He gave his first concert at age nine, and toured throughout Lithuania and East Prussia soon afterwards. Godowsky wrote in his autobiographical fragment, Retrospect: I would be very glad could I have stated with truth that I was a pupil of [Franz] Liszt or any other great man, but I was not. I have not had three months lessons in my life. I have been told I was playing the piano before I was two.
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The unusual mental and physical demands made upon the performer by the above-mentioned work, must invariably lead to a much higher proficiency in the command of the instrument, while the composer for the piano will find a number of suggestions regarding the treatment of the instrument and its musical utterance in general.
Special attention must be drawn to the fact that owing to innumerable contrapuntal devices, which frequently compass almost the whole range of the keyboard, the fingering and pedalling are often of a revolutionary character, particularly in the twenty-two studies for the left hand alone.
The preparatory exercises included in a number of the studies will be found helpful in developing a mechanical mastery over the pianoforte by applying them to the original Chopin studies as well as to the above-mentioned versions. The fifty-three studies are to be considered in an equal degree suitable for concert purposes and private study.
Special remarks on the studies for the left hand alone In writing the twenty-two studies for the left hand alone, the author wishes to oppose the generally prevailing idea that the left hand is less responsive to development than the right. In its application to piano playing the left hand has many advantages over the right hand and it would suffice to enumerate but a few of these to convince the student that it is a fallacy to deem the left hand less adaptable to training than the right hand.
The left hand is favoured by nature in having the stronger part of the hand for the upper voice of all double notes and chords and also by generally having the strongest fingers for the strongest parts of a melody. In addition to what is stated above, the left hand, commanding as it does the lower half of the keyboard, has the incontestable advantage of enabling the player to produce with less effort and more elasticity a fuller and mellower tone, superior in quantity and quality to that of the right hand.
Another reason why the left hand is more susceptible to training than the right hand is that it is more elastic owing to its being much less employed in daily use in general than the right hand.
The limited number of compositions which have been written for the left hand alone show a desire on the part of their composers to mostly develop the left hand in the direction of mere virtuosity. Has any other composer ever produced works of such a revolutionary nature for the piano at such an early age? None, certainly, who had received such little formal training.
Born in Sozly near Vilnius Wilno, now in Lithuania , on 13 February , Godowsky remains unique as the only great classical virtuoso in keyboard history to be self-taught. Perhaps it was this independence of mind, unencumbered by the academic notions and traditions of Conservatoire professors, that led Godowsky to rethink certain pianistic problems without inhibition.
Having made Chicago his home from , for the next decade he combined a struggling concert career with that of a successful teacher. It is worth quoting at length: I suppose that some readers may be interested to know how I started to compose these Studies. As it was their first venture from New York, I offered to join them. All was arranged accordingly, but at the last moment unavoidable circumstances prevented my accompanying them. They wrote me from Niagara Falls, where they had stopped overnight, of their enthusiastic appreciation of one of the wonders of the world, and continued to Chicago.
I received the letter in the morning, and in the afternoon newspapers issued extras giving news of an appalling catastrophe, the most terrible railroad accident in the history of America, happening near Battle Creek, Michigan.
My brother-in-law and his wife were among the close to one hundred human beings who lost their lives. After numerous experiments I succeeded in finding an entirely new succession of fingers which appeared to me most practical.
I then transposed the Study to the left hand to see whether the same fingering could be applied to it: to my great surprise I found that the left hand was more amenable than the right to my experiments.
The more I transcribed, the more I found that the left hand was as adaptable to the mechanical and technical difficulties as the right hand.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that the left hand is easier to develop when given an opportunity. Being averse to any tampering with the text of any master work when played in the original form, I would condemn any artist for taking liberties with the works of Chopin or any other great composer.
The original Chopin Studies remain as intact as they were before any arrangements of them were published; in fact, numerous artists claim that after assiduously studying my versions, many hidden beauties in the original Studies will reveal themselves to the observant student. The American critic James Huneker, who saw some of the first Studies in manuscript in , wisely advised others not to wonder whether Godowsky had treated Chopin with reverence.
Even twenty years ago, few of the studies had ever been recorded; it was rare indeed to find a pianist brave enough to include any in concert. There was a long wait before any significant artist recorded another. The metal masters of these were destroyed by RCA the metal was needed for shell-cases! Geoffrey Douglas Madge Dante, became the first pianist to record the entire cycle, followed by Carlo Grante Altarus, — At least one pianist Francesco Libetta has played the complete 53 Studies in concert two recitals in Milan, and By , however, the advertised total had risen to It was only in , after some studies were dropped, different ones substituted and additions made, that the final total of 53 was reached.
Ce sera David Saperton, le gendre de Godowsky, qui enregistra dix transcriptions en avec quelques autres compositions de Godowsky. Jedenfalls keiner, der so wenig formale Ausbildung erhalten hatte. Godowsky, der am Der amerikanische Kritiker James Huneker, der einige der ersten Studien in Manuskriptform zu sehen bekam, erteilte anderen den weisen Rat, sich nicht zu fragen, ob Godowsky Chopin Ehrfurcht erwiesen habe.
Mindestens ein Pianist bzw. Kleber, He provided me over the years with many interesting ideas and comments—all stemming from a deep familiarity with the music. With the exception of the music of Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, I know of no segment of the repertoire to have achieved such a legendary status, and even a casual perusal of the scores will help understand why. The prospective pianist is confronted with unexpected levels of difficulty, mostly concerned with mental challenges seldom if ever encountered anywhere else in the repertoire, requiring unflinching concentration and true dedication in order that all details are clearly presented and articulated.
Any one of these Studies may, for example, pit together two or even three strands of counterpoint, each with its own personality and demanding to be clearly differentiated. It is therefore not difficult to understand why these pieces have earned the reputation of requiring Olympian feats of execution, and this helps to explain their general neglect as well as the critical abuse they have received from the time the first few were published.
But wait! Here a nocturne, a polonaise, there a mazurka? Beautifully involved harmony in velvety rich textures? Despite their formidable reputation, many of them are serene in character, hardly ever exploiting the forceful, percussive side of piano writing. This provides yet another explanation why these Studies have been neglected over the years: they do not belong to the category of works which tend to rouse audiences, even when indifferently or badly performed.
This was accomplished in two different ways: firstly, studies for both hands in which the right-hand material is entrusted to the left. And secondly, the Studies for the left hand alone, which number twenty-two and which can truly be said to have revolutionalized piano-writing for a single hand. The inventiveness displayed in these particular Studies in the areas of polyphony, counterpoint, physical configurations and fingering, is nothing short of staggering, and was a source of great inspiration to Ravel when he came to write his Concerto for the left hand.
Godowsky made every effort to make one hand sound like two—many of the Studies actually require two staves for their notation—and in doing so he hoped to inspire other composers to extend this principle to both hands to enrich piano-writing even more. Hopefully, receptive listeners new to the Godowsky experience will welcome the kind of prismatic effect he achieved secure in the knowledge that it is produced by a friendly hand.
Godowsky: 53 Piano Studies on the Chopin Études