Glenn Gould would have been 85 tomorrow

Glenn Gould would have been 85 tomorrow


norman lebrecht

September 24, 2017

If one thing is certain it is that we will never see or hear his like again.

Born Toronto, 25 September 1932, died there 4 October 1982


  • Stephen says:

    I agree with Alfred Brendel as regards Gould. An interesting one-off as far as I’m concerned and rated more for his eccentricity than his musicality.

    • Daniel Poulin says:

      Gould has been dead for close to 40 years and we still talk about him everywhere on the planet. Hundreds of books, thousands of magazine articles, many films and TV documentaries, it never ceases to amaze the music world. Meanwhile, almost nobody talks about Horowitz or Rubinstein and all those great performers of the 20th century. I seriously doubt that Brendel’s fate will be different. He can still think that Gould was just an eccentric man but I am convinced Glenn Gould will be a name that will survive for centuries to come.

      • Stephen says:

        I hope you’re right for one reason: that the human race will be lucky to survive for centuries and classical music will likely be forgotten in the not so distant future. As to “hundreds of books”, that is a vast exaggeration. That there have been many more about Gould than any other greater pianist is, I believe until better proof is bought forward, due to his extreme eccentricity and curiosity value.

        • Daniel Poulin says:

          Will there ever be another Glenn Gould?

          More has been said and written about Glenn Gould than about any other classical musician of the 20th century.
          By John TeraudsCLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC
          Sun., Sept. 23, 2007

          Just a suggestion for you Stephen (article written in 2007)

    • John says:

      Sniff sniff. . .

      Somehow I think we’ll be listening to and reading about Glenn Gould and his art for many more years than we’ll be discussing Stephen’s erudite views.

  • jansumi says:

    The number of people, myself included, that cried the day he died and during the broadcasts that went on, 24/7, for weeks afterwards may be testament enough. The video above is an instant heart-opener. So many people will always be grateful for him.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    Very true. We shall never see the likes of him ever again. There are many fine and superlative interpreters of the music of J. S. Bach. But something altogether different, transformative and transcendent happens to Bach’s music in Gould’s hands. However, I can’t vouch for the same effect in music by LvB or Mozart.

  • Sanity says:

    The odd thing is how often, when you tell someone you would much prefer to listen to Tureck or Richter play Bach, you are leapt upon as if you are some hairy philistine. Even if you are a pianist.

    I find Gould interesting, technically brilliant; but I often feel the mind you are looking into is not Bach’s, but Gould’s.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Gould was the last pianist of the old school who thought that scores were merely there to be used for one’s own emotional perorations to the audience. That many ‘other’ pianists seem to sound ‘bland’ to Gouldists, is the result of a much more respectful attitude towards the score, so that we can hear the music without the performer getting in between. A Gouldist is a 19C style romantic who wants to be engulfed by emotion. Why does such attitude persist in the 20th and 21th century? Because of the sterility and materialism of the modern world.

      • Sanity says:

        There is much of what you write here with which I can heartily agree; but it is important to note that for a good part of Gould’s Bach recordings he is working from unmarked scores. I have spent the morning listening to Richter playing the Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, and notice how his is concerned as much with placing it in context with the rest of Bach’s oeuvre, as he is with leaving his own interpretive fingerprints. I’m not sure this is because the rest of the world is sterile and bland. I think we might just be a great deal more egocentric!

      • Gaffney Feskoe says:

        Although I do not play an instrument or read music, I listen to it daily (chamber, orchestral, opera, etc.) and I can’t see how it is not possible for a performer not to leave their interpretive input on a performance. No two performances, even by the same performers, are alike.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Of course the performer has to bring the score to life with his/her own subjective expressive input. But respect to the score means that what there is in terms of instructions should be followed as best as possible (including this caveat). Where performers carelessly ignore instructions, play forte where it says piano, making ritenutos where there is no indication for it, or taking tempi clearly different from annotations, there is lack of respect for the music. A composer cannot notate everything he wants, and earlier music has hardly any indications, which means that performance traditions have to be researched and understood (as the early music movement did so well). But a cavalier approach to a score is getting the balance between composer and performer wrong – the performer is there for the music, not the other way around.

          And by the way, the approach in the video of the allegro is in the style of a mitrailleur which was not invented as yet in the 18th century. Such playing would do better in Prokifiev or Stravinsky. Bach’s keyboard works require melody, elegance, and precision as part of a bigger whole.

          • Gaffney Feskoe says:

            I take your point, JB. But I am also reminded of the comment Mahler made to a conductor saying something to the effect that he could change whatever he felt necessary in his (Mahler’s) score. Similarly, Bruckner famously pleaded with Viennese conductors of the day to make any changes they wanted to his scores just so long that they play his music.

            And Mozart was really thrilled to hear a performance of one of his symphonies when two orchestras were engaged by accident one evening for a concert of his works thus doubling the intended sonic effect. (Was it in Prague for the Sym #38??).

            BTW, I enjoy your commentaries on this site.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Given the fact that the composer is dead, while the performer and the audience are alive and can hear what is being played, it seems pretty strange to care more about the supposed intentions of the composer than anyone else involved in the performance.

  • Radames says:

    Gould was extraordinary and remains very much alive in my library of recordings which I regularly listen to, like Furtwangler and other extraordinary historical musicians. His Goldberg variations are unmatched to-date, and anything he touched, including his Mozart, was given a new life. His recordings are fascinating and hugely inspiring. In today’s age of pretty bland and “all-the-same” playing by too many musicians Gould is a breadth of fresh air, of life. Happy Birthday Maestro!

  • Martin Smith says:

    Well a lot of this is fascinating; and this video says it all. That vision seems so pristine but so fragile. These clips have only come to light quite recently. Geoffrey Payzant was not quite right when he wrote once to me that he was telling scholars that, ‘there is no Gould gold mine in Toronto’. Clearly there was. In another clip like this from Lake Simcoe, GG is heard to mutter, ‘good – but not very good!’ – or words to that effect. The human witness of an artist’s life is another fine thing to reflect on…! People like Lucas Debarque, Helene Grimaud, Samson Francois and Youri Egoroff; Sofronitsky and Terence Judd – to say nothing of Dennis Matthews. It is a complex, passionate – often destructive and tragic – intercourse with the Muses and all that they then ‘conjour’! Just watch Debarque in Moscow in K491 with his own so-Gouldian first mvt cadenza! It is to watch the rebirth of the world. It is Botticelli’s Primavera made flesh. Such competence! They all had it. Life in the end reduced them all to ashes. Maybe Brendel’s swansong will be as interesting as the fabulously connected Barenboim’s is! But these last two are just more solidly on the planet – to recast Rilke’s ‘von seinem starkere Dasein’ just a little. I heard an amazing Diabelli from AB once, on the radio – just had to park the car as the sun bounced off the English Channell at Hythe – not so very far from Kenneth Clark’s Saltwood! It is all around us! Carpe diem! Life is so short and so fine! Seems a shame Brendel academicizes this free, floating, haiku-like, Ukeyoe-like life we lead and listen in – it’s not really like that: his protest will not, I think, ultimately – like Shen Du’s evocation of the Chinese ‘qilin’ or African girafffe, ‘rise up like incense to Heaven’s domain’… But as we gaze, men of Galilee that we are, into the blue, we might just hear the above Gould Toccata. Let us go in peace to love and serve all men.