Heinrich Neuhaus Web Site

Leopold Godowsky

By H.Neuhaus

visitors since October, 16th, 2000


A Note by the Editor (V.Voskobojnikov)

This 1939 report is an excerpt from the book   "Riflessioni, Ricordi, Diari, Lettere" ("Thoughts, recollections, diaries, letters") edited by Valerij Voskobojnikov, Sellerio Editore (in Italian).

Leopold Godowsky was one of my friends and my best Teacher, too. I can recollect my first meeting with such a beautiful pianist. Upon suggestion of  F.M. Blumenfel'd - one of the estimators of his talent - my father sent me to him in Berlin in order to follow his piano classes. This small, chubby but lively man spoke me in a very plain way. After he heard my performance of the F minor Chopin's Piano Concert, he told me: "You have your own personality, and I will keep it". Godowsky used to talk very little with his pupils during his lessons, and even more seldom about performance techniques. Most of his pupils - coming from any corner of the world - were thinking that the Maestro, the great virtuoso, would have initiated them to the secrets of the technical mastery - but they would have been disappointed. During his lessons Godowsky was talking only about music.

gdwskok.jpg (4534 byte)

This photo of L.Godowsky appears at page  75 of the third volume in Russian language devoted to Neuhaus "Genrich Nejgauz. Vospominanija. Pis'ma. Materialy" ("H. Neuhaus, recollections, letters, papers"), Moscow 1992, edited by Elena Richter, who was one of his pupils. 

Here for the first time one can read the personal dedication of   Leopold Godowsky to H. Neuhaus during their meeting in Moscow. Here the dedication, in German: "Dem ehrlichen, genialen Menschen, dem echten, edlen Künstler, sein aufrichtig ergener Freund Leopold Godowsky Moskau, 25.5.35" ("To the earnest and genial man, to the true, noble artist from his honest and devoted friend Leopold Godowsky. Moscow, 25.5.35" ).

His suggestions pertained only to the artistic side of the performance. In his pupils he   used to praise chiefly their musical gifts and their ability in the musical reasoning.Inaccurate or incorrect performances made him angry. In such cases, without hearing any scream, the battered performer became the target of the teacher's irony - requiring thus a long time to recover from. Following someone opinion, the Godowsky stern teaching method  would have be boring and uninteresting. Those opinions are wrong. As a teacher, Godowsky was as deep and subtle as he was when playing.  In his performances he allured the audience with his perfect care of details. In the appreciation of sounds, his hearing was very refined, resembling to a very responsive balance. His performances were plenty of a sort of musical perspective, exactly like good paintings are plenty of shades and chiaroscuro. Godowsky wasn't an artist with a spontaneous character, as  was instead, for instance, a man like Anton Rubistein.

His performances were not full of passionate nature, but were instead very accurate in the finish, very straightforward in the phrasing, and perfect in the technique - characteristics that always astonished the audience. When played by his contemporary performer Ferruccio Busoni, the pianoforte looked like an orchestra: one could listen to the brasses, to the trills of the violins, to the soft chord of the harp. When played by Godowsky instead, the piano looked like exactly as a piano, but a perfect one! More than to Busoni, the Godowsky style was nearer to the Hofmann style - a friend who was a magnificent performer.

The Godowsky discoveries are with no doubt very important for an entire age of the piano performance history. The famous pianist was also a remarkable composer. His virtuoso transcriptions of Chopin's Etudes are precious and interesting. He was a hard-working artist, and his aim was to reach the perfect mastering of the virtuosity until any extreme limit. For this reason, both his original works and his transcriptions are so complex because of the wide use of any performance capability. I met Godowsky in 1914, one month before the start of the war, at the end of my Meisterschule at the Wien Academy of Music. I still met my teacher in Moscow during 1935. The meeting was warm and cheerful. During the last years of his life,  Godowsky was sick and for this reason he ceased any concert performance and totally devoted himself to the teaching.

He was deeply interested by the features of the music education in USSR, and by anything he could hear and see in Moscow, things he was frankly interested in and to which he was sympathetic. For hours and hours we together reviewed the soviet musical life, and our new culture. Leopold Godowsky, the greatest contemporary pianist, passed away staying a good and honest friend of Soviet Union, and a lively and tireless anti-fascist.