Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Leopold Godowsky

Leopold Godowsky’s “Study on Chopin’s ‘Black Key’ Etude”, completed when he – Godowsky – was not quite 24 years old is but one of fifty-three studies on Chopin’s etudes Godowsky composed between 1894 and 1914. We’ll discuss his life in a moment, but first Godowsky’s version of/paraphrase on Chopin’s etude, in which the rapid, right-hand filigree of Chopin’s original is elaborated and reharmonized and put into the pianist’s left-hand while the right-hand part is likewise elaborated and “filled out.” It is played here by the in-every-way miraculous Marc-André Hamelin, at 04:13-05:55 of the link below:

Time and fame are gruesomely fickle. In his lifetime, the pianism and piano music of Leopold Godowsky were held in awe, even by his fellow professionals. Just 100 years later, he has been almost entirely forgotten by the listening public. Let’s start, then, with some quotes from Godowsky’s contemporaries, who considered him the “Buddha of the piano.”

According to Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), he and Godowsky were:

“the only composers to have added anything of significance to keyboard writing since Franz Liszt.”

Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982) went on the record stating that it would take him:

“five hundred years to get a mechanism [a technique] like Godowsky’s.”

Hearing the young Godowsky perform in Paris, the great eagle-beak himself, Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921), was rendered speechless; he could only repeat “how wonderful!”…

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