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[F_minor] Re: Technique: A Happy Customer
This ought to cheer up a few readers. From the San Francisco Examiner of
October 2008, SF Classical Music Examiner author Scott Fogelsong:
Several short articles about Glenn Gould, Part 1It sat there on the shelf, winking and casting come-thither looks at
me. I tried to ignore it; I thought about sad stuff; I practiced a bit
of mindfulness meditation. Nothing worked. We all have our weaknesses. For some it's booze, for others cigars, for others...well, you get the idea.
me it's "complete" CD box sets. I see one and my vision becomes hazy,
my heart palpitates, my mind starts toting up my current credit card
Glenn Gould — never a pianist who rang many bells for
me — there in a limited edition CD set, courtesy of Sony, heir to the
beloved Columbia Masterworks of yore. All those CDs, Gould's complete
Columbia recordings, in their "original jackets", cover art which I
remember (in some cases) from my teen years, when I was buying some of
Gould's latest via the Columbia Record Club.
So I bought it, in a wave of nostalgia and also in a sudden
re-interest in Gould. What, I thought, would be my reaction to his
playing these days? I haven't heard a Gould recording in, oh,
I should mention that I was a piano major at
Peabody (and the San Francisco Conservatory), and during my graduate
days I minored in harpsichord so intensely as to qualify for all
intents and purposes as a double major. My favored repertory in those
days was quite close to Gould's; I loved Baroque and earlier music, and
20th century stuff (although my tastes ran more towards Copland, Ives,
and Bartók, rather than the Gould's favored Second Viennese School.)
was part of a small group orbiting our teacher Laurette Goldberg,
absorbing whatever goodies the nascient HIP movement could offer us.
(Laurette's pet project, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, was still
some years in the future.) We were young, committed, and dreadfully
opinionated. Snobs one and all, to the last man (and woman) jack of
Like insufferable snobs the world over, we had absolutely
nothing to be sniffy about, but of course there was no way we were
going to discover that on our own.
Glenn Gould was our
Antichrist, the target of our most barbed, carefully-saved-up snide
zingers. (On the other hand, instant ostracism awaited the one who
might even whisper that, maybe just perhaps, Gustav Leonhardt's playing
was ever so, a teeny-tiny bit, well, you know, like...dull.)
played the Gould/Bernstein recording of the Beethoven Fourth Concerto.
After the opening piano solo (in which Gould "breaks" the opening
chords, very lightly), one of our members arose, unceremoniously
flicked the tone arm off the record, took up a steak knife, and
proceeded pull a Norman Bates on the offending LP. (While we sillly
asses sat there applauding.)
Thus I return to Gould after this
long hiatus — middle aged now, while our Lady of the Steak Knife is a
very successful lawyer in upper New York State — with a lot of
music-making, teaching, and commenting under the belt. Snobbery is much
less an issue nowadays, humility having been acquired through the usual
series of setbacks, embarrassments, and short sharp shocks.
80-CD set is arranged in chronological order; I'm about at 1965 now,
just a bit after Gould retired from the concert stage. And I'm having a
great time, enjoying the performances no end, fascinated by the
creativity, the nerviness, the striking originality.
he sounds like nobody else (a good thing), and certainly there are
moments that are not my cup of tea. But this is the advantage of a few
years under the belt: one stops taking such stuff personally. I'd never
play the first Prelude from the WTC like that, but I'm me, Gould was
Gould, and that's that.
I spend most of my time around
musicians, with the result that absolutely none of Gould's
"eccentricities" impress me as being anything other than part of the
behavioral mainstream. Pianists sing all the time when they play; more
than a few put on a choreographed show of body postures and facial
tics. Gould did it all a bit more, but that's all.
For that same
reason I'm disinclined to sign on to theories about various forms of
mental illness, including Asperger's. Our society is so lamentably
determined to normalize everybody and everything, explain
away any departures from that line-in-the-sand norm with appeals to
medicene or upbringing or astrological portents.
solely as a musician, Gould strikes me as a man with a strong
personality, somebody who had it his way without compromising his own
style against the dictates of the normalizing public. He differed from
the general populace in that he had an astonishing musical gift which
brought him the financial freedom to live life as he wished.
A few issues stand out for me in the recordings up to this point:
are abundant moments throughout which remind me that Gould, despite the
much-vaunted modernism he represented, was fundamentally a Romantic
pianist, albeit somewhat Apollonian in his approach. He combined a deep
respect for the score with an open mind about interpretation, something
characteristic of most older-generation pianists. They never hesitated
to touch up a passage here or there if they felt it warranted, but they
were nonetheless operating from a sincere desire to communicate the
music to the listener.
He was a terrific Beethoven player,
period. There are those who are upset about his liberties, but since
when was Beethoven ever a composer for conservatives? The composer
thought out of the box as a matter of course; why should we deny
creative or even rebellious thinking in his interpreters? Among the
most fascinating to me are are the 1956 renditions of Op. 110 and the
daredevil 1965 Op. 10 No. 1 — among the few performances of this last
I've heard that makes a case for this being one of the most compelling
of the early sonatas.
The Haydn sonatas figured in his
repertoire, although not as much as I would have wished. The slow
movement of his 1958 performance of the E-flat "Genzinger" sonata is
utterly compelling, completely convincing.
We should all be
grateful to record companies such as Columbia who would let a
best-selling artist record repertory that was unlikely to bring in big
sales. Gould's pre-1960 recordings include some worthy rareties, such
as the Krenek Sonata No. 3. He was always willing to look into unusual
material, and Columbia was willing to go along for the ride. In that
period, the catalog was heavily slanted towards the familiar, as all
those big recording stars vied with each other to put out yet even more
powerful rendition of the Tchaikovsky Pathétique or the Brahms Violin
Concerto. And in their midst was Glenn Gould, recording Richard
Strauss's early oddity "Enoch Arden" with the assistance of the grand
master actor Claude Rains.
I'll be continuing the series of
articles as I move forward in time through the CD set. Right now I'm
still with Gould the Golden Boy — and I mean that literally, given his
shimmering dark blond hair and angelic beauty (even if frequently
obscured by a lack of grooming.) A lot of the Gould repertory is still
to come — Hindemith, Schoenberg, Sibelius, Wagner, et al., and of course acres more Bach.
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