[Dixielandjazz] Glenn Gould - The Revolutionary

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 24 09:16:39 PST 2007

CAVEAT - NOT OKOM. But some do enjoy Glen Gould as threads earlier this year
indicated. And give the recent thread on "Artistic Temperament" or the
mental state of some artists, this is a good read about a space cadet who
displayed an enormous talent, was an extra-ordinary man and did things his
way.  Not too different in that regard from Louis, Bechet, Bix, Bird, Monk
and countless others in the world of jazz.

Steve Barbone

The Continuing Cult of Glenn Gould, Deserved or Not
NY TIMES - by BERNARD HOLLAND -November 24, 2007 excerpted for brevity.

When Glenn Gould died unexpectedly in 1982, a victim of a stroke at the
unseemly age of 50, his red-hot reputation had calmed to a simmer. Gould, a
sufferer from extreme stage fright but a winner in the stock market, had
quit performing in public 18 years earlier, using the proceeds of his
financial ventures to soften the burdens of early retirement. Much of his
time later was spent with television projects in his native Toronto, not all
of which had to do with the piano.

In death, Gould came to life. . .

Brisk business was done over his body, and it hasn¹t stopped yet. A
cleaned-up version of his career-making 1955 recording of Bach¹s ³Goldberg²
Variations appeared this year and is now prominently on sale. . .

In a business hungry for the larger than life, this extraordinary pianist,
space-cadet musicologist, fluent philosopher, prized eccentric and subtle
self-promoter remains catnip of considerable potency.

No one before or since has had the dexterity to make such transparent
child¹s play of Bach¹s severest contrapuntal puzzles. That he played these
pieces at such blinding speeds was not necessarily because he should have; I
think he just wanted us to know that he could. To his great credit, Gould¹s
playing never complicated the simple. It is easy to decorate naked melody,
extraordinarily difficult to keep its simplicity intact.

To anyone who thinks that Gould was for a moment unaware of his public
image, I have a bridge I¹d like to sell you. In the ³serious² music usually
associated with him ‹ Bach, Beethoven and (a reluctant pursuit) Mozart ‹
Gould was happy to visit outrage on received wisdom. Yet he played Grieg and
Brahms with docile acceptance of tradition. Assiduous in keeping his
admirers off balance, he had probably decided that Gould playing Grieg was
outrage enough.

Tales of his personal oddities were a thriving spinoff industry. There was
Gould bundled up for blizzard conditions in tropical summer heat ‹ indeed,
he was apparently once arrested in Florida as a park bench vagrant. His
inhibitions about touching or being touched in later years limited human
contact, which was conducted largely by telephone. When he did attend
functions, it was usually with his custom-made folding chair held under the
arm like a baby blanket. The chair was adjustable and placed his body
chest-high to the keyboard.

A West Coast friend tells of picking up Gould at an airport with his concert
tailcoat rolled up in a carry-on bag like an army blanket. He cooed like
Perry Como at recording sessions, and studio engineers usually left his
vocalizing in.

The Gould legacy is of great value if we put it in the right place. He is
the most interesting Bach player in memory, but when taken as a model of how
Bach should sound, he is a catastrophe. People who blow up buildings get our
attention, and sometimes their messages clean out our heads, but we don¹t
let them be architects.

Many years ago, interviewing Ivo Pogorelich, an eccentric bomb thrower of
another sort, I asked about his favorite pianists. Himself, of course, and
maybe Horowitz. What about Glenn Gould? Very interesting, but he has no
education. Typical Pogorelich grandiosity, I thought at the time, but it is
a response I often revisit. I prefer to think that Gould knew more about
accumulated Baroque tradition than his playing let on. But with the courage
and immense ego of all cultural Bolsheviks, he seemed to have decided that a
300-year-old trail of gathered wisdom would end with him. Outer space

With Angela Hewitt¹s recent presentation of Bach¹s ³Well-Tempered Clavier²
at Zankel Hall still in the ears, I have been going back to the Gould
recordings of these preludes and fugues on Sony Classical. At a number of
moments, Bach is brilliantly served. Gould¹s intelligent use of astonishing
muscular control in the C sharp and E flat fugues of Book 1 gives separate
personalities to two and three voices in simultaneous conversation, this on
a modern piano constructed to make individual notes sound uniform rather
than distinctive.

There are similar if occasional satisfactions. The rest is a series of
assaults. They behave like satires, discreet lampoons of how everybody but
Glenn Gould plays Bach. You hear a brilliant adolescent insulting his
elders. The message of brashness is quietly put but no less potent.

Gould¹s concepts can be horrifying ‹ like ice water thrown in the face ‹ but
they are always fascinating. The famous C major Prelude of Book 1 makes a
simple request for flowing arpeggios; Gould chops the phrases into
half-legato, half-staccato. The C sharp Prelude and E minor Fugue from Book
1 are made ridiculously fast, and these are just two examples of show-off

The E flat Prelude, again from Book 1, begs to flow over bar lines in long,
melodic breaths; Gould turns to a machine-gun delivery of separated notes.
Here, as in most of the preludes and fugues à la Gould, Bach¹s meter shrinks
to dainty little marches. Bar lines fence off phrases that want to sing but
end up as maypole dances. This is not a matter of education; Gould played
Brahms with as much far-reaching songfulness as any Romantic pianist. He
just liked to be different.

Gould did not think much of the Mozart piano sonatas: another provocation,
to be sure, but I agree that only a handful of Mozart¹s piano sonatas
enjoyed the composer¹s full attention. Gould¹s late Beethoven is filled with
equally provoking weirdness. Oddly, he seems to have had little contact with
Haydn, a fellow subversive. More oddly, he disliked Chopin, the godfather of
all piano music. Had Chopin been less beloved, Gould might have liked him

Revolutionaries get our attention, and often for the better, but whom would
you want running New York City, Mayor Bloomberg or Che Guevara? Clanking
Pleyel harpsichord and all, Wanda Landowska is still my favorite Bach
player. Ms. Hewitt is not bad either.

But keep the Gould recordings close by; they keep us stirred up. No matter
how you do it, he said, I¹ll do it differently. Gould blessed us all, even
as he made us mad. He was the antagonized and antagonizing commentator, a
shadow government for Bach style, his brilliant little bombshells
handwritten in the margins of legitimate texts.

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