100 Years Ago: Polish Pianists in America, Part 1


by Barbara Zakrzewska

Originally published on the PMC website on 8 August 2000


In 1898 several famous Polish musicians performed in many American cities. In this two reports from 100 years ago, we will present musical activities of these musicians, beginning from selected events in the career of Leopold Godowsky (b. in Soshly near Vilnius, 1870, d. in New York, 21 Nov. 1938).

Leopold GODOWSKY gave his first concert in the U.S. in 1884. He was only 14 years old at that time,[1] but he was already a concert-stage veteran: he began concertizing at the age of nine with a tour through Germany and Poland. In 1890 he took the position of a lecturer at the New York College of Music. In 1891 Godowsky married a singer, Frieda Saxe, and received American citizenship. In the following decade he focused on teaching and concertizing. In 1894-95 Godowsky taught at the Broad Street Conservatory, Philadelphia. For five years, 1895-1900, he served as chairman of the piano department at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. During that time he gave many piano recitals at the Conservatory, which brought him great fame. His third recital on January 6, 1898 had the following program:

Beethoven: 32 Variations in C minor
Schumann: Fantasia C major op.17
Chopin: Scherzo B minor op.31
Chopin: Impromptu F sharp major, op.36
Chopin: Sonata in B-minor op.35
Liszt: Pesther Carnival (Rhapsody no. 9)

On January 19, 1898, Godowsky gave the fourth recital at the Chicago Conservatory. The program included:

Mendelssohn: Variations serieuses in D minor op.54
Bülow-Bach: Fantasia and Fugue in D minor
Beethoven: Sonata in D minor op.31 nr 2
Schumann: Papillons
Chopin: Polonaise-Fantasia in A flat major op.61
Chopin: Berceuse op.57
Chopin: Barcarolle op.60
Chopin: Polonaise in F sharp minor op.44
Liszt: Eclogue. At the spring, from “The Years of Pilgrimage”
Liszt: Spanish Rhapsody

All of Godowsky’s programs included works by Chopin, accompanied with a variety of other composers, and, sometimes Godowsky’s own compositions. On March 11, 1898, during his 5th recital held at the Chicago Conservatory, the pianist performed his virtuosic work, Moto perpetuo. The full program reads as follows:[2]

Grieg: Ballade (Variations on a Norwegian theme)
Schubert-Liszt: Ave Maria. Hark, Hark, the Lark
Schumann: 12 Symphonic Etudes op.13
Chopin: Scherzo in C sharp minor op.39,
Chopin: Ballade in A flat major op.47,
Chopin: Polonaise in A flat major op.53
Godowsky: Moto Perpetuo
Liszt: Concert Etude in F minor,
Liszt: Concert Etude in D flat major
Liszt: Sonata in B minor.

Godowsky’s preference for coupling virtuosic compositions and transcriptions with monumental works may be seen in the following program given during his sixth recital at the Chicago Conservatory, on March 30, 1898. His ability to present so many large-scale works at such short intervals should also be admired. The program included:[3]

Beethoven: Sonata op. 57 in F-minor
Schumann: Davidsbuendler (18 pieces) op. 6
Brahms: Paganini Variations op. 35
Rubinstein: Barcarole nr 5 in A minor
Strauss-Tausig: Valse “Man lebt nur Einmal” op. 167
Chopin: IV Scherzo in E major op. 54,
Chopin: Etudes op. 25 nr 1-3 ,
Chopin: Ballade in G minor op. 23
Wagner-Bülow: Quintet from the 3rd act of Meistersingers
Wagner-Liszt: Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
Liszt: Two Concert Etudes – Gnomenreigen and Waldesrauschen
Weber-Tausig: Invitation to Dance

During 1898 in Chicago Godowsky met the violinist, Henri Marteau. The musicians began to play together, just for the pleasure of music-making. They worked on the Schuman’s Violin Sonatas op. 105 and op. 121 as well as Brahms’s Violin Sonata in C-minor op. 113. [4] These works, however were not featured during the two subsequent Chicago recitals of Godowsky. During the seventh recital of the year, on May 3, 1898, Godowsky played: [5]

