Godowsky as a pianist

We all know Godowsky wrote some of the most difficult piano music of all times. This is especially true of the Chopin/Godowsky etudes, the Strauss transcription, the passacaglia, but also a lot of his other pieces. When we read about Godowsky we also read that he was also one of the best pianists of his time.

Still …

We know that Godowsky made many recordings. But very few people have him as a favourite pianists, my impression is actually that most people find his recordings quite dissapointing.

So my question is:

  • Do we know that Godowsky actually played his own compositions, especially the Chopin-etudes in a satisfactory recital manner? and

  • Why did he not record any of his own difficult pieces (such as the Chopin-etudes)?

Any of you have any explanation for this?

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I’m sure he could play the chop-gods at one point, but as far as evidence I can only point to what his contemporaries have said about his mechanism. For example Rubinstein said he’d have to practise for 1000 years (or something like that) to develop such a technique. Horowitz was also extremely impressed with Godowsky (playing in his studio, not in concert), Hofmann also (when hearing Godowsky write Fledermaus). As to the second question, I can only speculate.

Passed down wisdom is that he was paralyzed by the quest for perfection both in recital and in the studio, and that he was something else in private. Exactly how and to what extent his playing changed we’ll never know, but his Grieg Ballade probably gives a pointer. I find his recordings just as dreary as everyone else - except that one, which is wonderful. The neatness is still there, but it’s also proud, mysterious and gripping, and has that uncanny concentration behind it which makes you sit up and listen. If this is the element Hofmann and others talked about when hearing him in private, I really do understand what the fuzz was about.

As to tech what you can discern from his recs is that he had great dexterity and finger independence. Rubinstein described him as a “mechanism”, which is probably a good way of putting it, as opposed to a virtuoso. I imagine he could play the Chop/Gods neatly & cleanly, but I don’t think he was either a Hamelin or a Libetta in them. What wouldn’t I give to hear him toss of a few at a party or similar though. I think they’d have the same kind of silencing concentration as in the Grieg Ballade, and that they’d feel very “inventive”. I don’t think he’d work much with sound or coloristic effects, but would let his writing itself take care of that. But yes I think he could play them, and that he could play them well.

Definitely one of his best recs

Yeah true, I wonder if he did begin to get used to the studio process towards the end. This is his very last recording, and the Grieg Ballade is likewise a late one.

Some people highlight the Schubert songs he recorded too.

Yes I like those too…

He sounde a bit like studio Hofmann.

I touched on this earlier, but a friend once did an interview with Arrau where he spent a solid three hours milking him for info on golden age pianists he heard in his youth (and 3-4 minutes on Arrau himself :sunglasses:). He isn’t very talkative on Godowsky, it’s just 2 minutes, but if anyone’s interested in what he has to say the excerpt is below.

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Hahaha that’s harsh!

Btw did anyone back in Godowsky’s days play any Godowsky?

Yeah, I cut most of this out, but the Godowsky section is essentially 2 minutes butchering his playing and 2 minutes trying to convince my friend to censor what he had just said. :wink:

Hahaha he sounds like a mo Polish :ho:

Dagmar is the one Rubinstein slept with when she was 13. There’s a quote from Jeremy Nicholas’s biography of her saying something like “I’ve had 3 husbands of my own and several of other women’s” :whale:


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Maybe even Arrau. :wink: He asks my friend here to limit or keep quiet about what he’s said about Godowsky since he “likes Dagmar very much”. :wink: :wink: :wink:

I’ve never read the God bio incidentally, how did you like it?

This one?

I liked it… need to reread it…

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I don’t think I found it to be particularly interesting, but it’s been about 13 or so years since I read it.

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Hm. Well it would be fun, but things are clogging up on this front. Walker/Bülow and Walker/Chopin are both on my to-read list, plus I’ve recently downloaded Spohr’s autobiography which I became interested in after rereading Schonberg this summer.

Godowsky thought of recording as “nerve-killing torture” so it’s actually amazing that there still are some recs of him that are quite impressive and beautiful. IMO this is another one:

As for Arrau’s judgement: it’s interesting but I would take it with a big grain of salt. He also disliked Hofmann very much (“I didn’t know what to do with him”).

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Some people were really turned off by Hofmann. Dat mofo could play all his rep, any time, with any interp!

Massive respect. AND still haff time fo affairs wiz chickz.

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Hofmann was one of the freaks that never forgot, but I think a lot of the greats were the same.

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If you know the sort of playing he values you can understand his perspective. Arrau was not a detail orientated pianist, he never drew attention to details like Hofmann did. For example, he hated things like bringing out inner voices which Hofmann did a lot. I also am not always a fan of these things, except when they are highlighted subtly (like Volodos and Schiff have done in recent concerts I’ve attended). Hofmann could sometimes make the secondary voice as loud as the melody. That’s too much imo.