Among the many great pianists active at the turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth, Godowsky and Busoni loomed as titans, both of them outstanding composers, but both far better known for their arrangements of others' works. In Berlin, through the early years of the new century, they maintained a friendly rivalry, each attempting to outdo the other concert by concert. While Busoni followed the epic-heroic example of Liszt, Godowsky seems to have been born with a phenomenal musical grasp -- physical and mental -- which he extrapolated and refined through close study and arrangements of the works of Chopin. Seldom given his due as a composer, and often dismissed for his essentially Romantic focus from serious consideration by the cliquish cadre of Modernists who dominated mid-twentieth century music, Godowsky's considerable compositional skill -- manifesting most salubriously as a seductively deft polyphony -- was rediscovered only at the very end of the twentieth century through the advocacy of such supra-transcendental pianists as Marc-André Hamelin, Carlo Grante, and Rian De Waal, that is, by artists possessed of sufficient technique to project Godowsky's many felicities couched in nearly impossible prestidigital demands. His "contrapuntal arrangement" of Weber's Invitation to the Dance -- whose sparkling geniality also drew a virtuosic orchestral rendering from Berlioz -- affords a stunning example. While its date of composition is unknown, it features in his programs from 1897 and was included in his explosive Berlin début of December 6, 1900, a program that began with Brahms' First Piano Concerto and concluded with Tchaikovsky's B flat minor Concerto, though the evening's sensation was the unveiling of seven of his phenomenal Studies on Chopin's Études followed by his arrangement of Invitation to the Dance. "The success was greater than anything I have ever witnessed, not excepting a Paderewski enthusiasm." One can well imagine the audience's exuberance as the familiar Weber piece dissolved in wave after wave of fantastication and harmonic deliquescence. Nor was Godowsky's lust for elaboration sated -- an arrangement for two pianos, made in 1922, adds new pith to an already gaily freighted rethinking, and when Rubin Goldmark remarked that he had left nothing undone, Godowsky shot back, "Well, I shall show you that you are wrong," and composed an optional third piano part showing a seemingly inexhaustible invention. Upon its publication in 1905, Godowsky's arrangement of the Invitation bore a dedication to Ferruccio Busoni, whose much better known arrangements, in comparison with Godowsky's, stay almost chastely close to their originals, seldom venturing anything like Godowsky's fantasy.
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Description by Adrian Corleonis
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