Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thinking of Glenn Gould

The world of classical music has definitely become a lot less interesting since the passing of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. When I was in my teens, I would eagerly await every new recording by the great pianist and, would often listen to him or read about him in radio or magazine interviews.

Since his very premature death, interests in Gould seem to have grown. Not only does the Glenn Gould Foundation work hard to keep his memory alive, but Sony Classical, Gould’s recording company, as well as the CBC seem to keep reissuing his recordings in one guise or another. Schott, the German music publisher, has been publishing many of his compositions and transcriptions, including his beautiful piano solo arrangement of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll. Moreover, there have been many books written about every aspect of Gould’s life and art. One can also find videos of the many performances he gave on television.

Recently, there have been the release of two feature length films about Glenn Gould – Bruno Monsaingeon’s Glenn Gould Hereafter, and Michèle Hozer and Peter Raymont’s Genius Within – The Inner Life of Glenn Gould. Monsaingeon’s film focuses on the effect Gould’s music and philosophy have on listeners around the world, while Hozer and Raymont’s film examines the private life of the pianist.

I did notice that musicians who were interviewed about Gould almost always discuss the more technical aspects of his pianism, including his fabled control, as well as the absolute clarity of his musical line. Listeners, not surprisingly, focus almost exclusively on the emotional impact Gould’s music making has on them. To me, more of the listeners seem to have hit the nail on the head when it comes to what makes Gould such a remarkable artist.

I once played Gould’s recording of Bach’s Partitas for a musician friend, and she said she found it remarkable, since she never thought Gould’s playing was so musical! Another friend, also a musician, declares that she prefers the Bach playing of another Canadian pianist, also known for her Bach performances – a comment that caused me to almost fall off my chair!

To my ears, what is remarkable about Glenn Gould’s music making is the incredible emotional intensity his playing conveys. From his recording of Bach’s little Two-part Inventions, to the Goldberg Variations, to his performances of Schönberg, Berg or Krenek, there is a searing, emotional and spiritual quality in the playing that immediately hits the listener. Yes, the pianism of Gould’s playing is always remarkable, but it is the incredibly emotive quality, not in Gould’s playing that draws people to his music. When people remark on the clarity in Gould’s playing, there is, to me, something clinical, even sterile, about that description, and there is nothing “clinical” or “sterile” about Gould’s playing.

This then brings me to what a passionate, romantic, musician Gould was. Listen to his recording of the Brahms Intermezzi, or the slow movement of Beethoven’s G Major violin and piano sonata with Yehudi Menuhin, or Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, and one hears a palpable feeling of warmth, of love.

In today’s world of the mass marketing of classical music, we can do with a musician like Glenn Gould, who lived life and make music his own way, away from the limelight of the stage (literally), and whose entire life was his art.

Patrick May