Piano teacher kicks lumps out of Glenn Gould

Piano teacher kicks lumps out of Glenn Gould


norman lebrecht

October 26, 2022

The revered US piano teacher Seymour Bernstein has gone live to criticise Glenn Gould’s Mozart recordings as ‘a travesty… snide… contemptuousness for the public… anti-music.’

Want more?

It’s here.


  • Ludwig's Van says:

    Hardly a new discovery – the odor from Gould’s Mozart recordings has fowled the air since they were released. It’s not interpretation – it’s caricature and cynicism – a childish prank.

  • MIchael H. says:

    I assume Professor Bernstein must have an impressive catalogue of his own Mozart recordings, which must be out-selling Gould’s by far… or maybe not?

    • Petros Linardos says:

      By that argument, all distinguished pedagogues should shut up.

    • Margaret Koscielny says:

      Everything is not about money and fleeting fame. Bernstein is a great thinker and quite right about Gould’s eccentricities and experimentation. Gould may have been on the spectrum, and he was a genius, as well, no doubt. Much of his playing is spectacular in its wild re-inventions, but his “re-thinking” of the most important contributions to piano literature have not endured the test of time, and I’m not aquainted with any pianist of note who has followed Gould’s experiments.

      My late sister, Anne Koscielny, was a concert pianist and teacher who was amused and amazed by Gould’s technical achievements, but she would have agreed with Seymour
      Bernstein, with whom she shared a friendship based on shared values of music.

      There is tradition based on the notes of the music itself, and there are those musical meteors who blaze out after a few years. Gould burned himself out with drugs, which fueled his eccentricities and his radical opinions.
      I’ll take Bernstein’s Mozart any day for its deep humanity.

    • Hugo Preuß says:

      According to this bizarre logic no critic should ever write about music unless he has made best selling recordings himself.

    • Dan Friedman says:

      A trite and simplistic argument if ever there was one.
      What happens when the iconoclast – the breaker of icons – himself becomes an icon? That is the continuing conundrum in the curious case of Glenn Gould and his posthumous fan club.
      Those that worship at the Altar of Gould reflexively and unthinkingly defend his every utterance and every note of every one of his recordings – that Nut was a Genius, after all – incapable of realizing that doing so goes completely against the spirit of their hero’s non-conformist and skeptical world view.
      Don’t worry though: another re-release of the Goldbergs will no doubt soon be available – this time with out-takes from the out-takes – to be fawned over.

  • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

    Gould also said that Mozart died too late, not too early. We can dismiss (or celebrate) that remark — as well as these recordings — as provocation.

  • Frederick Paul Walter says:

    One more case of a small man trying to tear down a big man.

    • ChrysanthemumFan says:

      S. Bernstein is a great pedagogue.

      Gould, a great Bach interpreter.

      Bernstein is great in his own right and needs not tear down anyone.

      • Freddily says:

        What’s wrong with a good tear-down? There are far more bad build-ups, like the ones Gould got. Criticism is a necessary part of teaching.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    I love the movie about Seymour but he’s dead wrong on this one.

    The role of the artist is to INTERPRET the composer and make a confident and definite musical statement.

    It is for us, the listener, to decide if that statement resonates emotionally or not.

    I love Gould but not all his work. But I admire him for being confident in his interpretations where ever that muse may have led him.

    “That nut is a genius” George Szell

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I think similarly of Glenn Gould. But the consensus has been for decades that his Mozart recordings are deeply unmusical, and that his statements about the composer are mere provocations. And I totally subscribe to all that.

    • ChrysanthemumFan says:

      Bernstein was entirely correct about too many and too much space between those opening slurs, and also the idea of accenting the 6th beat (3rd eighth note in the 2nd beat) in the measure. Just totally in stylistic of the consensus on how to interpret music of the Classic era!

      One may entirely find one’s own unique interpretation of Mozart without having to, and resorting to, break the rules!

  • GUEST says:

    Let’s see: Glenn, or Seymour? Who will we be talking about- and listening to- 50-100 years?

    • ChrysanthemumFan says:

      Silly question.

      Bernstein is a great pedagogue -and makes no claim nor even aspired to be famous as a performer and this has not recorded a lot. This is not his intended legacy nor posterity.

      You’re erecting a straw man to tear it down. Bernstein’s spectacular gifts lie in teaching and mentoring. I wonder what might happen were you to compare Gould’s own piano teaching with Bernstein’s? Oh, right. He didn’t aspire to be a teacher and never invested his time in students. Selfish of him.

      Bernstein will be revered for hundreds of years as the fine teacher he is and his teaching is already being handed down to several generations’ worth of piano students. He established our regional piano teacher association 50 years ago and continues to offer a spring master class to students of our member teachers. I wish you could see what causes his eyes to light up. It’s definitely the passion to impart the fire of music to students hungry to learn! He is a complete inspiration to all of us!

    • Leo Ribic says:

      I understand what you mean but by that rationale no one can criticize anyone who’s more famous than they are. It’d be a sad world if you couldn’t give criticism or an opinion unless you’re as successful as the person in question.

  • trumpetherald says:

    Spot on,Mr.Bernstein.

  • Maria says:

    Sour American grapes!

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    One thing I find about getting older and being a musician. We have been taught to do what our teachers told us to do, until we mature and become our own interpreters. What I have found is that, we are part of the continuum of music, as it continues to evolve, those musicians who have come before us have been part of the evolution of music, which continues to be learned. At the same time, the instruments have evolved. What Bach composed on instruments he played and heard in his mind, were applicable at that time. Same goes for Mozart, Beethoven, etc. What I have learned, is that music is a language, like English, Spanish, etc and we all have different dialects and ways of phrasing the language. I find that criticizing what others do with the language, will not change what they’ve done. All I can do is share what I believe, at the moment (which has evolved over time), with my students and on stage and in performance. I have recorded all 19 sonatas by Mozart, with repeats of Mozartean embellishments in the style of ‘what I imagine’ Mozart ‘might’ have done. We’ll never know what he did, because we do not have recorded legacy of his playing. Same with Bach’s music. I recorded ‘Bach On a Steinway’ specifically with the purpose of displaying what Bach’s music is like as a Baroque language on a modern instrument. It keeps my nose clean, and I just want to be remembered for inspiring the next generation. Now, having said that, Seymour Bernstein is a respected musician and pianist, and as he is in this stage of his life, he wants to impart his deepest feelings for everything he represents, as a musician and pianist. I cannot fault him for that at all. And, he has the freedom to do so. Even in Leonard Bernstein’s recorded legacy of the Gould/Bernstein collaboration, he basically said, ‘don’t blame me for what you will hear’. But, he did not say, ‘I am not performing this with you, Mr. Gould.’ He went on to allow this young pianist named Glenn Gould share his interpretation. He didn’t agree with it, but he gave him a voice. That’s all we can do. We cannot mute the voice of anyone, be it spoken, or musical. And, I think it helps in the evolution of music to have these different voices.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Mr. Biegel, thank you for your well articulated argument.

      Glenn Gould ‘s Brahms 1st with Bernstein, and especially his Bach, however controversial in their days, have won plenty of hearts over the years. Arguably they have contributed to the evolution of musical interpretation.

      Even his Beethoven may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but doesn’t lack personality.

      I would be hard pressed to see how Gould’s Mozart recordings contributed to anything other than negative examples. These performances are far below Gould’s own standards.

  • Ich bin Ereignis says:

    I saw Mr. Bernstein’s class on Chopin’s Prelude in E minor and must say that I have never, in my entire life, encountered anyone with such musical depth and understanding — and I studied with quite a few rather “reputable” figures. It simply goes to the very essence of this Chopin prelude and displays a level of understanding which very few musicians have. Which brings me to the Glenn Gould point. There are a few great recordings by Gould as well as, yes, much hype — and the very same could be said for many other musicians of renown. Much of this has to do with an epoch in which the figure of the artist became an object for mass media, in contrast to someone simply entrusted to sharing and transmitting a work of art. The internet is perhaps the culmination of this trend, in which being photogenic and “instagrammable” today becomes a decisive factor for a major career. Clara Haskil and Horowitz, among many others, today would have been swiftly relegated to invisibility, as reminds me an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which an L.A. restaurant seats its customers either in its “ugly” or “beautiful people” seating areas. This obsession with sheer appearance, as opposed to substance, started manifesting itself in classical music in a romanticized conception of the artist as surrounded by mystique, sometimes eccentricity, and is the equivalent in music to a personality cult. It’s refreshing to see someone demystify such mystique. This not only takes true musical understanding, but also a form of humility which, I’m afraid, is becoming a very rare commodity in an era in which narcissism rules the day — and narcissism, in the end, is but the flipside of this silly edification of performers as mythical, untouchable figures.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      All true, and I have a lot of respect for Seymour’s insights. But face it: Seymour doesn’t look like a 20something model, but he is rather telegenic.

  • Monty Earleman says:

    Gould would be DELIGHTED that he’s still riling people up after all these years! Mission accomplished!

  • Diogo Booz says:

    Well, we listen to Glenn’s recordings… do we listen to Seymour’s?

  • Bill says:

    As people long ago stopped talking about Seymour’s performances live or on record, how better to get some attention?

    • trumpetherald says:

      He doesn´t need this. He is not as vain and egotisitic as Gould.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I once sat at Carnegie Hall next to a lively old man I didn’t know, but who had an unmissable aura. If memory serves, he also had scores with him. Several people seating near us talked to him, all with reverence. I picked up his name, not least because it was not terribly common for our days: Seymour. A few years later I saw the trailer of Ethan Hawke’s film “Seymour: An Introduction”, and recognized the man.
      Seymour Bernstein enjoys plenty of well deserved attention.

    • mmmmmkay says:

      Seymour didn’t ask to be in a video and “get some attention”. He was asked to give an interview about Gould. He wasn’t begging for the limelight. What an idiotic comment.

  • TNVol says:

    Gould likely had some mental illness. Like many “neurodivergent” people, he had flashes of brilliance that ANY teacher worth their salt would recognize. I will continue listening to Gould as well as others.

    • Jeffrey Biegel says:

      My piano technician was Steve Borell. Steve used to tell me about the recording sessions he tuned for Glenn. He also traveled with Glenn in New York City taxis. It would be the hottest summer days, and Glenn wore a coat and told the driver to keep the windows closed and no air conditioning. During the sessions, Glenn would sing too loudly, and the engineer would stop, enter the room where Glenn was, and said, ‘Mr. Gould, I promise that in separate sessions, we will record you singing, but for these, just piano, please.’

      • Petros Linardos says:


        Gould’s singing was quite musical, and natural. Do we hear Gould sing in his Mozart recordings? I don’t think so.

    • ChrysanthemumFan says:

      Love Gould’s Bach!
      But this from him for Mozart – yuck. I’m sorry. But, we all know most performers are stronger interpreters in some eras than in others. This makes Gould human.

    • IP says:

      Gould was a huge mental case with some musical talent attached.

  • Mr Marlow says:

    Mr Seymour proves the point that ‘those who cannot do, teach…’

    • David K. Nelson says:

      The better version of that bon mot is “Those who can, do; those who can’t, review.” So sayeth the former reviewer.

      Still, it seems to me you do have to put Gould’s Mozart recordings in a very special category, given what he said he felt about the music, which was, shall we say, a minority viewpoint. Most things Gould does, I like, but then, most music Gould recorded he did so because he liked it or found some sympathetic quality in it. The Mozart … well like flavored beers, it can be interesting in a “so … this too is possible” sense. The key thing is that the recordings are referential in the sense that everything he did — the whole point of the exercise — is premised on everybody else doing it some other way. You’ll never hear it this way were it not for me, he seems to be saying. Gould’s primary purpose would have been frustrated if they were the world’s only Mozart recordings.

      If you love Mozart’s piano music then what you say about the interpretations of of someone who openly and vehemently says they dislike it is going to sound … well, rather like Seymour Bernstein’s comments, particularly if as a teacher you want to impart that the task of a performer is to do their at capturing the essence of the music they elect to perform. Perhaps by that standard all performances are in one way or another, never a complete success, but Gould seems to have spent too much time deliberately trying to miss the target just to get the laugh.

    • John R. says:

      I think being a great teacher is as difficult as being a great anything else. I was really inspired by so many of my teachers at my conservatory. And honestly, all of them performed as well as taught…. and I was greatly inspired by their playing as well. Btw, some of the people who taught at my conservatory were Lynn Harrell, Jimmy Lin, Sergui Luca, Jon Kimura Parker to name a few. If you really believe what you wrote, I feel sorry for you because my life was greatly enriched by teachers who had a profound effect upon me.

    • Leo Ribic says:

      I guess you weren’t aware that Seymour was a performer himself for many years and teaches out of genuine desire to do so.

  • Dr. Nick D'Amico says:

    Seymour hasn’t a clue what level of talent Glenn Gould possesed. He hasn’t ever seen anything like it but dares to throw shade on what he can’t understand.

  • MER says:

    I was spellbound by the Glenn Gould recording of Fantasia and Fugue in C Major, K. 394 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, never having heard this interpretation or even the composition in question before. It seemed the opening section was portrayed as an especially dramatic opera, and the fugue laid bare how Mozart absorbed the essence of Johann Sebastian Bach while adding new dimensions. All in all, despite what Glenn may or may not have verbalized about Mozart, this performance seemed a dramatization of how Mozart’s compositions were oftentimes fully completed at the moment of notation, and so Gould intended this interpretation as if it were a spontaneous improvisation capturing Mozart in the startling heat of birth including an inherent roughness of the moment. The technical clarity is stunning amidst the deliberate edge.

  • John R. says:

    I think he’s 100% right. He doesn’t question Gould’s talent but rather his musical choices. I’ve heard from people who knew Gould that he was indeed a weird guy but perhaps not as weird as he pretended to be. Supposedly, he really basked in his eccentric reputation and delighted in playing all that stuff up….because he loved the reaction he got. And I think the same thing is probably behind so many of his interpretations. He was a great talent but sadly he wasn’t authentic which is probably why I find so many of his performances so unconvincing. What a waste of a great talent.

  • Fernandel says:

    Just a handful of Gould interpretations will remain: all three Goldberg (none of his other Bach recordings), his Haydn Sonatas (I suspect Gould torpedoed Mozart on purpose), some Brahms Intermezzi, possibly his Beethoven 4th piano concerto with Bernstein… that’s about it. A “petit maître” compared to Arrau, Richter, Gulda, Gieseking, Kempff, Cortot, Gilels or Michelangeli…

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    In the end, it’s better to have as many documented and recorded interpretations of all music. Whether one agrees or disagrees with an artist rendering, it is a small part of the musical evolution. For the most part, it boils down to experimentation. How can one be different yet feel they have been as true as they believe to their interpretation? Look, for me, I always tell my students, ‘your best teacher is your own voice. You sing music based on your own pulse and oxygen. How you feel about the music comes from your core, your body. Your organs are in your body trunk, like a tree, from head to waist. The rest just branches off’. Perhaps Glenn felt the music the way he did, and reflected what he felt, what he heard in his mind’s ear. Who are we to say he is wrong? I believe we grow as musicians by listening to others, being inspired by interpretations we agree work or otherwise. Glenn’s use of layers, counterpoint, articulations, is very individual. I like to feel inspired by others, for bringing something unique to their music making. As a result, it helps me to inspire the same from within, from the inside out.

  • Elliott says:

    Gould’s unparalleled genius as not only a pianist, but also as writer, critic, recording artist, producer and composer is something any music lover can appreciate, but when discussing his interpretive choices and technique, pianists and teachers like Bernstein are giving observations that are utterly irrelevant. This online magazine, Tonebase, spearheaded by mediocre pianist Ben Laude is all over youtube with clickbait videos like this one, and they are all missed opportunities.