Episode 146: Leopold Godowsky: Transcending Chopin

Etude in F minor, Op. 10, No. 9 (Chopin); Etude No. 17 in C-sharp minor (Godowsky); Etude in F minor, Op. 25, No. 2 (Chopin); Etude No. 27 in F minor 'Waltz' (Godowsky)

rc-godowski-200“To enter the world of these pieces is to venture into a phantasmagoria of musical sound unlike anything else. There is a ring of the familiar – Chopin’s etudes – but the orientation is strangely unfamiliar and oddly fascinating. At times, the music seems impressionistic. At others, surrealistic…” – Frank Cooper

Almost from his birth in 1870, Leopold Godowsky was considered one of the greatest technical masters of the piano. Artur Rubinstein once remarked it would take him “500 years of practice” to gain Godowsky’s ability to make his hands, and each one of his fingers – work so independently.

Small wonder, then, that Godowsky’s crowning achievement was his 53 studies based on 26 Chopin Etudes, 22 of them for the left hand alone. As Godowsky wrote, “their aim is to develop the mechanical, technical, and musical possibilities of piano playing…special mention must be drawn to the fact that…the fingering and pedaling are often of a revolutionary character…”

A boast, perhaps, but Godowsky backed it up. Like combining the “Black Key” and “Butterfly” etudes into one piece, or, taking the first of Chopin’s Etudes and setting the C major arpeggios in contrary motion, to produce an effect he called of “triumphantly grand character.” To the extent that Godowsky’s 53 etudes – weird and wonderful as they sound, are rarely performed, it is because they are nearly impossible to play. Pianist Earl Wild, no slouch at the keyboard, once remarked, “They plague you! Because of their great physical demands, I find that I never have the total abandon I wish for. They are even harder than they sound.” - Jennifer Foster

Radio Chopin Episode 146: Leopold Godowsky - Transcending Chopin



Etude in F minor, Op. 10, No. 9



Godowski's Etude No. 17 in C-sharp minor



Etude in F minor, Op. 25, No. 2



Godowsky's Etude No. 27 in F minor 'Waltz'