Leopold Godowsky Collection
Leopold Godowsky, as both pianist and composer, ranks among the great
geniuses in the annals of piano playing. He was born in the small town of Sozly,
near Vilna (now Vilnius), at the confluence of the Polish, Russian, and
Lithuanian borders, on February 13, 1870. There is little evidence that he
underwent any kind of extensive formal musical education. Godowsky gave his
first public performance at the age of 9. While in his teens he spent a brief
period in Paris during which Camille Saint-Saëns offered him limited musical
advice. Godowsky’s official American debut took place in 1890. His sensational
Berlin debut in 1900 established his reputation as a formidable pianist in a
wide repertoire, and as a composer of exceptional resource and imagination.
Throughout his life, Godowsky would perform all over the world—from the major
centers of Europe and the US to more exotic locales such as Java, Cuba, Japan
and South America.
"The Brahma of the Keyboard" by Leon Saxe, Godowsky also held various
prestigious teaching positions in Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago, later
becoming director of the piano school of the Imperial Academy of Music in
Vienna. With the outbreak of World War I, Godowsky moved permanently to the
United States with his wife and four children, eventually settling in New York.
In the midst of his performing and teaching activity, Godowsky continued
to compose a series of remarkable piano works in which he exploited the
polyphonic resources of the instrument to an unprecedented degree. (Another
major focus of his creativity was an expansion of the capabilities of the left
hand.) Most notable among his output are the Studies on Chopin’s Etudes
(54 altogether were published), as well as the four Symphonic Metamorphoses
on Themes of Johann Strauss. His original piano compositions include the 24
Walzermasken, the 30 pieces in the collection titled
Triakontameron, the Java Suite (the only completed portion of
an ambitious project he called “Phonoramas,” intended to evoke the full range of
world music), a large collection of Miniatures for four hands, a
five-movement Sonata in E Minor, and the Passacaglia in B Minor, based on the
opening measures of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.
Although most of
Godowsky’s works went out of print after his death, the vast majority are now
readily available in a handsome multi-volume reprint edition published by Carl
Fischer of New York. This project coincided with a revival of interest in
Godowsky’s compositions among pianists, and the current CD catalogues offer many
acclaimed performances of most of his works.
Godowsky’s own 78rpm disc
recordings, made for American Columbia, Brunswick, and English Columbia between
1913 and 1930, have been reissued in three volumes on the Marston label (seven
CDs altogether) with extensive documentation. Marston’s transfer work supersedes
several previous incomplete reissues of these recordings.
At a 1930
recording session in London, Godowsky suffered a stroke which effectively ended
his public career as pianist. The final phase of Godowsky’s life was marked by
disillusionment, owing to further personal tragedies. He died in New York on
November 21, 1938.
At present there is only one published study of
Godowsky’s life and career: Godowsky: The Pianists’ Pianist by Jeremy
Nicholas (Appian Publications, 1989).
SERIES I - CORRESPONDENCE
SERIES II - BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
III - PERFORMANCE
SERIES IV - COMPOSITIONS
SERIES V - WRITINGS
SERIES VI -
MISCELLANEOUS SUBJECT FILES
10 am to 3 pm
Monday through Thursday
9 am to 5 pm
Monday through Friday
Donald Manildi, Curator
International Piano Archives at Maryland
Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library
8115 Alumni Dr.
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742 USA