachmaninoff’s famous 1929 version of Schumann’s Carnaval, Godowsky’s recording is saner, more conventional, steady, tasteful, warm, and correct, but his temperament is too serious. One must appreciate his mastery of certain types of piano technique, such as the octave passages and repeated notes in “Reconnaissance,” played precisely and with clarity. While not as furious as Rachmaninoff, Godowsky’s “Paganini” is more musically interesting, with its introduction of inner voices. But until the “March of the Davidsbündler,” Godowsky’s interpretation could be considered more dutiful than inspired. However, his playing of the “March” must be one of the greatest performances on records. The rhythm is very controlled, gradually unfolding, never rushing the pulsation to overwhelm the “March” as in Rachmaninoff’s performance. Godowsky’s magnificent chord playing, one of his best features, creates an arch of sound, allowing the work to end in the majestic apotheosis that Schumann probably envisioned, but is rarely attained.
Godowsky’s most successful recording of a large-scale composition is the Grieg Ballade. It is the composer’s only large solo piano work to enter the repertoire; a theme and variations that is uneven in inspiration. Grieg was unable to sustain the melancholy inspiration of the earlier variations, and drifted into bombastic virtuosity. Godowsky’s cool sentiment prevents the noisy sections from overpowering the earlier ones, and keeps the lyric sections from cloying. The music perfectly fits his temperament and style, while the attractive sound (one of English Columbia’s best recordings) projects it well. Everything contributes to a perfect recorded performance.
In discussing Godowsky’s performance of the Chopin B-flat Minor Sonata, again a comparison with Rachmaninoff is inevitable, and again their performances are worlds apart. The music seems to suit Rachmaninoff’s temperament, yet I find he adds a heavy dose of Russian Weltschmerz to an already tragic piece. Rachmaninoff’s best work in the Sonata is the Scherzo, with its propulsive rhythm and strong accents on the first beats, carrying the other notes with it, and capturing the music’s fierceness. He imitates Anton Rubinstein’s legendary interpretation of the Funeral March, playing the work like a procession that gets louder, then softening as the procession disappears. He plays the famous “wind over the graves” finale as a roaring crescendo, a tempest ending in fitful spasms before dying out. There is no music here, only sound effects.
Compared to this Russianized Sturm und Drang, Godowsky’s performance seems more measured and lacking in passionate energy. In the first movement he observes the repeat, but plays it exactly as the first time. His chords, octaves, and lyrical parts of the second theme are magnificent, but the music sounds fragmented. The Scherzo seems to lack propulsion. In the Funeral March we hear Godowsky’s rich chordal playing, but the domination of the bass rhythm chords over the melodic ones does not allow the melody to free itself. The Finale is Godowsky’s best movement, and we hear music rather than sound effects. He stresses a rising chromatic inner voice against the swirling unison octave figurations. This increases the strange, enigmatic mood, and is much more effective than Rachmaninoff’s blurring roar.
Then there are the twelve Chopin Nocturne recordings from 1928. Godowsky is wonderful in the middle section of the popular F-sharp Nocturne, op. 15, where his beauty of tone and line are evident, although one misses the rubato colorations that give the famous melody more substance in several recordings by other great pianists. It is in the C-sharp Minor Nocturne, op. 27, the most emotional of the series, that we find his most inspired performance. Beautifully capturing the sinister atmosphere of the opening sections with smooth, veiled left hand figurations, he increases the mystery with the fatal-sounding melody soaring above. Perhaps he brings in the tolling octave church bells too suddenly, but he works them up to the demonic D-flat section, which is played with energy but without melodrama. The return of the sinister atmosphere is evoked skillfully; only the fantastic ending where the music is transformed into a resurrection (Pachmann used to tell his audiences “Here Chopin is with God!”) seems slightly beyond Godowsky’s emotional scope, the playing being sonorous but not resonating.
In Godowsky’s hands, Beethoven’s Farewell sonata is highly professional except in a few spots where one feels that nervousness betrays him. It is a very polished reading, but in truth, he has less than total affinity for the music. This sonata was popular with romantic virtuosi because it is one of the most pianistically demanding of the series, with a “romantic” story that has audience appeal. It can be played as a beautiful concert piece–Guiomar Novaës’s recording has that quality–with some of Godowsky’s sensitivity to color and line but with much more emotional attachment to the music. Comparing the Godowsky recording to one made by Wilhelm Backhaus shortly after, we find a pianist who is on Beethoven’s wavelength: despite an absence of truly singing tone or pianistic subtlety, the passionate expectations of the first movement, the mystical yearnings of the slow movement and the crazy joy of the last movement, all these surpass Godowsky’s purely abstract pianism.
