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LEOPOLD GODOWSKY LEFT HAND
Chopin Études and other pieces for the left hand alone



If, for those of us who secretly believe that even two hands are often not enough, the Godowsky left hand transcriptions of the Chopin etudes represent Dante's Inferno, and the Etudes Godowsky transcribed for the left hand alone would certainly require a tenth circle of Hell all their own.

Often referred to as "The Pianists' Pianist", Leopold Godowsky was, according to his peers, the most amazingly gifted pianist of them all. Of his technique, Artur Rubinstein wrote, "It would take me 500 years to get a mechanism like Godowsky's." Józef Hofmann is known to have said to a friend after hearing Godowsky play at home, "Never forget what you heard tonight; never lose the memory of that sound. There is nothing like it in the world. It is tragic that the world has never heard Popsy as only he can play."

Alas, Popsy, as he was known to his intimates, suffered terribly from stage fright and, as incredible as it may seem to those who are familiar with his recordings, he was never able to play in public, or even in a recording studio, as beautifully and brilliantly as he did at home.

I have not yet been able to discover with any degree of authenticity the why behind his studies on Chopin's etudes. The mastery of the etudes in their original form is daunting to the most accomplshed pianist. I can only surmise that he made the transcriptions because he was capable of playing them. A technique as formidable as his would needs be perpetually on the lookout for a challenge, and as no composer would have dared write anything so difficult to play with any hope of its ever being played, he did so himself.

But Godowsky the composer must also have been tantalized by the myriad possibilities presented by the Chopin etudes. In some cases, the transcriptions represent a level of abstract conception worthy of his friendship with Albert Einstein.

While the Godowsky left hand studies after Chopin etudes are perhaps best known of his efforts in this direction, there are also a number of Godowsky left hand original compositions and transcriptions of music by other composers, several of which are offered here.  And while these are good performances for the most part, try, while listening, to imagine what they would have sounded like played by the left hand of Leopold Godowsky.

In only two cases do I offer more than one performance of the same Godowski left hend piece.  One is the 13th study after Chopin Op 10~6.  I do this because there is one performance, the one by David Saperton, a great American pianist of the first half of the last century, who was Godowsky's son-in-law and who plays this transcription with an unparalleled musicality as if he had been given the Godowsky left hand as a dowry.

The other three are by fine pianists, but none is likely to be on anyone's list of the greatest pianists of the century.  The difference is astounding, and compared to Saperton's playing, the others sound like they are making mud pies in the back yard (Meral Guneyman not so much).  Yes, I dare say this in speaking about Hamelin whose technical prowess is legend.  But I have never heard him play without thinking, "What a technique."  And without thinking further that the music has been sacrificed on the alter of his technical ability.

The other is Op 10~12 for similar reasons.

For you right brainers, I have included, at the end, two of the Godowsky left hand Chopin transcriptions as re-transcribed and performed by a pianist who had suffered a dislocation of his left thumb.



Chopin-Godowsky Transcriptions for the left hand


2 study in D major on Etude in C major, Op 10~1
MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN (b 1961), Canadian pianist




6
study
after Etude in C minor, Op 10~4
(preceded by the original)

BORIS BRERZOVSKY (b 1969), Russian pianist




13
study after Etude in E minor, Op 10~6
DAVID SAPERTON (1889-1970), American pianist




13
study after Etude in E minor, Op 10~6
IVAN ILIĆ (b 1978), Serbian-American pianist




13 study on Etude in E minor, Op 10~6
MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN (b 1961), Canadian pianist




13 study on Etude in E minor, Op 10~6
MERAL GUNEYMAN (b 1961), Turkish-American pianist




18a study after Etude in F minor, Op 10~9, 3rd version
IVAN ILIĆ (b 1978), Serbian-American pianist




22 study in C minor after Étude in C minor Op 10~12 "Revolutionary"
VLADIMIR de PACHMANN (1848-1933), Ukranian-born Russian-German pianist




22 study in C minor after Étude in C minor Op 10~12 "Revolutionary"
FRANCESCO LIBETTA (b 1968), Italian pianist
recorded live in 2002




Study after Étude in A major, Op 25~1 1st version
IVAN ILIĆ (b 1978), Serbian-American pianist




Study after Étude in F major, Op 25~3 2nd version
IVAN ILIĆ (b 1978), Serbian-American pianist




study after Étude in B minor, Op 25~10
IVAN ILIĆ (b 1978), Serbian-American pianist




study in B minor on Étude in E minor Op 25~5, 3rd version
IVAN ILIĆ (b 1978), Serbian-American pianist




study after Trois nouvelles études 1 in F minor
MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN (b 1961), Canadian pianist




study after Trois nouvelles études 2 in Amajor, 2nd version
(listed as étude 3 in Paderewski edition)
IVAN ILIĆ (b 1978), Serbian-American pianist




Godowsky  Prelude & Fugue on B.A.C.H. (1929)
MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN (b 1961), Canadian pianist




Godowsky  Elegy for the left hand alone


Jorge Bolet, Cuban-American pianist





Takeo Tchinai, contemporary Japanese pianist
recorded live in 2012




Godowsky  Sarabande from Suite for Left Hand (1922/23)
ERNEST SO (b 1978), Hong Kong-born Chinese pianist




Godowsky  Waltz-Poem
1 in G major
02:262 in B major
04:543 in G major
08:324 in E major
10:485 in A major
13:396 in C major
TAKEO TCHINAI, contemporary Japanese pianist

recorded live in 2012




Godowsky  Symphonic Metamorphosis of the Schatz-Walzer themes
from The Gypsy Baron by Johann Strauss II
TAKEO TCHINAI, contemporary Japanese pianist




Chopin-Godowsky Studies after Op 10~3 and Op 10~12
transcribed and performed by ALBERT TIU (b 1969), Filipino pianist










For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background

Murder in the House of the Muse

which is also available as an audiobook.



And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:

Murder Follows the Muse



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Or go to the Leopold Godowsky page



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