I spent the evening of this Monday, December 12, 2011 at the memorial service for my uncle, Leopold Godowsky III.
Website of his music www.leopoldgodowskyiii.com
Meaning to write earlier, but it is has been taking shape in my mind. Still thinking about him all this week, especially since I am in Ny, where he lived, and I am constantly surrounded by musicians and the topics that were central to his life.
I am still sad that I never got the opportunity to visit and hear him play the piano pieces he was working on. That was our main topic of conversation this past year; he kept saying he had a disc to show me, some samples of the work he was doing.
The turnout at this Monday evening was larger than I had expected; some family members were there, people who knew him through working on his music, some local friends, as well as some college and childhood friends.
I perched on the edge of a couch in the crowded room, drawn in by the stories related by friends and family.
Elena Mannes, a childhood friend, spoke musingly about the times she and Leopold spent together as kids. Noting that it is much easier to feel at home with someone if your parents both do the same thing… that there just seemed to be a special world connecting the two families, that one just slipped into, and was almost impossible to find anywhere else. But then, how many friends have fathers who do what their fathers did together: a very unusual combination of careers—they were the co-inventors of color film (a method that they later sold to Kodak as the Kodachrome method), both named Leopold, both from the New York area, both musicians, and both from Russian immigrant families.
All speakers related his enthusiasm in life and love for music.
Mary Milton, Leopold’s long term partner in the later part of his life (he always introduced her as his wife), called the people she had invited to speak up, one by one. She, herself, spoke of his love for music, and read a quote on life and death and the stars. I wish I remember by whom.
Some friends remembered his pursuit of a healthy lifestyle—quirky moments and all (in particular the college yogurt days; one cup of homeade yogurt in each pocket, spoon on the ready).
The most humorous moments were recollected by Elaine, the mother of Leopold’s daughter Leila, and his wife for more than 30 years, who spoke of their whimsical escapades as a young married couple on their estate in the country where they built a gorgeous home. She spoke of Leopold’s excursions into animal husbandry; including a coop full of chickens, and a goat!
I, personally, never saw the chickens or the goat (named Francy after his mother–my grandmother–although she took it with good humor as far as I remember) but I was fortunate enough to be visiting in the summer when they hosted the local theater group they were active in at their home in a performance on the lawn of The Tempest with Leopold playing Caliban.
It is a fond childhood memory of mine, visiting their peaceful home and eating the delicious home-cooked meals, and gazing upon the memorabilia on the walls that included photographs of his father, Leopold I with his friend Albert Einstein, and other pieces of musical family history. Leopold was very dedicated to curating the musical heritage of his grandfather, Leopold I, the pianist, and also composed his own pieces.
I remember how he excitedly led us into his music room, where he was composing choral music, using the latest technology of a synthesizer keyboard equipped with human-voice samples, “Listen,” he said, ” this sounds real, but it’s really the keyboard. I can make it do whatever I want, try out any harmony arrangements ahead of time and see what it sounds like! It’s great for my composing!” It was a catching kind of enthusiasm. His website has the music he composed on disc www.leopoldgodowskyiii.com
My cousin Jon also spoke, recollecting the time spent with Leopold in the recent years, and the concerts he had enjoyed attending with him.
Another friend of the family and member of the musical world reminded us of “Lee” Leopold’s motorcycle rides… His complete giving of himself to each and every moment of his life— no holding back—pairing this image in conjunction with an understanding of Leopold’s unique musical dedication in a way that truly brought him to life for the moment.
He ended his remembrances with a fitting quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest that invoked the love, the whimsy and philisophical bent of uncle Leopold, and it brought tears to my eyes.
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep. “