Having succumbed to the siren song of another BOX SET,|
Scott Fogelsong wends his way deeper along Gould's path.
I got started writing about Glenn Gould a while ago, with this article covering the new Sony/BMG "Original Jackets" series of Gould's complete Columbia recordings. I've been dawdling my way through the 80-CD set, stopping whenever I want to examine a particularly interesting recording or give myself a bit of time to absorb the experience a bit.
At this point I'm at about CD 31 in the set, thus a bit over a third of the way through. Certain specific recordings have stood out, in particular the album of Canadian composers (Morawetz, Anhalt, Hetu) from 1967, the early Mozart sonatas (1968), the Liszt version of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony for solo piano (1968) and, perhaps most fascinating of all, the album named Glenn Gould: Concert Dropout, an extensive interview with Columbia producer John McClure.
This last gives us Gould in all his quirky, fascinating, chatty glory as he discusses his reasons for abandoning the concert stage (a good four years after the fact) with an equally intelligent and witty interviewer. Gould's quips about playing concerts are priceless, especially as he nails the tendency of some listeners to attend the concert really almost as ambulance chasers who wait (gleefully) for disaster to strike.Obviously Gould was not enamored of concert giving (he wouldn't have turned his back on the concert hall otherwise.) However, he also realized that he could achieve his ideals via recording, sharing his art with listeners who could spend as much time as they wished to absorb his performances.
In short, what recording denies us in spontaneity, it gives us in reliable persistence. That wonderful shared magic of a concert hall is nothing to sneer at, but at the same time, one can do without the rustlers, sneezers, coughers, whisperers, and the like. Besides, there's no going back to hear it again in a concert hall, while at home you can hear the recording as many times as you want, in whole or in part.
McClure brings up the subject of Gould's vocalizing, one of the sticky issues for any number of listeners. No Gould recording is complete without the accompaniment of his singing or humming, despite the best efforts of Columbia's finest engineers to eradicate it.
In the interview, Gould cheerfully admitted that it would annoy the daylights out of him if he were listening to another artist. But he goes on to claim that he really couldn't play without it.
I decided to listen to some solo-piano recordings and focus specifically on the vocalizing. When you zoom in on Gould's singming (my coinage: singing + humming), it becomes clear that he wasn't just humming along with the melodies. There was quite a bit more going on.
In fact, Gould was often singming his way along the implied melodic line of a passage, at least as far as I can ascertain. This requires a bit of explanation.
It is possible to conceive of musical compositions as being the working out of underlying, relatively simple structures. These frameworks—think of them as the girders and beams making up a modern building—are then overlaid with a surface of ornamentation, elaboration, prolongation, and development.
The great theorist Heinrich Schenker (d. 1935) established an influential theory of musical structure along these lines. Schenker was himself a pianist and thought like a performer rather than a cerebrally-inward academic. Schenkerian analysis is a discipline that aims, by cutting through the surface of a musical composition, to hear that underlying structure below. Think of it as a kind of x-ray vision for music. Now, I'm not implying that Glenn Gould was actually a bonafide Schenkerian analyst; to the best of my knowledge, he was not. However, there is nothing closed or mysterious about Schenkerian analysis; in fact, Schenker was not so much inventing something new as he was documenting and organizing the way many musicians instinctively approach musical understanding.
Just as an example, consider playing a passage which is a connective sequence, i.e., a series of harmonic/melodic patterns which move from one point to another. Such sequences have a tendency to be non-melodic, i.e., they are plainly connective in nature. However, such sequences often outline what Schenker called a linear progression, which is typically a simple scale connecting the whole together. One might hear Gould singming just a linear progression, evidence of his inner hearing of the passage in question.
This particular observation is not original with me; others have had the same idea before. Just how "Schenkerian" Gould actually was is a topic remaining to be covered in depth. However, anybody who is deeply involved with Schenkerian analysis (that's me: I'm the Schenker guy at the SF Conservatory) may be struck with the sense that Gould was singming linear progressions, linear intervallic patterns, or polyphonic layers of various sorts, not necessarily according to the rules set forth by a bonafide Schenkerian analyst, but in his own manner.
For those uninterested in Schenker and his analyses there's always
the Gould de-vocalizer 2000, still available at:
The Fogelsong article, pictures included, at:
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