It will never be proven whether Godowsky’s problematic body of recordings accurately represents the way he played in public; what is certain is that it does not represent the way he played in private. I believe that, in the recording studio, he adopted a certain aloof manner as a protection against nervousness, to insure that his playing would be immaculate. Abram Chasins, a student and admirer of Godowsky who attended many private performances of the master, wrote in his memoir, Speaking of Pianists: “Godowsky always said he played best on the platform, stimulated by audiences. Perhaps this was true of his youth. But no public performance, no recording I ever heard matched the freedom and beauty of Godowsky’s playing in an intimate atmosphere, in the presence of admiring friends and colleagues. I am not alone in this opinion. One night he played for a few of us his newly composed Java Suite. It was sorcery, nothing less. Later, when I was walking Hofmann back to his hotel, he said: ‘Never forget what you heard tonight; never lose the memory of that sound. There’s nothing like it in this world. It is tragic that the public has never heard Popsy as only he can play.’”
We have noted the recordings in which Godowsky overcame his obsession with polished refinement and note-to-note perfection, and perhaps these give us a glimpse of that sorcery and that sound. There is one final recording, his Columbia disc of Chopin’s Fourth Scherzo, where he freed himself and met the music head-on. It has movement, life, sweep, and rhythmic drive–an artistic whole, a conception that is fully realized, without being sidetracked or fragmented by too many surface details. It is probably a close approximation of the thrilling performances he gave for his friends and pupils. The fact that he was struck down by a stroke at the recording sessions for the four scherzi and never completed the series is one of the tragedies of the gramophone. But with the other great Godowsky recordings, it is part of his small group of piano recordings for which no words of praise are extravagant enough–Herculean, supreme, transcendent, magical, magnificent–perfect.
©Edward Blickstein, 2006
A Note from the Producer
This volume completes our comprehensive chronological survey of the disc recordings of Leopold Godowsky. The two previous releases (Marston 52046-2 and 52051-2, each containing two CDs) cover his American Columbia and Brunswick recordings through 1925. Many of the 1926 Brunswick electrical sides in the present volume are remakes of repertoire issued previously. The 1928-1930 English Columbia material, however, includes Godowsky’s only recordings of several large-scale works. One of these, the Chopin Scherzo No. 4, comes from Godowsky’s last Columbia session, at which he suffered a stroke that affected his right hand. This recording was not published during Godowsky’s lifetime, and it now survives only as a dub of side one and a test pressing of side two, neither in good condition. Consequently, there are obvious sonic problems that could not be completely eradicated.
Godowsky is known to have recorded several takes of the other three Chopin Scherzi in April of 1930, as well as four more of his Schubert song transcriptions. Although potentially the most significant of all Godowsky's recordings, no trace of any of these has been found despite assiduous searching over many years. Following the Scherzo we have included a private recording of Godowsky’s “The Gardens of Buitenzorg” from his Java Suite, composed in 1925. This performance was apparently captured on a home disc-cutting machine around 1935, and it remained in the possession of the Godowsky family. Curiously, no pianist is identified on the disc, but a reasonable examination of the evidence points to Godowsky as the performer.
Compact disc three also contains a supplementary section devoted to three alternative takes. Two of these come from Godowsky’s American Columbia sessions. For reasons now unknown, Columbia issued three different takes of the Chopin Berceuse. The most common of these can be found in Volume One. The second of the alternative takes included here is easily distinguishable by its rather odd omission of the first two bars of the work. Two Brunswick takes of the Schubert-Godowsky Morgengruss from 1926 were published, and both are included in this volume.
With additional space available on CD 3, we have chosen to offer seven historic recordings of Godowsky compositions played by a variety of pianists who were active during his lifetime. Of particular interest are the two Chopin-Godowsky Studies played by David Saperton. In 1940, Saperton (who was married to Godowsky’s daughter Vanita) recorded ten of the Studies for Victor, but these were never issued. A one-sided test pressing from that series turned up in the late 1990s on a dealer’s list, and that copy is the source for this first release. (Saperton re-recorded the same ten studies, plus one, in 1952 for the Command Performance label; these can now be heard on VAI 1037-2).
Of the other players represented, Wilhelm Backhaus expressed his admiration for Godowsky on more than one occasion, and his 1928 version of the Albéniz-Godowsky Tango carries much interest as a departure from his focus on the Beethoven and Brahms repertoire. Shura Cherkassky was 15 years old when he recorded the Rameau-Godowsky Tambourin on a blue-label Victor 78. At the time he was beginning his studies with Josef Hofmann at the newly-formed Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Emil Gilels was 19 when he made one of his first recordings, the Loeillet-Godowsky Gigue included here. The Danish pianist and psychiatrist Victor Schiøler studied with both Friedman and Schnabel. He recorded extensively over some 30 years, but the early example offered here is his only venture into Godowsky repertoire. Lev Pouishnoff, born in Russia in 1891, was a minor headliner of his day, active particularly in England. Finally, Isabelle Yalkovsky (1906—1981, later known as Isabelle Byman), a student of Olga Samaroff, made her only recording in 1929. One side of this 10-inch Victor disc contains Godowsky’s most famous work, “Alt Wien” (Old Vienna), from his collection of 30 pieces titled Triakontameron.
A more detailed biographical sketch of Godowsky, along with a works list and discography, may be found at www.godowsky.com. Another useful website is www.leopoldgodowsky.com, which provides further details on many aspects of his life and career. As of 2006, only one full-scale biography has appeared in print: Godowsky: The Pianists’ Pianist by Jeremy Nicholas (Appian Publications, 1989)