Persons related to Chopin Persons related to Chopin

Glenn  Gould

Glenn Gould

Glenn  Gould

*25 IX 1932 Toronto, †4 X 1982 Toronto

Glenn Gould - was born to a Protestant family of Norwegian origin (on the maternal side). His father was an amateur violinist, and his mother a pianist and organist. Gould showed an early talent; he began his piano tuition with his mother, and studied with Alberto Guerrero at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto (1942-52). He made his debut at the age of 12, and two years later he performed Beethoven's Concerto in G major with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Already at this early stage he was considered among the leading Canadian pianists; he led an active concert life and performed for the Canadian Broadcast Company. His wider fame came after his New York debut at the Town Hall in 1955, and his sensational recording debut for Columbia, Bach's Goldberg Variations, widely viewed today as a breakthrough in recording history. For the following 9 years, Gould played at the world's major concert venues, including Salzburg, London, Moscow and Leningrad. In 1964 he retired from the concert stage, and dedicated himself to studio recordings.

Beside his solo career, Gould was an active composer; he left a piano sonata and concerto, as well as cadenza to Beethoven's Concerto in C major. He was also active as a music critic, writing about musical recordings, and famously interviewing himself on the subject of various composers.

Gould remains a unique phenomenon in performance history. Although his art sprang from the classicist tendencies in the style of Artur Schnabel and Rosalyn Tureck, among others, Gould developed them on an unprecedented scale and created an individual aesthetics that crucially influenced musical interpretation in the second half of the 20th century. His wide musical horizons (he was an avid opera lover, and in the later stage of his life began a career as a conductor, culminating in his recording of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll with a chamber ensemble) influenced his specific choice of repertoire: he almost totally rejected Romantic music (with the exception of Brahms and isolated works by Mendelssohn, Schumann, Grieg, Sibelius and Richard Strauss), and became a pioneer of a new approach to the music of the 18th century, especially J. S. Bach, playing nearly all his keyboard works on the piano. He also played the majority of works by Beethoven, many sonatas by Haydn and Mozart, the suites of Handel, sonatas of Scarlatti and C. P. E. Bach, and reached even deeper into the history of music, to the works of Orlando Gibbons, William Byrd and Peter P. Sweelinck. His other (less remembered) speciality was 20th-century music, especially German: he played Hindemith (complete sonatas), Křenek (Sonata No. 3), Schoenberg (complete works for piano solo and Concerto Op. 42), Berg (Sonata Op. 1), Webern (Variations Op. 27), as well as Prokofiev (Sonata No. 7), Scriabin (Sonata No. 3 and 5 and smaller works), Shostakovich (Piano Quintet) and modern American composers.

To all these interpretations, Gould brought his unmistakeable style: a matt, 'de-instrumentalised' tone (Gould's ambition was to free himself from the characteristic sound of the piano in favour of a 'natural' tone), absolute metrorhythmic strictness, scarce use of the pedal, selective staccato articulation, all-embracing preference for polyphony and emphasis on multi-layered textures. He was technically a very able pianist, especially with regard to finger independence and articulation, but he was also the most anti-virtuosic type of pianist. He often bordered on mannerism, encouraged by the programmatic iconoclasm of his style; he was always and remains to this day a controversial pianist; some critics even wrote of a "violation of the work" (Harvey Sachs). Among Gould's scandals were: the singing of additional voices (audible in most of his recordings), refusal to work with the conductor (Leonard Bernstein, in Brahms's Concerto in D minor), spellbindingly fast (Beethoven's Sonata in C minor Op. 111) or incredibly slow tempos (he played the initial Allegro from Beethoven's Appasionata as a largo), liquidation of the melodic line and emphasis on repeated chords (Beethoven's Sonata in D major Op. 10 No. 2) or the Alberti bass (Mozart sonatas), jazz rhythms and chord juxtapositions (Bach toccatas) etc. Interestingly, Gould often proposed a far less controversial (though no less outstanding) approach to the same composers, such as in the concertos of Beethoven. In his best interpretations (Bach's Das wohltemperirte Klavier and Goldberg Variations, Schoenberg, Hindemith, early sonatas and Eroica Variations by Beethoven) Gould continues to fascinate and overwhelm listeners to this day.

Gould was outspoken about Chopin: he "bored him"; he thought of him as an able miniaturist who was helpless with the architecture of a larger work. As a conservatoire student he was forced by his teacher to play three etudes from Op. 10, two waltzes and the Impromptu in F sharp major. Later he only approached Chopin once, recording the Sonata in B minor Op. 58 for a CBC broadcast in 1970. This typically Gouldian interpretation breaks with all conventions: for some, it is a 'vivisection' of Chopin's Sonata, for others, a congenial discovery of its unexpected facets.

Wojciech Bońkowski

August 2006 


Bibliography:
Stefan Rieger, Glenn Gould czyli sztuka fugi [Glenn Gould, or the Art of the Fuge], słowo/obraz terytoria, Gdańsk 1997 [includes a comprehensive bibliography, filmography and discgraphy]
For a complete bibliography, see here.
Filmography:
Gould's complete official video recordings have been published by Sony Classical on 16 laserdiscs. Some of these recordings (including Glenn Gould - On & Off the Record, the 1981 Goldberg Variations, Glenn Gould - The Alchemist, 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould and a 3-disc recording of the Russia tour The Glenn Gould Collection) are also available on DVD.
Discography:
Gould's complete official sound recordings have been published by Sony Classical on 63 CDs.
A few other recordings (mostly semi-official live recordings or alternative takes of works present in the Sony catalogue) have been published by Music&Arts, CBC, Bis, Nuova Era, Melodram.

 

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