Leopold Godowsky

sorabji.com: Obscure Classical Composers: Leopold Godowsky
By C. Berg on Sunday, February 1, 1998 - 12:31 pm:
    As long as we are talking about legendary pianists (the Portuguese da Motta -- of whom I have never heard), perhaps others (Sorabji & Jicotea, perhaps, since no one else ever seems to read these pages, though I am trying to get my friend Bennett Lerner -- a pianist currently living in Thailand, to enter the fray) will respond to my current interest in Leopold Godowsky -- whose -- what? -- sister, I think married somehow into the Gershwin family (genealogy is not one of my interests -- maybe she married the third brother -- Arthur?)-- anyway...

    Godowsky, as you know doubt are aware, composed 53 Studies based on the Chopin Etudes, many for left hand alone, many smacking of the parlor trick, but a few (e.g. both on Opus 10, No. 10, and the E major one on the 2nd of the Moscheles-Fétis Etudes -- Bob Helps is currently playing the latter around somewhat) are more than just interesting. Metrical modulation for instance (which Elliott Carter apparently claims to have invented -- am I right?) is a prominent (and beautifully handled) feature in the Opus 10/10 two-hander. While this particular technique may not have been new to Godowsky (I'm sure it features in Renaissance music as well), the use to which he puts it is both expressive and extremely challenging to the (at least this) pianist's mind and fingers. Mr. G.D. Madge has recorded them -- tolerably enough, though hardly delving very deep; I am told Carlo Grante, who is essaying the entire set, comes much closer to the heart of the matter.

    Does anyone remember a passage in Nicolas Slonimsky's "Perfect Pitch" a warm tribute to Godowsky, filled with lovely and interesting details about his home life? Such a passage DOES exist, and I confusedly had thought it to be in van Dieren's "Down Among the Dead Men" -- but it's not. Is it in Slonimsky?

    I sign off for today, not eager for controversy, but shared enthusiasm. And insights, of course.

By R.C. on Sunday, February 1, 1998 - 04:51 pm:
    The only reason more people don't post to the classical BBSs here is becuz it's just too highbrow. I mean, you either know these composers or you don't. And I certainly don't. But I think quite a few people stop by the read the postings. I always learn something from eavesdropping on you guys. And Jicotea sent me a tape of Habmermann playing Sorabji's Le Jardin Parfume (which I loved! Thanx again, J!) And I think he sent JSH a tape of some other stuff.

    It's like a lecture where you have no clue what the speaker is talking about. So you take a lot of notes & hope you'll get to figure it out by researching it on yr own later. If you guys cd post links to audiofiles of these various & sundry composers you mention/it wd help a lot. But many are so obscure I can never find any of their music online.

By Jicotea on Sunday, February 1, 1998 - 09:50 pm:
    I can't imagine many personal homesites allow this sort of thing to go on. It might open a new world to the receptive casual surfer revolted by the bellicosity and exclusive air cultivated by the classical music newsgroups.

    But we are all treating the tip of an iceberg, dropping names and references thick and fast, and probably driving away more groundlings than we could possibly gather in. And anyhow, how the Hell much to you want to know?

    Also, the medium works against linearity. We drop in and out of the discourse at will over periods of hours and days. Our thoughts are reduced to long bumperstickers. Sorabji, C. Berg, Eric Schissel, and yrs truly are brandishing names at you which are esoteric to most of the people who _do_have some grip on the classical standard repertoire.

    So you should perhaps regard this astonishing spectacle more with tolerant amusement than with frustration.

By Jicotea on Sunday, February 1, 1998 - 09:55 pm:
    Further. C. Berg, I hope you do rope in Bennett Lerner, whose American music collections on Et Cetera CDs I would have worn out by now if CDs were subject to wear. If he can verbalize as well as he plays, bring him on!

    R.C.: Netwise you are _way_ahead of me, becuz I don't understand how to do links. And I haven't been looking around much at music sites. Too busy at the virtual drawingboard. Although I do drop in daily at rec.music.classical to see if any interesting fights have developed.

By Sorabji on Sunday, February 1, 1998 - 11:33 pm:
    Why John, that was loverly. "Tolerant amusement" indeed!

    you are correct, of course, in everything you say, and in fact the only reason this particular board exists is because you, yes you wandered in here one day looking for information about the ugly, pointless music of Sorabji.

    As for Godowsky, it is known that he thought Chopin's Etudes gave inadequate attention to the left hand. I played (but never performed) the one in which he turned Op. 10, No. 1 into a 2-handed up and down and in and out arpeggio extravaganza. Done well the thing could sound like one of those giant piano concerts in which 100 pianists play the Stars & Stripes Forever.

