Glenn Gould’s Norwegian wood

Glenn Gould’s Norwegian wood


norman lebrecht

May 15, 2021

The Canadian pianist was a distant cousin of Edvard Grieg through his maternal grandfather.

He took up the music of the lesser known Norwegian, Fartein Valen.

He considers this ‘one of the great sonatas of the 20th century.’

The music starts at 5:40


  • John Borstlap says:

    Very interesting.

    This sonata must have been written in one of those long Scandinavian winters, locked-up in a lonely hut, during those long long nights. The music is maneuvring around the boundary between tonal and atonal, indeed – as Gould says – like Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, and stays there. No wonder Gould likes it, since it is pretentious, troubled music with a strongly academic touch, hammering-in the awfulness of life. One has to be very neurotic to write such music and to love performing it.

    The trouble with such music – as with the works of Schoenberg and his pupils – is that such idiomatic expression of stomach pain is only effective for a short stretch and has to be contrasted with different material. It’s like dissonance: works best in contrast; when it is generalized the effect becomes bland and grey. Interestingly, an example which proves this assumption: chromatic painfullness works better in Strauss (Salome, Elektra, Rosenkavalier) because of contrasting music.

    • MWnyc says:

      Now do Galina Ustvolskaya.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Fartein Valen’s violin concerto is well worth hearing and poses little risk of pain to an otherwise healthy stomach. It is concise but perhaps certain exterior similarities to Berg’s Concerto (both are in memory of a deceased; both attempt to conclude in solace with an altered version of a Bach chorale; both use arpeggios to convey that they are trying to return the violin to its natural ground zero) have made it seem somehow like an apple-polishing rubberstamp, and Valen a mere aper. I do not hear it that way but then I like the Berg Concerto very much.

  • E. says:

    Looking forward to hearing this…meanwhile…that is a beautiful photo of man and horse!

  • Peter San Diego says:

    The music has an austerity that makes it more admirable than lovable. Sort of an even more chromatic Frescobaldi.

  • fflambeau says:

    A truly forgettable piece of work. Gould talks dismissingly about “academics” but was a product of them; all this proves anyone can be mistaken. Bernstein, after all, championed the dodo Nielsen while trashing the far more talented Alan Hovhaness.