Glenn Gould: Bach and Beyond
Time: 7:00 am - 9:00 am
A companion, by Mary MacNeil, to the special Classical Marathon program
As for many, my acquaintance with Gould’s work began with the 1981 Goldberg Variations, a wedding gift in 1982. Forty years ago, cds were expensive, streaming didn’t exist, so I just wore that cd out. Happily, the silver lining in my pandemic wasn’t sourdough or puppies, but a Spotify subscription and a lot more free time, which led me to two short Scriabin pieces Gould recorded (in a most unusual way, as you will hear). After that I decided that if Gould had recorded it, I would listen to it! There was so much! Hundreds of recordings of an extensive and particular piano and chamber music repertoire and avant-garde radio compositions and television programs and documentaries as well as a lot of writing–reviews, articles, and liner notes. This show will try to interest you in the music that you might not associate with his name.
After establishing his bona fides in the musical world with a short and spectacular concertizing career of a mere eight years, Gould retired from the stage and never again gave a public recital. For the rest of his life, he devoted himself to recording, producing, and writing about the music he thought important. He was a passionate early adopter of recording technologies so it is sad he didn’t live on past 50, he surely would have loved the present possibilities, many of which he foresaw. Tim Page quotes him in the introduction to his edited volume of Gould’s writings:
“Technology has the capability to create a climate of anonymity and to allow the artist the time and the freedom to prepare his conception of a work to the best of his ability.” Page explains, “He pointed out that most creative artists are able to tinker and to perfect, but that the live performer must re-create his work from scratch everytime he steps onto a stage.”
It may well be true that live performance can generate excitement, but Gould objected to this in a much quoted statement from one of his typical provocations titled “Let’s Ban Applause,” Musical America 1962:
“I believe that the justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites . . . and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations. The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.”
In our programming for the marathon we’ve emphasized performances that are not the repertoire for which Gould is (justly) famous. All his performances are widely available, and often there are videos of recorded performances, some of which we’ve linked here.
Links to performances included in our marathon programming
1. On a 1969 CBC radio broadcast, Gould discusses the four disks he would take with him if exiled to a desert island. First on his list is Orlando Gibbons, featured in the third selection of our marathon programming. Audio only.
2. A 1968 alternate live performance of the Gibbons Lord of Salisbury’s Pavane for CBC Radio, and Gould’s discussion with James Kent on Gibbons, Haydn and others. The discussion starts at 18:36, and is followed by a noticeably different performance of the Gibbons.
3. A live performance at the 1957 Chrysler Festival in Toronto, on a bill with Kaye Ballard, Rosemary Clooney, Bill Johnson, Dorothy Dandridge, and Maureen Forrester, among others. Audio and video.
(JS BACH Partita No. 5 in G-Maj (BWV829) Allemande)
(JS BACH Partita No. 5 in G-Maj (BWV829) Sarabande & Courante)
4. Gould discusses the uses of technology in his recording of Scriabin (and others) with Bruno Monsaingeon, a frequent collaborator. These recordings were issued as The Acoustic Orchestrations. We’ve included several pieces from this disk. Audio and video.
5. Gould discusses then plays his piano transcription of Maurice Ravel’s La Valse. Quite astounding to watch. It is interesting to listen to the orchestral version which Leonard Bernstein (a fan and collaborator) conducted with the “L’Orchestre National de France.”
Links to other performances
Over roughly a decade, Gould produced a “contrapuntal radio series” called the Solitude Trilogy. It has three parts, “The idea of North,” “The Latecomers,” and “The Quiet in the Land.” It is unlike any radio I’ve ever heard. It might take some getting used to, I like listening to it while I’m walking.
The CBC, both the radio and television divisions gave Glenn Gould incredible leeway to produce many types of documentaries and programs which he did with relish. Here are links to a few of them.
Dialogues on the Prospects of Recording. Audio only
Gould’s Promos for CBC’s Musicamera. Audio and video
Gould’s own String Quartet, Op. 1. Audio only
Glenn Gould on ‘Mostly Music,’ 1980
Gould promotes 6 new recordings to celebrate his 25 years with Columbia Records. Much interesting material.