Godowsky, Leopold

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Godowsky, Leopold

Godowsky, Leopold, famous Polish-born American pianist and pedagogue; b. Soshly, near Vilnius, Feb. 13, 1870; d. N.Y., Nov. 21, 1938. He played in public as a child in Russia. At the age of 14, he was sent to Berlin to study at the Hochschule fur Musik, but after a few months there, proceeded to the U.S. He gave his first American concert in Boston on Dec. 7, 1884, and in 1885 he played engagements at the N.Y. Casino; in 1886, toured Canada with Ovide Musin. He then played in society salons in London and Paris, and became a protege of Saint-Saens. In 1890 he joined the faculty of the N.Y. Coll. of Music; in 1891 he became a naturalized American citizen. He taught at the Broad St. Cons, in Philadelphia (1894-95) and was head of the piano dept. of the Chicago Cons. (1895-1900). He then embarked on a European tour, giving a highly successful concert in Berlin (Dec. 6, 1900), where he remained as a teacher; from 1909 to 1914 he conducted a masterclass at the Vienna Academy of Music; made tours in the U.S. from 1912 to 1914, and settled permanently in the U.S. at the outbreak of World War I. After the war, he toured in Europe, South America, and Asia. In 1930 he suffered a stroke during a recording session. His subsequent career was greatly restricted. Godowsky was one of the outstanding masters of the piano; possessing a scientifically inclined mind, he developed a method of “weight and relaxation” applying it to his own playing, he became an outstanding technician of his instrument, extending the potentialities of piano technique to the utmost, with particular attention to the left hand. He wrote numerous piano compositions of transcendental difficulty, yet entirely pianistic in style; also arranged works by Weber, Brahms, and Johann Strauss. Particularly remarkable are his 53 studies on Chopin’s etudes, combining Chopin’s themes in ingenious counterpoint; among his original works, the most interesting are Triakontameron (30 pieces; 1920; no. 11 is the well-known Alt Wien) and Java Suite (12 pieces; 1924-25). He also wrote simple pedagogical pieces, e.g., a set of 46 Miniatures for Piano, 4-hands, in which the pupil is given a part within the compass of 5 notes only (1918); ed. piano studies by Czerny, Heller, Kohler et al.; composed music for the left hand alone (6 Waltz Poems, Prelude and Fugue, etc.); and publ. an essay, “Piano Music for the Left Hand,” Musical Quarterly (July 1935).


J. Nicholas, G.—The Pianists’ Pianist: A Biography of L G. (Hexham, 1989).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire