[f_minor] Gould and problem-solving

Robert Merkin bobmerk at earthlink.net
Fri Feb 22 14:29:36 MST 2013

Hiya Jörgen, Karl et omnes --

Maybe a side trip to a parallel art and a different artist might help illuminate this odd question of why and when Gould mysteriously strayed from his trademark musical perfectionism.

Probably in one of his interviews with The Paris Review, the American visual artist Donald Evans (1945-1977) was asked about the (intentional) imperfections in many of his faux postage stamps and mail art (all of which he painted actual postage-stamp size). Examples might include intentionally ruined/damaged stamps -- a coffee-cup stain ring in a corner is the sort of thing one might expect to find in an Evans stamp.

Evans had a phrase (which I've merrily forgotten) for these intentional imperfections, but he wanted them as important tools to achieve the "realism" of his faux postage stamps. Our ubiquitous experience with real stamps and real mail/post objects (envelopes, postcards) is pregnant with damage and stains and rips and tears, physical abuse inherent in the thuggish process of postal delivery, and (for stamp collectors) the inevitable damage of old age, fading, yellowing. 

Evans was striving not just for remarkably beautiful and evocative visuals (almost all watercolors), but for the opposite of what art museums go to costly lengths to prevent and delay -- the deleterious effects of time, aging, accidents, light, moisture and heat exposure. Evans WANTED the random inclusion of these "bad things," to subtly draw the viewer into the realism of his postage-stamp imaginary universe, to convince the viewer that the viewer was seeing "the real thing," "the McCoy."

Gould's escape from live performances to the "total control" environment of the recording studio must almost instantly have made him acutely aware of the sterility that is perfection's handmaiden and reward. 

Worse and more painfully, the studio must constantly and starkly reminded him of the spontaneous thrill of accidents, mistakes, audience coughing. Stripping his music of spontaneity and accidents (by editing out all spontaneity and mistakes and accidents) must have provided painful reminders of the musical reality -- the beautiful reality -- of live performance.

Perfectionism is a harsh mistress, who enjoys taunting and tormenting the perfectionist with her built-in and unavoidable failures to achieve that which the artist so obsessively desired. Studio Gould must have been a life like Tantalus' grapes: so intimately and deliciously near, but forever just out of reach.

Massachusetts USA

P.S. Before I gave up the vinyl ghost and moved my GG to the fancy new-fangled CD format, I'd come to love and anticipate every scratch, hiss and hiccup of my Mozart sonatas. Of course I took pleasure in hearing the pieces so marvelously cleaned up, but I missed my sloppy needle-kicking hissing old friends. Reality ISN'T perfect, and perfection rarely lives up to its promise to make us happy.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <jorgen.lundmark at mypost.se>
To: "Karl Brown" <kbrown at physics.carleton.ca>
Cc: "Discussion of the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould." <f_minor at glenngould.org>
Sent: Friday, February 22, 2013 12:10 PM
Subject: Re: [f_minor] Gould and problem-solving

> Hello Karl,
> The most prominent "hiccup" recording is by far the inventions and
> sinfonias. I would suggest that the answer has to do with Gould's search
> for a specific tactile response of the instrument. It needed to be fast
> and very direct, like an F1 car. I guess he rated this over the "hiccups"
> even if he was aware of and not very pleased with them (see the liner
> notes to that album). At least that is my interpretation of that
> particular text, even if he on the surface seems to be writing about them
> rather fondly.
> Sometimes Gould seems to accept less than perfect results. The most
> glaring example I can think of is at the end of the first half of the very
> difficult finale of the 2nd partita. Every time I hear that faulty note it
> makes me cringe, and I wonder why Gould never went back and fixed it.
> Regards,
> Jorgen
>> Jorgen et al,
>> I concur, Katie Hafner's "A Romance on Three Legs" is a great read"
>> A question if I may ...
>> If Mr. Gould was such a perfectionist, then why did he accept the
>> repeated "hiccups" (as named by Mr. Gould himself) on many of his
>> recordings?
>> Prior to noticing them, I was very content with many of his recordings,
>> I especially love the clarity he brings to them etc. but since paying
>> particular attention to and finding these hiccup's I find them to be
>> unfortunate and as a result I am becoming uncomfortable (to be honest)
>> and can't find a reason as to why Mr. Gould would have accepted them to
>> be released as part of his recording.
>> I first noticed this while listening to his Scriabin/Prokofiev, Track
>> #1, Scriabin, Dramatico @ 07:42. The hiccup is as clear as a bell yet he
>> was accepting of it just the same.
>> Can someone provide an explanation?
>> Thanks in advance,
>> Karl
>> On 22-Feb-2013 9:37, jorgen.lundmark at mypost.se wrote:
>>> Hello Dvae,
>>> This is an interesting question. As in many cases Gould isn't exactly
>>> consistent in his view of the piano. Several times he writes about
>>> himself
>>> being a "musician" (or words to that effect) that just happens to play
>>> the
>>> piano. At the same time he looks for the ultimate instrument and works
>>> harder than most to get the right action and sound from the different
>>> pianos he's playing.
>>> The story about his Israeli tour (is that in the Cott interview book I
>>> wonder) is interesting; the instrument was terrible and in order to get
>>> the best results he imagined he was at home playing the Chickering. The
>>> dynamics was constricted as a result, but he was much more pleased with
>>> the result. So he did think about the practicalities of piano playing
>>> more
>>> than most pianists.
>>> In that context you have to take into consideration the very different
>>> sound the pianist hears and the sound which the audience hear. No doubt
>>> Gould with his great experience knew that difference, but I can't help
>>> wondering if he wasn't more concerned with what he himself heard and
>>> felt
>>> than what he thought was getting out into the hall. That is at least
>>> consistent with his view of the absurdity -- as far as musical contents
>>> go
>>> -- to play for the balcony, which is necessary in order to reach out in
>>> big concert halls. I suppose this would count for much of the changes in
>>> his playing -- the way it sounds -- after retiring.
>>> I recommend the excellent "A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould's
>>> Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano" by Katie Hafner. It is a treasure
>>> trove of everything concerning Gould and pianos.
>>> I also believe that Gould wanted to distance himself from the very act
>>> of
>>> piano playing. There's this centipede metaphore problem: if you think
>>> too
>>> much of the very aspects of piano playing it might just make it
>>> impossible
>>> to make it work. Also, the very tradition of virtuoso piano playing with
>>> the artist as a conqueror of the hearts (more than the minds) of the
>>> public was the antithesis of his philosophy. Again, he did record and
>>> play
>>> contrary to these ideas; the Ravel "La Valse" is one example.
>>> I can't give you any exact quotes on any of the above subjects though.
>>> Someone else perhaps?
>>> Regards,
>>> Jorgen
>>>> Good morning all,
>>>>    One of the "32 films" has a voice-over describing the various pianos
>>>> GG
>>>> had played on tour. At least one of the instruments had been so out of
>>>> whack that Gould wondered how the audience had tolerated it, and he
>>>> said
>>>> something about 'not being that fond of the sounds a piano makes,' or
>>>> something to this effect. Unless my comprehension/memory are shot...
>>>>    This started me thinking: did Gould say or write much about how his
>>>> music was simply a means to an end? That playing the piano was nothing
>>>> more than the work needed to be done in order to get someplace he
>>>> wanted
>>>> to go, metaphorically speaking?
>>>> Thanks,
>>>> Dave
>>>> From:maryellenjensen28 at hotmail.com
>>>> To:f_minor at glenngould.org
>>>> Date: Sat, 16 Feb 2013 23:51:20 +0100
>>>> Subject: [f_minor] Sartorial Interlude
>>>> "I can put him on for hours -- he's like nobody else," says Waters, who
>>>> owns 10 books on Gould, hunts for anecdotes on him and gives his CDs as
>>>> gifts. "He was the ultimate original -- a real outsider. And he had a
>>>> great style, the hats and the gloves and so on." - interview with John
>>>> Waters (Baltimore) for the NY Times August 2003.
>>>> The following is marvellous, from "Kempt" (who uses THAT word any
>>>> longer?!):
>>>> http://www.getkempt.com/icon/the-icon-glenn-gould.php
>>>> It's about time.
>>>> Mary
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