    Fireworks, speeches, stuff like that.

    Anyway, his "transcriptions" of those études were meant to make up for Chopin's inattention to the left hand.

    Some of them are amusing. One of the weirdest things I ever experienced in my whole entire life was one day standing in an airport in South Carolina and hearing over the speakers a record of someone playing the Chopin/Godowsky étude in which the Butterfly Etude is played in the right hand and the Black Key etude in the left.

    Or is it the other way around?

    At any rate, this has got to be the only place on the internet in which i feel slightly ill at ease using the handle of "sorabji" to identify myself, but it couldn't hurt the guy's reputation too much, could it??

    I'm not surprised Bob Helps picked up these pieces. He is the first pianist I ever saw perform the 24 Chopin Etudes. I was 13 at the time, I think, and unfortunately all I remember now of the event was the way he absolutely karate-chopped the last two chords of the Revolutionary Etude. I thought the piano was going to smash into kindling under the force of the blows he inflicted onto it.

By C Berg on Monday, February 2, 1998 - 12:26 pm:
    I am enormously gratified how quickly my Godowsky posting drew your responses. This is, indeed, a very stimulating site, and -- though you may be slightly ill at ease (Mark) using your borrowed handle, it does bring in an interesting crew.

    Helps taught me (briefly) in the early 70s -- I was in such bad shape as a pianist that he only managed to give me the rudiments of a great technique, but we have stayed in touch over the years, as have Lerner and I, who were both students together (at MSM -- sometimes referred to as Manhattan School of Dumdums) in the early 70s. I will certainly encourage Bennett to continue observing these messages; he has many interesting things to say (though he denies he thinks much), and will, no doubt, be pleased that you have enjoyed his recordings so much. He will be playing the 4th and final installment of a complete Debussy cycle in Bangkok on February 7th (the night I open in a production of MASTER CLASS -- the T. McNally play -- with Kathleen Widdoes -- who, no doubt, deserves her own chat line).

    I will reiterate my strong preference for the three Godowsky etudes I mentioned on my first posting. Most of the others can easily be MISTAKEN for parlor tricks, and sound like parlor tricks, though they are also brilliantly re-imagined. But his unique re-thinking evidenced in those three pieces is wonderful. (So, too, is the "Nocturne" version of 10/7.) But I won't harangue you further: you will seek these things out or not. To me they are BIG pleasures.

    Recuerdos a todos!

By Bennett on Tuesday, February 3, 1998 - 10:06 am:
    Can't resist saying thanks to Jicotea for the kind words. Chris knows that I'm not a big surfer, so I'll leave it at that. Except to add that I used to play Godowsky's MEDITATION for left hand alone as an encore. It's pink cotton candy and it has the most wonderful fingerings, which give the hand a most gentle massage. All best, Bennett

By John Gavin on Sunday, May 10, 1998 - 10:53 pm:
    I think Godowsky is an underrated composer. His Java Suite ranks with Albeniz' Iberia (after which I believe it was modeled). The "Renaissance" suite is filled with delightful anachronistic arrangements. And there are many other treasures in Godowsky's output. By the way Sorabji admired Godowsky and his piano works are highly influenced by him!!

Jeanne Geraci on Tuesday, December 4, 2001 - 06:59 pm:

    To Bennett Lerner:

    I was searching for you on the net and came up with this site- hope you receive this message - hello from an old friend and student - Jeanne Geraci

By Hammerstein on Wednesday, December 5, 2001 - 11:02 am:

    Hey Lerner how is your old buddy Lowe doing these fine days?

By Eric Schissel on Saturday, December 15, 2001 - 08:40 pm:

    Well, he (Loewe) is about to be the subject of BBC3's composer of the week.
    (As to Godowsky, hoping to hear that new K.Sch. recording of the sonata soonish; the one time I've heard the work- in a concert broadcast, I think, over P2radio- I was most impressed! I forget just what William Newman had to say about it in his always-interesting and therefore out of print "The Sonata Since Beethoven", but I'd been interested in hearing it since reading of it, after all...)

By Sorabji on Saturday, December 15, 2001 - 09:11 pm:

    For those who might not have heard, Bob Helps passed away last month in his apartment in Tampa. He was 73.

    I liked Bob a lot, although in the limited context of my life we had a strangely storied relationship.

    At any rate, a friend tells me he has a taped interview he did with Bob on WFUV in the 1980s, and if that tape can be found I might encode it and post it to the web.

    I was just thinking today that the Godowsky revival has not exactly caught on like gangbusters. I spent the morning and early afternoon practicing a couple of the Schubert song transcriptions. I still have not warmed up to the E Minor Sonata, but others whose opinions I respect say it is the most original piano sonata of the 20th century.


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