Godowsky: Leopold: 13 Feb 1870 – 21 Nov 1938

By | December 1, 2020


Black and White photograph of Leopold Godowsky in his mid-forties.

Leopold Godowsky is a well-known Russian born American virtuoso pianist and composer. He is famous for his flair and ingenious techniques of paraphrasing piano pieces by other composers. He was known in the music world as the “Buddha of the Piano”.

Life & Works

Godowsky moved to American in his mid-teens, however he had already achieved a great deal in his short life. By the age of five he was already demonstrating a flair for the piano and violin and beginning to compose. He gave his first concert at the age of nine and it wasn’t too long before he was touring East Prussia and Lithuania. Even more impressive is that Godowsky was pretty much self taught!

Godowsky’s paraphrasing pieces are incredibly challenging and difficult and many pianists do not even attempt them. One of his most famous works is his 53 Studies on Chopin’s √Čtudes. Other works are ‘Renaissance’ which is a collection, including arrangements of music by Rameau and Lully, along with twelve of Schubert’s songs and six manuscripts of Bach’s music.

Despite the popularity of his paraphrasing Godowsky also composed his own material. In 1927 he composed ‘Passacaglia’ which includes forty four variations, cadenza and fugue on the opening theme of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’. Vladimir Horowitz who is regarded as one of the best pianists of all time claimed amongst others that Passacaglia was unplayable. Another of Godowsky’s original compositions was written between 1930-31 which was a collection of pieces for the left hand.

Later Years

Godowsky toured then lived back in Europe. He returned to the United States at the outbreak of World War 1. The Wall Street Crash caused him financial problems which was accentuated when he had a stroke in 1930 leaving him partially paralysed and unable to earn a living. On the death of his wife and suicide of one of his son’s Gordon Godowsky went to live with his daughter Dagmar. He died of stomach cancer in 1938.

Did you Know?

  • Godowsky’s son Leopold was co-inventor of Kodachrome photo transparency film as well as a violinist. His son Leopold Jnr married George Gershwin’s younger sister Frances.
  • His daughter Dagmer appeared as a co-lead in many Hollywood silent movies.

Further Reading & Musical Downloads

On music-scores.com we have sheet music From Airs of the 18th Century by Leopold Godowsky.

For further reading take a look at Wikipedia and Britannica.

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