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The Polish pianist and composer Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) evoked strong reactions. The American pianist and critic Harris Goldsmith scorned the ‘lethal, nauseatingly oversweet fumes,’ the ‘cerebral ornateness and contrived convolution’ of Godowsky’s 53 Studies on Chopin’s Etudes (1894-1914). Today, Marc-André Hamelin, Carlo Grante, Francesco Libetta and Ivan Ilić champion this music, which is deliberately interlarded like a turducken, the American engastration dish that involves stuffing a chicken into a duck, then stuffing the result into a turkey. Generations of pianists from Vladimir de Pachmann and David Saperton to Shura Cherkassky and Boris Berezovsky have recorded Godowsky’s music. Charles Rosen’s recording of the Strauss-Godowsky Wine, Women & Song Piano Fantasy shows it as pungently late Romantic, closer to Richard than Johann Strauss. This revised biography, originally published in 1989 by IP contributor Nicholas, provides a narrative aptly overstuffed with captivating quotes and Pickwickian asides, such as that physically, Godowsky was the ‘owner of that most important of pianistic attributes, a large and wide seat’. Nicholas is frank about the disappointing quality of many recordings by Godowsky, and asks: ‘Can you be called “a great pianist” if it is generally accepted that the public has never heard you at your greatest?’ Godowsky’s tragic life was marred by family woes and poor physical, mental and financial health. Nicholas recounts these sympathetically, without assigning blame to Godowsky for his many misfortunes.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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