Leopold Godowsky, classical music composer

Leopold Godowsky image

Leopold Godowsky


Leopold Godowsky was born in what is now modern-day Lithuania on February 13, 1870, the son of Anna and Maciej Godowsky. His talents in music quickly became evident, composing and acquiring proficiency on both the piano and violin by the age of five, and giving his first concert at the age of nine. Though he received some lessons as a child, Godowsky's skills were largely self-taught, making his feats all the more remarkable. Following a brief period of study at the Königliche Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, he left Europe for the United States.

Godowsky traveled multiple times between Europe and the United States. His first trip, he toured the northeastern United States and Canada, beginning with his first public appearance in Boston in 1884. In 1887, however, he returned to Europe, giving recitals in Paris and London, and becoming a friend and protégé of Camille Saint-Saëns. Three years later, in 1890, he returned again to the United States, accepting a teaching position at the New York College of Music. Over the next decade, he also taught at the Gilbert Raynolds Comb's Broad Street Conservatory in Philadelphia and the Chicago Conservatory.

Following the turn of the century, Godowsky returned to Europe where he settled in Berlin. In 1909, he took over master classes at the Vienna Academy of Music from Ferruccio Busoni. The outbreak of war across the European continent in 1914, however, drove Godowsky back to America where he eventually settled in New York. During the post-war decade of the 1920s, he toured extensively, returning to Europe but also giving concerts in South America and East Asia. Though his career flourished during this decade, his personal life began to take a turn for the worse. His wife fell seriously ill in 1924, and in 1928 he disowned his son over his marriage to a vaudeville dancer. The stock market crash in 1929 also took Godowsky's financial situation with it. He began efforts to remedy his situation with a series of recordings and concerts, but an unexpected stroke following a recording session in June 1930 left him partially paralyzed. Events later took a further turn for the worse when, within roughly a year, Godowksy lost both his son and wife, the former to suicide and the latter to a heart attack. He resigned himself to an apartment in New York, living with his daughter. Though he continued to perform for friends and admirers, Godowsky never gave another public performance. Various health problems continued to worsen his health, and on November 21, 1938, Godowsky died of stomach cancer.

As a composer, Godowsky was primary known for his paraphrases on the works of other composers. Most famous among these is his 53 Studies on Chopin's Études, composed between 1894 and 1914. To Chopin's already difficult exercises, Godowsky added intricate contrapuntal melodies, rich chromatic harmonies, and added difficulties for the performer to overcome. They are considered among the most difficult pieces ever written for the piano, and only a few pianists have ever championed them. Somewhat less known, however, are his original works in which he displayed a style that adhered much to the 19th century tradition of harmony and counterpoint.

Composer Title Date Action
Leopold Godowsky Passacaglia 01/10/2009 Play Add to playlist
Leopold Godowsky Six Etudes of Chopin, transcribed for the left hand alone 12/12/2010 Play Add to playlist
Leopold Godowsky Alt-Wien 03/04/2015 Play Add to playlist