Over forty years ago, I started collecting material about Leopold Godowsky: newspaper clippings, magazine articles, references in autobiographies, recordings and music. To cut a very long story short and fourteen publisher rejections later, the book finally appeared between hard covers in 1989 thanks to Bryan Crimp of APR.
During the four years prior to this, I was in a constant state of apprehension. I had learnt through the grapevine that someone else was writing a biography of Godowsky. It was nearly finished and had found a publisher. In the end, this ‘rival’ never materialised. It was being written, I later discovered, by that veritable polymath and fine pianist, Charles Hopkins. Charles, though, never put it all together or found the time or mustered the energy – or whatever it takes to write a book – and it never saw the light of day: he died, far too young, in 2007.
I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when an enticing box of records arrived for review: The Complete Vladimir de Pachmann issued on Marston (54003-2), four well-filled CDs, superb audio restoration as always, and immaculately annotated. The excellent booklet is by Edward Blickstein. Now that name rang a bell. Years ago, someone told me that Blickstein was writing a biography of Pachmann. This has certainly never been published, but in 2002 there was one I had bought by Mark Mitchell. Like his previous effort, Virtuoso, it was littered with the kind of errors that any decent editor would have corrected, but it did the job and told a remarkable story well. And then another bell rang. Hadn’t I heard somewhere that the book had been withdrawn after accusations of plagiarism? I went on line and discovered that this was indeed the case. An Amazon review gives it a ridiculous one star rating accompanied by a denunciation of the author. It was written by Gregor Benko with whom, I now recalled, Edward Blickstein had been working on the Pachmann biography.
Look elsewhere on the web and you can read Benko’s exhaustive account of the plagiarism case (http://www.intlpianoarchives.com/). It is 22,566 words in length, about a fifth of the length of a serious biography. There is no doubt that large chunks of Mitchell’s book had been copied from Blickstein’s research, and with no acknowledgement of Blickstein’s contribution of course the book had to be withdrawn. Yet I have some sympathy with Mitchell because Blickstein was at first enthusiastic about Mitchell working with him to complete his decades-old project. Benko had given early support but had long ago lost interest. However, Blickstein, having decided to work with Mitchell, then changed his mind for some reason and declined to work further with Mitchell. But Mitchell by now, of course, had possession of Blickstein’s research. Mitchell realised that the Blickstein / Benko Pachmann biography was never going to materialise. He would write it himself. He did so – carelessly, it must be said – but at least got it published.
The Marston booklet for the Pachmann CD set announces that the Blickstein / Benko biography of Pachmann will be published this year by Scarecrow Press. My contacts there assure me it won’t. They haven’t even seen the manuscript. Spring 2013 at the very earliest, they say. Blickstein, an elderly man living on benefits, may or may not live to see his life’s work published. My hunch is he won’t. I’ll tell you why.
Back in the 1970s Benko ran a non-profit making organisation called the International Piano Library (IPL) in New York which issued many invaluable historic piano recordings. (I wrote to Benko asking if he had any first-hand material on Godowsky; I still have his regal reply declining to help.) In 1974 an historic multi-piano concert was put on in London’s Royal Festival Hall to raise funds for IPL and Great Ormond Street Hospital. Soon after, there was a fire at IPL’s New York headquarters, IPL changed its name (‘due to state law’) to International Piano Archives (IPA) and in 1977 Benko / IPA’s collection was donated to the University of Maryland. It was about the same time as these changes in circumstances that I read of a biography being written of Josef Hofmann, without doubt one of the greatest pianists in history. Mouth-watering news for any pianophile. That, as I say, was roughly 35 years ago. It still hasn’t been published and the rest of us are never likely to see the fruits of the author’s unique resources. Perhaps he is one of those who get more satisfaction from hogging than sharing. Perhaps he is one of those authors who perpetually re-write the first chapter and can’t get any further. Perhaps the book is finished and he simply can’t bear to let his baby go out into the world. Who knows? The biography won’t ever be finished. The author’s name? Gregor Benko.