[Reader-list] Leopold Godowsky

Rana Dasgupta eye at ranadasgupta.com
Mon Jul 19 13:25:32 IST 2004

Leopold Godowsky was a child prodigy pianist from Lithuania, born in 1870 into poverty but patronised by a number of wealthy sponsors who made him into a star and a wealthy man.  After some time moving among the aristocracy and cultural elite of Paris, he moved to New York in 1891 where he became one of the country's leading performers and teachers.  Returning to Europe in 1900 he toured the entire continent as a musical superstar, becoming the director of piano at the Imperial Academy of Music in Vienna - the first time a Jew held the post. 

When the first world war broke out, Godowsky quickly escaped from Vienna, making his way eventually to New York.  Once again he was able to establish himself as a performer, teacher and social focal point.  His hospitality was extravagant and legendary.  His friends included Igor Stravinsky, George Gershwin, Rachmaninoff, Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz, Pablo Casals, Charlie Chaplin, as well as, in Europe, Serge Diaghilev, Vaslav Nijinsky, André Gide, Henri Matisse, Enrico Caruso and Maurice Ravel.

In late 1916, the Godowskys moved from New York to Los Angeles. Godowsky divided his time, as before, between giving concerts, composing, and teaching. His high fees, some shrewd investing, and $80,000 a year from endorsements and various publishing and recording contracts meant that the family could live very comfortably. His hands were insured for $1,000,000. Leopold Junior developed an interest in photography, a hobby that would lead him - with his friend Leopold Mannes - to the invention of the color photography process that became Kodachrome. Daughter Dagmar pursued a career in films and had some success as a vamp of the silent screen.

>From 1921, Godowsky began to tour other parts of the world.  He played 35 concerts in Mexico that year; in 1922 there was a two-month tour of South America; he had hardly arrived back in New York when he set off once more for Vancouver, Yokohama, and the Far East: China, and Java, where he became interested in gamelan music and wrote piano pieces inspired by it.

The Wall St Crash ruined Godowsky for good and a year later he suffered a stroke that ended his piano career.  He wrestled with ill health for the last years of his life, dying of cancer in 1938.

One of Godowsky's close friends was Albert Einstein.  His daughter, Dagmar, tells this story about Einstein's reaction to Godowsky's death:

"Father had had a barber named Caruso, who worshipped Einstein, and when he discovered that Pa and he were close friends, he begged to meet him. Pa told Einstein, who promised him that someday he would visit the man. But absent-minded as he was - he never got around to it. Every so often when Father was getting a haircut, Caruso would ask, 'Is Einstein ever really going to keep his promise?' And Popsy would say, 'Don't worry, some day he will come!' When news of Pa's death reached Einstein at Princeton, he didn't say a word. He picked up his hat and muffler and caught the first train to New York. He went to visit Pa's barber. This is eloquence."

[Summarised from: http://www.godowsky.com/Biography/bio.html]

More information about the reader-list mailing list