Leopold Godowsky (13 February 1870 – 21 November 1938) was a Polish American pianist, composer, and teacher. One of the most highly regarded performers of his time, he became known for his theories concerning the application of relaxed weight and economy of motion in piano playing, principles later propagated by Godowsky's pupils, such as Heinrich Neuhaus. Ferruccio Busoni said that he and Godowsky were the only composers to have added anything of significance to keyboard writing since Franz Liszt.
As a composer, Godowsky is best known for his transcriptions of works by other composers. His best known work in the field is 53 Studies on Chopin's Études (1894–1914).
s a composer, Godowsky has been best known for his paraphrases of piano pieces by other composers, which he enhanced with ingenious contrapuntal devices and rich chromatic harmonies. His most famous work in this genre is the 53 Studies on Chopin's Études (1894–1914), in which he varies the (already challenging) original études using various methods: introducing countermelodies, transferring the technically difficult passages from the right hand to the left, transcribing an entire piece for left hand solo, or even interweaving two études, with the left hand playing one and the right hand the other.
The pieces are among the most difficult piano works ever written, and only a few pianists have ventured to perform any of them. Among such pianists are Marc-André Hamelin, who recorded the entire set and garnered a number of prestigious awards, and Francesco Libetta, who performed the complete set in concert (the only pianist to do so from memory) and made a video recording of the set (live in Milan, March 2006). Other pianists who frequently perform Godowsky are Boris Berezovsky and Konstantin Scherbakov.
Other important transcriptions by Godowsky include Renaissance (1906–09), a collection which includes arrangements of music by Rameau and Lully, 12 Schubert Songs (1927), and six transcriptions of Bach's music for solo cello and solo violin, arranged for the same instruments, but with complementary voices, etc.
Although his transcriptions are much more well known, Godowsky also composed a number of substantial original works. He considered the Passacaglia (1927) and a collection of pieces for left hand alone (1930–31) to be his most mature creations; both, however, employ traditional approach to harmony and counterpoint. A more experimental work was the Java Suite (Phonoramas) (1925), composed after a visit to Java, under the influence of gamelan music. Godowsky was equally comfortable writing large-scale works like the Passacaglia or the five-movement Piano Sonata in E minor (1911) as he was creating collections of smaller pieces, such as the 46 Miniatures for piano four hands and the Triakontameron (1920; subtitled '30 moods and scenes in triple measure').
Quite a number of Godowsky's original works were considerably difficult to perform; the Passacaglia (which consists of 44 variations, cadenza and fugue on the opening theme of Franz Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony) was declared to be unplayable even by Vladimir Horowitz, who claimed it would require six hands to perform. Nevertheless, the work has had a number of recordings.
Despite their traditionalism, Godowsky's compositions may have influenced Maurice Ravel and Sergei Prokofiev. (Hide extended text) ... (Read all)