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Lyrita New Recording
Sarah Beth Briggs
|Leopold GODOWSKY (1870–1938)
Johann Strauss II - Piano Transcriptions and other
Symphonic Metamorphosis on Künstlerleben (1867) after
Johann Strauss II [14:55]
from Walzermasken 24 tone poems in triple time (1911)
Symphonic Metamorphosis on Die Fledermaus (1874)
after Johann Strauss II [11:04]
from Triakontameron 30 moods and scenes in triple
measure (1919-20) [14:33]
Symphonic Metamorphosis on Wein, Weib und Gesang (1869)
after Johann Strauss II [12:02]
The Last Waltz (1920) by Oscar Straus; idealized
version by Leopold Godowsky [2:33]
rec. 14-16 December 2007, Henry Wood Hall, London. DDD
HYPERION CDA67626 [69:09]
For Hyperion pianist Marc-André Hamelin plays a selection
of Leopold Godowsky’s virtuoso piano transcriptions. All
the scores are based on or directly inspired by Johann
Strauss II and the Vienna waltz; including a short piece
by Oscar Straus.
The music on this Godowsky selection of transcriptions
and waltzes is suffused with associations with Johann Strauss
II and the Austrian city of Vienna. Clearly the dynamic
of the era would have had an immense effect on Godowsky.
Around 1900, Europe was poised on the dawn of a new era.
Established society was rapidly changing and the cultural
world was being challenged by youthful and often visionary
composers, writers, artists and designers. Vienna was it
seems at the centre of the European cultural world. At
this time in this golden age of early twentieth century
design, the influential artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)
was acknowledged by many as the leader of the Viennese
Succession. This group of artists and designers, lead by
Klimt, instigated a move away from the conservative style
of the Viennese Künstlerhaus (founded circa 1865-68; this
building on the Ringstrasse has served as an exhibition
venue for sculpture, painting, architecture and applied
The renowned composer Johann Strauss II had died in
1899. Undoubtedly the music of this famous Waltz King had
defined an era, painting a rather rosy picture of Viennese
society. Leopold Godowsky, the Polish-born pianist and
composer, had from 1908 been living in the swiftly changing,
post Johann Strauss II city of Vienna and had stayed until
the outbreak of the Great War.
Prior to living in Vienna, Godowsky had been resident
in America for a decade and subsequently lived in Berlin
from 1900. Godowsky at Berlin in December 1900 gave a debut
concert performance that included some of his own scores
to a resounding success that verged on hysteria. Vienna
was also a city that Godowsky played to great acclaim.
His reputation in Vienna greatly increased and he was earmarked
for the prestigious and highly paid post of the Directorship
of the Piano School of the Kaiserliche Academy of Music
in Vienna. Godowsky was subsequently chosen for the position
in 1909; the first time that a Jew had been appointed to
this post that carried with it a rank of honorary colonel
and was answerable to the Emperor. Not only was the remuneration
generous Godowsky was given time off to study, for composing
and to travel to give recitals. This idyllic existence
came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of war in 1914.
Godowsky fled to the USA, as luck would have it, catching
the last boat from Ostend to England. The composer/pianist
was to stay in the USA for the rest of his life.
This Hyperion disc contains three of Godowsky’s exalted
transcriptions on themes by Johann Strauss II, that he
called Symphonic Metamorphosis: Künstlerleben (Artist’s
life) a contrapuntal paraphrase based on the Op. 316;
also Wein, Weib und Gesang (Wine, Women
and Song) from Op. 333 and a paraphrase from
the celebrated operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat)
that he completed in 1907.
In 1911 after composing his massive Piano Sonata
in E minor Godowsky wrote an original cycle of 24
tone poems in triple time titled Walzermasken.
Between 1919-20 he produced another original set of 30
moods and scenes in triple measure named Triakontameron that
were inspired by a collection of stories from the fourteenth
century writer Giovanni Boccaccio. Despite their rather
technical titles these are attractive miniature tone
poems for piano unified by the spirit and rhythm of the
Vienna waltz. Godowsky did conceive the scores as complete
cycles, although it seems, that he was not opposed to
individual pieces being selected for performance. Marc-André Hamelin
on this Hyperion disc has selected 4 pieces from Walzermaskens
and 5 pieces from Triakontameron.
The transcription that Godowsky made of The Last
Waltz by Oscar Straus was never published and is
a repertoire rarity. Sometime prior to 1925 Godowsky
had produced a piano roll of the waltz, which is heard
throughout the 1920 operetta The Last Waltz; but
it was never published. Godowsky’s piano roll was notated,
arranged and edited in the 1970s by Gilles Hamelin, the
father of Marc-André Hamelin.
In these Godowsky’s transcriptions and original waltz
infused scores I feel that most listeners will be familiar
with the majority of the melodies, although, they may be
unfamiliar with their titles and origin. The best known
melodies will undoubtedly be from the paraphrase on the
world famous operetta Die Fledermaus, a score virtually
guaranteed to delight and entertain; especially the famous aria Mein
Herr Marquis (The Laughing Song). In the Künstlerleben and Wein, Weib
und Gesang transcriptions one cannot fail to be delighted
by the plethora of recognisable waltz themes.
The selection of four tone poems Walzermasken is
highly appealing, especially Pastell the fascinating
and thoughtful portrait of Franz Schubert and also the
melodic and highly dance-like piece Portrait - Johann
Strauss. Of the selection of five tone poems from the Triakontameron collection
I loved the mainly reflective piece Rendezvous;
the highly popular and agreeable Alt Wien for its
nostalgic view of old Vienna; the Terpsichorean Vindobona with
its stark contrasts of mood and the elegant and inventive
piece The Salon. Another favourite is the final
work on the disc the short, light and dreamy Oscar Straus
piece The Last Waltz.
These are rock-solid keyboard performances from Marc-André Hamelin.
One feels that the technical and physical demands places
this material beyond the sphere of most pianists. The pianistic
control is breathtaking, the virtuosity has great stature,
combined with virile strength that radiates enthusiasm.
Yet Hamelin is light and delicate in the slower passages,
never letting the listener forget that the Viennese waltz
is the origin of these scores. This is an undeniably impressive
set of rare repertoire played with total assurance by Marc-André Hamelin
and admirably recorded by the Hyperion engineers. Gustav
Klimt’s famous painting Emilie Floege fittingly
adorns the front cover of the booklet serving to enhance
the presentation of this disc.
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