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.
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.