Schumann: Sonata in G-minor op. 22
Brahms: 25 Variations and Fugues on the Theme of Händel, op. 24
Wagner: Siegfried and the Rhine Daughters, from Die Götterdämmerung, arr. Joseph Rubinstein.
Chopin: Impromptu in G flat major op.51,
Chopin: Prelude in A flat major op.28 nr 17,
Chopin: Etudes in E flat major op.10 nr 11, E flat minor op.25 nr 6, C major op.10 nr 1,
Chopin-Godowsky: Etude in G flat major op.10 nr 5 (for the left hand)
Chopin: Sonata in B minor op. 58
Glazunow: Etude At night (etude)
Godowsky: Concert paraphrase of Chopin’s Walz in E flat major op.18
Liszt: Tarantella Venezia e Napoli

Recitals no. 7 and 8 included music composed or transcribed by Godowsky. On May 31, 1898, during his 8th recital, the pianist performed:

Mendelssohn: Prelude and Fugue in E-minor op.35 nr 1
Brahms: Paganini Variations op.35
Schumann: Kreisleriana op.16
Godowsky: Dämmerungsbilder in E flat major, No 1
Godowsky: Etude in E flat major,
Godowsky: Scherzino in C-minor No 1,
Godowsky: ArabesqueGodowsky: Barcarolle – Valse
Liszt: Two Legends: I. St. Paul, II. St. Francis of Asisi
Rosenthal: Etude on a Theme of Chopin’s Waltz
Wagner-Liszt: Ouverture to Tannhauser

In July 1898 W.S.B.Mathews described his impressions from Godowsky’s interpretations of Brahms piano pieces during a concert that also took place in Chicago. At that time the pianist played Scherzo in E flat minor, Händel’s Variations, Paganini’s variations, ballads and intermezzos.[6]In October the same writer praised Godowsky’s own compositions and pointed out about the necessity of their publication. Simultaneously Godowsky began to be active in the Chicago Manuscript Society, which made plans to publish his music.[7]During the October 7th, 1989 recital held in the Chicago Auditorium Recital Hall Godowsky performed three sonatas for violin and piano with with the violinist Theodore Spiering: Sonata in G major op. 78 by Johann Brahms, Sonata in F majaor op. 8 by Edward Grieg, and Cesar Frank’s celebrated Sonata in A major.[8]On November 4, the second recital of the same pair of musicians (at the University Hall, Chicago) included Brahms’s Sonata in D-minor op.108, Berger’s Sonata in F-major op. 29, and Grieg’s Sonata in G-major op. 13. [9]

The concertizing activities did not end with these two chamber recitals. In December 1898 Godowsky gave a series of solo piano recitals in Baltimore, Boston and Chicago with the following program:

Schumann: Carnaval
Liszt: Eclogue, At the spring, Etude f-minor
Brahms-Paganini: Variations
Chopin: Sonata in B-minor op.58
Godowsky: Moto Perpetuo,
Godowsky: Valse Idylle,
Godowsky:Concert Paraphrase of a Waltz by Chopin op.18
Wagner-Liszt: Ouverture to Tannhäuser

Also in December, the virtuoso pianist performed Saint-Saens’s Concerto in G minor in New York and in St. Louis (with Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paur).[10] Godowsky’s concerts received good reviews, but despite these American successes he decided to return to Europe in 1900, settling first in Berlin, and then in Vienna (since 1909). [11]


[1] Błaszczyk, Leon Tadeusz: “Polish contribution to the musical life of America” In: Poles in America, Stevens Point, 1978, p.582.

[2] Mathews, W.S.B.: “The Godowsky Recitals.” Music. 14, July 1898, p.314-319.

[3] Report in Music vol. 14, May 1898, p.90, and July 1898, p.314-319.

[4] Reported in Music vol. 13, April 1898, p. 723-725.

[5] W.S.B.Mathews: “The Godowsky recitals.” In Music Vol.14, July 1898, p.314-319.

[6] Mathews’s report in Music vol.14, July 1898, p. 300.

[7] Mathews’s report in Music, vol.14, October 1898, p. 620-622.

[8] Mathews’s report in Music vol. 15, November 1898, p.83-84.

[9] Reported in Music vol.15, December 1898, p. 221-222.

[10] Reported in Music vol.15, December 1898, p.221-222.

[11] Dr. Zakrzewska’s report will be continued in the subsequent newsletters [ed.].