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Glenn Gould “Off the Record ” (Documentary 1959)

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Glenn Gould “Off the Record ” (Documentary 1959)

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Glenn Gould

Glenn Herbert Gould (25 September 1932 – 4 October 1982) was a Canadian classical pianist. He was one of the best known and most celebrated pianists of the 20th century, and was renowned as an interpreter of the keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Gould’s playing was distinguished by a remarkable technical proficiency and a capacity to articulate the contrapuntal texture of Bach’s music.

Gould rejected most of the standard Romantic piano literature by Chopin, Liszt, and others, in favour of Bach and Beethoven mainly, along with some late-Romantic and modernist composers. Although his recordings were dominated by Bach and Beethoven, Gould’s repertoire was diverse, including works by Mozart, Haydn, and Brahms; pre-Baroque composers such as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, William Byrd, and Orlando Gibbons; and 20th-century composers including Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schoenberg, and Richard Strauss.

Gould was known for his eccentricities, from his unorthodox musical interpretations and mannerisms at the keyboard to aspects of his lifestyle and behaviour. He stopped giving concerts at the age of 31 to concentrate on studio recording and other projects.

Gould was also a writer, broadcaster, composer and conductor. He was a prolific contributor to musical journals, in which he discussed music theory and outlined his musical philosophy. He performed on television and radio, and produced three musique concrète radio documentaries called the Solitude Trilogy, about isolated areas of Canada. Although Gould was known chiefly as a pianist, he capped off his musical career with a recording of Wagner‘s Siegfried Idyll as conductor.

Gould was a child prodigy and was described in adulthood as a musical phenomenon.He claimed to have almost never practised on the piano itself, preferring to study repertoire by reading, another technique he had learned from Guerrero. He may have spoken ironically about his practising as there is evidence that, on occasion, he did practise quite hard, sometimes using his own drills and techniques.

He stated that he did not understand the requirement of other pianists to continuously reinforce their relationship with the instrument by practising many hours a day. It seems that Gould was able to practise mentally without access to an instrument, once going so far as to prepare for a recording of Brahms‘ piano works without playing them until only a few weeks before the sessions.

Gould could play from memory not just a vast repertoire of piano music, but also a wide range of orchestral and operatic transcriptions. He could “memorize at sight” and once challenged his friend John Roberts to name any piece of music that he could not “instantly play from memory”.

The piano, Gould said:

“is not an instrument for which I have any great love as such … [but] I have played it all my life, and it is the best vehicle I have to express my ideas.” In the case of Bach, Gould noted, “[I] fixed the action in some of the instruments I play on—and the piano I use for all recordings is now so fixed—so that it is a shallower and more responsive action than the standard. It tends to have a mechanism which is rather like an automobile without power steering: you are in control and not it; it doesn’t drive you, you drive it. This is the secret of doing Bach on the piano at all. You must have that immediacy of response, that control over fine definitions of things.”

As a teenager, Gould was significantly influenced by Artur Schnabel, Rosalyn Tureck‘s recordings of Bach (which he called “upright, with a sense of repose and positiveness”), and the conductor Leopold Stokowski. Gould was known for having a vivid imagination. Listeners regarded his interpretations as ranging from brilliantly creative to outrightly eccentric.

His pianism had great clarity and erudition, particularly in contrapuntal passages, and extraordinary control. Gould believed the piano to be “a contrapuntal instrument,” and his whole approach to music was, in fact, centered in the baroque. Much of the homophony that followed he felt belongs to a less serious and less spiritual period of art.

Gould had a pronounced aversion to what he termed “hedonistic” approaches to piano repertoire, performance, and music generally. For Gould, “hedonism” in this sense denoted a superficial theatricality, something to which he felt Mozart, for example, became increasingly susceptible later in his career.He associated this drift towards hedonism with the emergence of a cult of showmanship and gratuitous virtuosity on the concert platform in the 19th century and later.

The institution of the public concert, he felt, degenerated into the “blood sport” with which he struggled, and which he ultimately rejected.

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