Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) was noted for his transcriptions, adaptations, and other works based on music of great past masters. This is his last major piano composition, and among his finest works, an imposing twenty-minute piece in a powerful late Romantic style, demanding exceptional power and freedom of the pianist.
It came about because of interest in the coming observation of the hundredth anniversary of Schubert's death (1828). The basis of the work is the famous opening theme of the Schubert symphony, with one note altered to allow it to flow back into itself repeatedly. There are 44 variations on it in this passacaglia, whose composition went quickly although composing the concluding fugue was much more difficult for Godowsky. Individual variations cite the styles of several composers who followed Schubert, including Chopin, Brahms, Richard Strauss, and Delius. The writing is very difficult, with the general mood of the piece being of suffering and foreboding.