Hyperion Records

Passacaglia '44 variations, cadenza and fugue on the opening of Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony'

'Godowsky: Piano Music' (CDH55206)
Godowsky: Piano Music
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55206  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Godowsky: Sonata & Passacaglia' (CDA67300)
Godowsky: Sonata & Passacaglia
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67300  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Track 1 on CDH55206 [16'45] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

Passacaglia '44 variations, cadenza and fugue on the opening of Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony'
The Passacaglia (44 variations, cadenza and fugue on the opening theme of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’) was completed in October 1927. It was Godowsky’s last major composition, written as a tribute to Schubert on the centenary of his death. While the variations and cadenza were composed swiftly in about a fortnight, the fugue took him several more weeks. Its completion gave him ‘new strength and a feeling of aloofness … I simply believe that [the Passacaglia] is a great expression of human loftiness. While composing it I felt that I was purifying my soul and looking closer into eternity’.

Abram Chasins, who knew Godowsky well at this time, recalled in his book Speaking of Pianists the evening when he, along with a few others (including the great Josef Hofmann), gathered in Godowsky’s apartment in New York to hear the work for the first time. The composer played it from green-coloured proof sheets stacked on the piano rack. ‘And how he played! This was sheer enchantment, both the work itself and Godowsky’s pianism. It had the cool, colorful clarity of a stained-glass window. Although I was greatly moved and impressed by what I heard, Godowsky’s effortless mastery made me unaware of the vastness of his pianistic feat that night. Years later I realized it when one of the great virtuosos told me he had worked on the “fiendish piece” for a year, several hours each day, and had finally given up the unequal struggle. “It is impossible to master”, he said. I felt tactful that day and refrained from telling him with what devastating ease Godowsky had disposed of it, making it seem like nothing at all.’ Simon Barere played it, Vladimir Horowitz prepared it but never programmed it (though his reported excuse for not doing so—‘It needs six hands to play it’—is surely a comment on something other than his digital ability). Yet until recently very few had tackled it in public. Godowsky gave its London premiere at the Queen’s Hall in April 1928; Rian de Waal gave its second London performance in April 1991.

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 1991

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Details for CDA67300 track 6
Recording date
23 August 2001
Recording venue
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
Hyperion usage
  1. Godowsky: Sonata & Passacaglia (CDA67300)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: January 2002
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