Unheard tape: Glenn Gould plays Mendelssohn

Unheard tape: Glenn Gould plays Mendelssohn


norman lebrecht

November 29, 2019

Listen up.


  • Esther Cavett says:

    Wow. GG’s recordings of some of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words are well known but these variations are a real find.

    Thanks for sharing !

  • Daniel Poulin says:

    This tape was found in Gould’s personal belongings by his personal secretary Mr.Ray Roberts. The mystery surrounding this recording goes deep. It was intended for a CBC broadcast but is nowhere to be found in the CBC Archives department, nor is it listed as an actual broadcast. The only mention of a possible date including Variations Sérieuses is February 6, 1961 for a TV show titled “The Subject Is Beethoven” in which Gould played the Eroica Variations, op.35, the Sonata for Cello and piano no.3 in A Minor, op.69 with Leonard Rose and an excerpt of the Mendelssohn Variations.

    The reason for the very poor quality of the sound: It was a quarter inch tape badly damaged and obviously not intended for broadcast. The only purpose of releasing it resides in Glenn’s exceptional playing of this much admired work. Gould greatly respected Mendelssohn as a composer of orchestral works, not so much his piano output, Variations Sérieuses excepted.

    One can only hope that one day with advanced technology this tape will be restored to its original quality.

    Gould played Mendelssohn’s Variations Sérieuses only 3 times (that we know of) during his public career:

    — in Toronto, on March 6, 1949 (he was 16 years old)

    — in Hamilton, on November 28, 1956 (he was 24)

    — in Spokane, on December 5, 1956 (he was 24)

  • JamesM says:

    Gould seemed to have a fair bit of interest in this piece. I recall a CBC talk he gave where he discussed the challenges Mendelssohn had in making variations out of such an elaborate theme, as compared with Beethoven’s choices of short concentrated material he could vary. As with all Glenn’s talks, you hung on every word.

  • No link appears after “Listen up”

    • Fan says:

      There is embedded video. Try a different browser. Lately this website is not compatible with Chrome on IOS anymore so I use Safari.

  • Hilary says:

    This has complete conviction. Wonderful playing!
    If only he’d made a commercial recording of this as opposed to the Mozart Sonatas where petulance shines through.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Alfred Cortot and Vladimir Horowitz made notable recordings of these variations, for comparison.

    • Alexander Tarak says:

      I bought a copy of the Horowitz recording over forty years ago.
      I never tire of listening to it. (Not familiar with the Cortot performance. I will check it out).

  • Chuckles says:

    Gould has a commercial album devoted to Mendelssohn’s “Songs without Words”. It is a gorgeous recording, and the sound is of studio quality not the fairly unlistenable noise we have herewith… Just saying!