No 1: Künstlerleben
No 2: Die Fledermaus
No 3: Wein, Weib und Gesang
Wein, Weib und Gesang (‘Wine, Woman and Song’) is Strauss’s Op 333 and, like The Blue Danube, was originally a choral waltz commissioned by the Vienna Men’s Choral Society, though both are seldom heard in this form. The date of Godowsky’s arrangement is unknown but it follows the same pattern as Künstlerleben, that is a lengthy introduction of Godowsky’s devising followed by a procession of elaborate contrapuntal treatments of Strauss’s waltz themes in the same order as the Strauss originals.
The paraphrase on Die Fledermaus (‘The Bat’) has, necessarily, a different structure, its themes being taken from two acts of Strauss’s comic operetta premiered in Vienna in 1874 (the only one of his operas set in Vienna itself). Godowsky obligingly indicates which numbers he is using by placing the appropriate lyrics above or within the stave. Thus the opening bars have ‘Oh je, oh je, wie rührt mich dies’ (the Act I Trio), followed by ‘Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein’ (the ensemble from Act II) and, at varying intervals, snatches of ‘Mein Herr Marquis’ (Adele’s Laughing Song, Act II). In other words, there is no narrative logic to the themes: Godowsky uses them instead to weave his ingenious web at will: ‘Johann Strauss waltzing with Johann Bach’, according to Albert Lockwood (Notes on the Literature of the Piano, 1940).
Godowsky’s Die Fledermaus metamorphosis (not ‘pot-pourri’, as one leading record catalogue persists in titling the piece) was completed in November 1907. Godowsky was evidently pleased with himself, judging from the letter he wrote to Maurice Aronson the day he finished work on it: ‘Aside from what you know of the Valse, I have added several original features. Between the second theme of the first valse and the first theme of the second valse, I introduce a very short parody on Richard Strauss (something like Till Eulenspiegel and a bit of Salomé cacophony). It is rather amusing, not unmusical but queer, stranger than the beginning. The transition between the second theme of the second valse and the first theme of the third valse is perhaps the most delicately impassioned passage I have ever written—it has genuine vitality! I think the end is a complete success. You know how long I worry to bring a work like this to a proper climax … This part is almost unplayable, but will sound well when I can play it. A sudden modulation from E flat to E major, from ff to p, from bravura playing to poetry, and after several measures the real climax comes on gradually until it bursts into a triumph with a “Steigerung” quite Wagnerian. I think it very successful. I may be mistaken.’
Godowsky’s three Symphonische Metamorphosen Johann Strauss’scher Themen, Drei Walzer-paraphrasen für das Pianoforte zum Concert Vortrag were published by Cranz in 1912. Die Fledermaus is dedicated to Frau Johann Strauss (that is Strauss’s widow, Adele, his third wife); Künstlerleben is dedicated to Herrn und Frau Josef Simon; Wein, Weib und Gesang is dedicated to Herrn Regierungsrat Dr Heinrich Steger, a distinguished Viennese lawyer and member of the Board of Directors of the Conservatory who had first sounded out Godowsky about the directorship of the Piano School. If Godowsky’s aim was to elevate the art of the piano paraphrase to a higher musical and pianistic plane, then he certainly succeeded. ‘These [three works] are probably the last word in terpsichorean counterpoint’ (Lockwood again). This is only the fifth time that all three of Godowsky’s Symphonic Metamorphoses have appeared on the same disc—the others are by Edith Farnadi, Janice Weber (twice) and Antony Rollé.
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2008