JAVA SUITE: Following the Footsteps of Leopold Godowsky in Yogyakarta and Solo

Temple guardian at the Kraton (Sultanate Palace) of Yogyakarta.

If one follows the lovely Java Suite for piano by the great Polish pianist-composer Leopold Godowsky closely, the last three movements vividly depicts scenes from Yogyakarta and Solo (now Surakarta) which have been immortalised in his music. Silly me for leaving my MP3 player at home when I should have brought it to accompany my sightseeing at these historical sites! Nevertheless, I played the music in my mind while walking on the same path that Godowsky did way back in the 1920s when he visited Asia on a grand tour.

A European-styled bandstand and the ubiquitous gamelan.

Movement No.10 of the Java Suite is titled In The Kraton, which is the sultanate palace of Sultan Hamengkubuwono. The present Sultan is Hamengkubuwono XI who is now in his 60s, which means his grandfather was the sultan when Godowsky visited the isles. This is perhaps the most oriental sounding of the 12 pieces, but the melody is his very own and not borrowed from Javanese folk or traditional music.

The ornate gilded ceiling for the Sultan's meeting room. A portrait of the present sultan as a young man (Its the headgear which makes him look like someone from the cast of True Blood)

Fantastical mythological creatures and monsters guard the Kraton (presumably from truly evil spirits).


Movement No.11 is The Ruined Water Castle of Djokja, which is now called Taman Sari, located a short distance west of the Kraton. There are three royal swimming pools in this complex, and a viewing tower where the sultan of old would choose his bathing beauty, who would then make her way to a more private and intimate pool located nearby. This is the Javanese equivalent of the legendary grotto at Sultan Hefner's Playboy Mansion.


More views of the Water Castle.

The sabre-toothed denizens that guard the Water Castle.

A truly fanciful doorway to the Water Castle.

The mysterious Underground Mosque, located just north of the Water Castle. This M.C.Escher like  labyrinth is connected to the Water Castle by a maze of underground passage-ways. 


Movement No.12 of the Java Suite concludes the musical travelogue in the city of Solo (now Surakarta), with The Court Pageant in Solo. This piece was probably inspired by scenes of pomp and ceremony in Kraton Surakarta, which we did not visit. We instead visited the smaller and more intimate Kraton Mangkunegara, home of a prince rather than the actual sultan. His family still stays there, but we were allowed to view its royal collections and treasures. So this concludes a music journey in the footsteps of Godowsky in Java.

The sultans loved chandeliers from Europe.
Gilded statues from the West and East.