Reginald Godden

Reginald Godden. Pianist, teacher, b Tunbridge Wells, England, 18 Sep 1905, d Burlington, Ont, 25 Mar 1987; LTCM 1929, honorary D LITT (York) 1985.

Godden, Reginald

Reginald Godden. Pianist, teacher, b Tunbridge Wells, England, 18 Sep 1905, d Burlington, Ont, 25 Mar 1987; LTCM 1929, honorary D LITT (York) 1985. His family emigrated to Canada in 1906 and settled in Allendale (now part of Barrie), Ont; he began piano lessons at 13 and became the silent-movie pianist at the Barrie Opera House at 14, retaining the job until 1928. He commuted to Toronto for organ lessons 1925-9 with Healey Willan and began advanced piano study in 1928 with Ernest Seitz. That same year he began 21 years of teaching at the TCM. In the 1930s he and Scott Malcolm formed a piano duo that played frequently in Toronto, toured North America, and appeared in New York and London. In 1940 he began five years' study with the noted French pedagogue and Debussy pupil E. Robert Schmitz, at the same time embarking on a solo career. During those years he gave Canadian premieres of works by Prokofiev (Seventh Piano Sonata, 1944; Third Piano Concerto, with the TSO, 1945), Shostakovich, and Copland. He also premiered the works of several Canadians, notably Somers (Strangeness of Heart, 1943; Etude, Dark and Light, Flights of Fancy, Arrangement, Moon Haze, 1945; Testament of Youth: Sonata No. 1, 1946; Solitudes, 1947) and Weinzweig (Piano Sonata, on 'CBC Wednesday Night,' 1951). During the 1940s he performed also with the Baltimore SO and the Budapest String Quartet.

Godden served 1948-53 as principal of the Hamilton Cons (RHCM), and during 10 years in Hamilton helped found the Hamilton Chamber Music Society and gave the first integral performance (1956) in Canada of the 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven. Also in 1956, with the CBC Symphony Orchestra under Victor Feldbrill, he gave the premiere of Somers' Second Piano Concerto. Moving to San Francisco, he devoted himself 1958-66 to an intensive study of the music of J.S. Bach, seeking to emulate in piano performance the subtleties of articulation found in speech. Godden's search for the tonal effect of the clavichord and harpsichord led him to kneel while at the piano. He maintained that 'the further back in music the pianist penetrates, the more necessary it is to eliminate [the torso's] weight and mass'. Godden also performed Beethoven's 'Appassionata' Sonata and Bach's Goldberg Variations on NET telecasts, and gave many lecture recitals.

He returned to Toronto in 1966 and prepared the piano reduction of Somers' Louis Riel for rehearsals prior to the opera's premiere. He resumed teaching at the RCMT in 1969 and taught 1973-8 at York University. In 1975 he was script-writer and commentator for the first two records in the series of 13, called Music Canada, produced jointly by the CBC (RCI) and CAPAC. After the first of 13 public lecture recitals on Bach's keyboard music at the RCMT in the fall of 1968, Kenneth Winters wrote, '[Godden] can cut straight through the sclerotic pomposities and prim pedantries of common high-nosed opinion to give you a welcome inkling of the real matter and scope of a music such as Sebastian Bach's' (Toronto Telegram, 23 Sep 1968). Harry Somers has evaluated Godden's achievements as follows: 'In the latter part of his life he sought to develop a technique which could elicit from the piano the subtlety of articulation and phrasing of a bowed instrument and the human voice. The wonder, for me, was that he finally achieved it' (communication to EMC, 1990). Godden's pupils included Alfred Kunz, Walter MacNutt, Phyllis Mailing, Earle Moss, Kenneth Peacock, Eldon Rathburn, and Harry Somers. In 1977 he performed the 12 Études of Debussy (later released as an LP sponsored by Somers) and in 1978 the Ludus tonalis of Hindemith. Some of Godden's own compositions, mostly piano works for students, have been published by Harris. Godden completed Reginald Godden Plays in the summer of 1986 in collaboration with Austin Clarkson. It consists of Godden's memoirs, together with his ideas about piano technique and the performance of Bach's keyboard music on the piano. A 90-minute cassette of Godden's piano playing was included with the publication.

The Reginald Godden Scholarship Fund was established at York University in 1980 to assist students who demonstrate superior achievement both as musicians and scholars. A memorial concert at York University in May 1987 featured Harry Somers, Robert Aitken, Angela Hewitt and the Canadian Brass.

Writings

'The piano études of Claude Debussy,' Fugue, Aug-Sep 1978

- and Clarkson, Austin. Reginald Godden Plays (Etobicoke 1990)


Further Reading

  • Dempsey, Lotta. 'He takes Bach with mushrooms,' Toronto Daily Star, 11 Dec 1969

    Enright, Janet. 'At 76, Godden scales his musical Everest,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 20 Feb 1982

    Tammereau, Peeter. 'The curious career of Reginald Godden,' Music, vol 5, Mar-Apr 1982