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Leopold Godowsky’s 150th Birthday on Between the Keys February 11th

Episode No. 242 on the ASCAP Deems Taylor Virgil Thomson Award winning program Between the Keys celebrates one of the piano world’s most fascinating luminaries, Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938), whose 150th birthday falls on Feburary 13th 2020.

For years, Godowsky’s complex brand of Romantic pianism and elaborate keyboard concoctions were out of fashion, and, indeed, derided by musical purists. The late critic Harris Goldsmith famously wrote: “I consider him a musical parasite, a fungus that lives upon and devours the tissues of Chopin and all the people he wraps himself around, boa constrictorlike, with these horrible, chromatic serpentine distortions.”

However, the host and producer of Between the Keys, Jed Distler (the Classical Network’s Artist-in-Residence) vehemently disagrees. “Once you accept Godowsky’s aims and aesthetic, a spectacular world of pianistic possibilities open up to your eyes and ears, where tonal seduction, contrapuntal rigor and keyboard logic intriguingly intertwine.”

Distler offers two examples of Godowsky’s own unique keyboard prowess in Grieg’s Ballade Op. 24 and Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau. There will be two Godowsky original compositions, his charming miniature Alt Wien played by Walter Hautzig, and the formidable large-scale Passacaglia in a recent recording by Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi. And from Godowsky’s celebrated and (in some circles) controversial 53 Studies on Chopin’s Etudes, Distler presents a special live recording by the late pianist/composer Robert Helps playing the Etude No. 45 , based on Chopin’s original Nouvelle Etude in A-flat Major.

“This recording stems from Bob’s last New York concert, which I had the honor of producing back in 1997,”  says Distler. “Bob played an all-new music program. Then, as an encore, he launched into the Godowsky. I never heard such a moving Godowsky/Chopin interpretation. A few years later when I put together a CD compilation from this new music series Solo Flights, I included Bob’s Godowsky. How could I keep such a genius performance from the public?  Fortunately, Bob agreed that we could include it. It’s kind of ironic that a composer and pianist so steeped in the music of his time as Bob was also proved able to tap into and internalize Godowsky’s sound world to such a profound degree.”

Raise a glass to Leopold Godowsky at 150, this Tuesday night at 10 for Between the Keys, an exclusive production of The Classical Network and WWFM.org.