James McCarthy on the many faces of Glenn Gould
This month in Gramophone, we celebrate the life and career of Glenn Gould, who passed away 30 years ago this year. We've spoken to his closest friends and colleagues as well to those who have been most influenced by his recordings (including pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, composers Steve Reich and Gavin Bryars, conductor Vladimir Jurowski, and singer Petula Clark). To fully comprehend the breadth of Gould's genius is no easy thing. He was not just one of the great pianists of the 20th century, he was also a pioneer in recording studio techniques and revolutionised the genre of radio documentary. He was also a magnetic television personality and below is our selection of the best of Gould on YouTube...
Glenn Gould: in the studio
When we spoke to Steve Reich about his admiration for Gould he had just finished watching a film of Glenn Gould at work in the editing suite. This film (which you can see below) gives the most extraordinary insight into Gould’s creative process: the boundless search for perfection, the depth of listening and his attentiveness to the most minute of details. There’s also a treat for those who have ever been vexed by modern digital editing techniques – just look at the mechanical skill of the engineer as he whizzes between spools of tape. This was when a ‘cut’ really was a cut...
The Search for Petula Clark
Gould was critical of most pop musicians, with one notable exception: Petula Clark. For our special feature we spoke to Clark about how she felt about Gould’s reverence for her recordings. You can hear some of Gould’s documentary 'The Search for Petula Clark' below. In this documentary Gould is surprisingly critical of The Beatles, describing them thus: ‘Theirs is a happy, cocky, belligerently resourceless brand of harmonic primitivism'.
Glenn Gould’s final interview with Tim Page was unusual even by Gould's standards. Page spoke to us about what it was like to interview a man who had srcipted every word and expected him to play 'himself' interviewing Glenn Gould. Listen out particularly for the ‘Sir John’ episode, which is toe-curling in the extreme, but other insights are charming and touching:
Gould vs Menuhin
I'm sure that many of us have imagined what it would have been like to work alongside Glenn Gould. Those that had the privilege all admitted that he was single-minded in his pursuit of perfection. Glenn wasn't intimidated by anyone, no matter their reputation, and you can read what happened when he was introduced to Stravinsky in the feature. Below is an amusing example of Glenn's way of politely but stubbornly disagreeing with someone, in this case, Yehudi Menuhin:
Glenn's recordings raised many aesthetic and musicological questions, but perhaps the most important was this: was it possible for an interpreter to know more about a piece of music than the work's composer? Glenn's answer to that was (controversially): 'yes'. And here he explains how:
Back to the beginning...
The first time most people hear Glenn Gould is through his recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations. His 1955 recording made him a superstar, his 1981 recording is his greatest achievement on record.