Leopold Godowsky as private man
On the pictures of Godowsky - that you have seen until now on this site - you are perfectly excused for thinking that he was a serious and boring old goat. Of course he was serious with his art - very serious indeed - but as a private person - I can tell you - he was not. On the internet you will find several pages with stories about Godowsky and his, often waspish and even caustic humor - and indeed many of his remarks during the years have become standards! Some of his remarks are indeed known to people who have never even heard about Godowsky. On the picture below you will get a very good impression of him as a private person among friends.
Godowsky with Professor Albert
And of course the first of the typical Godowsky anecdotes here involves Mr. Einstein:
One evening, Godowsky was playing a duet at his home with Einstein on the violin. During one passage, Godowsky forgot himself, banged on the piano and, reproving the great mathematician, cried, "What's the matter? Can't you count? One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four! "
When Godowsky composed his Symphonic Metamorphoses of themes from The Gypsy Baron to Paul Wittgenstein he wrote to a friend: "It is good music. Very likely too good for Wittgenstein." (Well - musicians are not known to be excessively generous to colleagues)
Once Godowsky was listening to Raoul Pugno perform one of his own compositions. When asked afterwards how he liked the piece, Godowsky replied: "It seems to me that Pugno first wrote the fingering of the work and then fitted the notes to it."
At another time Mark Hambourg's name arose in conversation. He had suffered many painful memory lapses during his recital the previous week which Godowsky and several others present had attended. "Wasn't it frightful, this forgetting?" exclaimed one. "It wasn't what he forgot that was so frightful," said Godowsky. "It was what he remembered!"
Yet again - Godowsky could be very noble: Once, when Godowsky was asked by a colleague whether he thought it would still be worth going to a recital by the elderly Vladimir de Pachmann, he answered, "I'll tell you, if he plays for one minute the way he used to, it will be worthwhile being miserable for the rest of the recital."
And - when a young man made a point of mentioning the wrong notes he had heard Hofman play in a recital, Godowsky merely said: "Why look for spots on the sun?"
Godowsky was not an admirer of Eugen d'Albert - "I haven't one pupil in Vienna who plays as badly as he" - but on the other hand he would not listen to incompetent criticism: When one of Godowsky's students made a similar observation on the number of d'Albert's mistakes, Godowsky just said: "I'd rather listen to all d'Albert's wrong notes than to any of your right ones."
Anyway his sympathy for music critic's was not a thing that burdened him. There was a famous saying of Franz Liszt that when he didn't practice for a day, he noticed it; and if he didn't practice for two days, his friends noticed it; and if he didn't practice for three days, his audience noticed it. But Godowsky added, "I have had the same experience, and when I don't practice for four days, the critics will notice it."
Like so many pianists, Godowsky was often more or less forced by proud parents to listen to their children and voice his opinion about their talents. After hearing the offspring of one such proud father, Godowsky wrote: "Your daughter is not without talent; she manages to play the simplest pieces with the greatest of difficulty."
And - of course - the best of them all: Saturday afternoon, 27th October 1917, Carnegie Hall was packed to the roof. In the audience were all the top string players and musicians of the city to hear the sixteen-year old violinist Jascha Heifetz making his American debut. Godowsky, together with violinist Mischa Elman were seated in their box. At the interval, Godowsky and Elman went out into the corridors behind their box. Elman wiped his brow, looked about and mumbled, "Phew, it's awful hot in there." - "Not for pianists," Godowsky answered.
Two great men - virtuosi - and friends: