Friday, May 28

Glenn Gould's Bach

I’ve decided tο sometimes write in English from now on… I might in this way be able to communicate with a much larger community sharing the same interests and passions. English-speaking people who may read these lines are kindly asked not be too harsh on my English, I beg you!

Yesterday evening, as I was listening to Glenn Gould performing a Contrapunctus from the “Art of Fugue”, a remark by an excellent Greek pianist, Danae Kara, came to my mind. She once told me that there is one thing you cannot accuse Gould of: that his Bach is “out-of-style”. This is so true. For whatever his eccentricities, his sometimes peculiar or unorthodox readings etc etc, his Bach remains "Bach" in the purest sense of the word. Glenn’s Bach is clear of any romantic indulgences and is pervaded by a clarity of tone, a musical “purity”, if I may say so, which is there all the time – in every single note that Gould recorded from 1955 onwards.

Yet, much as “Bachian” his Bach may be, Gould manages to combine faithfulness to this style with his own personal and unique tone. And this is where, I think, his genius lies – in the harmonic co-existence of uniqueness and faithfulness-in-style. (I wish, though, I could say the same for his Mozart!!...)

I played once in a concert a Contrapunctus from the "Art" (the 3rd one), it’s a strange work indeed! It seems to me (correct me if I am mistaken) that the “late” Bach is marked by a spirit of musical asceticism which, in the Art of Fugue, is embodied in the “strictness” and austere nature of these strange and long fugues; this is an element which is definitely missing from the Toccatas or his Suites.
There is an almost spiritual quality in this transition, which I find quite moving…


Pura Vida said...

I keep a Google alert for "Bach" and was delighted when it directed me to your blog.

To which Goldberg recording did you listen? I agree with this commentator's take:

"The sheer audacity — the 'rambunctious[ness]' — of Gould's earlier reading may be considered by some a mark against it, but for me it's that very audacity that gives revelatory life to that earlier reading, while the deliberately sober later reading largely (but, again, not entirely) eschews audacity as if to act as corrective of the implied youthful excesses of the earlier. While the later reading may achieve its end in that respect, it does so at a cost, and to my way of thinking (and hearing), the cost is simply too great."

(from: )

Best wishes -

christos makropoulos said...

Dear Pura Vida,
Thanks very much for the message and for this most interesting comment.
As for the Goldbergs (Gould's recordings), I think my heart is closer to the 1955 version. Yet, I find it quite extraordinary (and another proof of GG's genius) that two so unique readings of the same work came from one and the same artist. I cannot recall another example of that kind in the history of recorded music...
Talking about the Goldbergs, I wrote a comment (in Greek unfortunately!) about a recording made by Simone Dinnerstein (Telarc), which I found really succesful - though in a completely different world from that of Gould...
What is your view?

Many thanks again!

Erica Sipes said...

I am so glad that you are starting to write your posts in English. That way I can enjoy them! And I am so glad that you found my blog so that I could find out about yours! I appreciate your honesty, especially in regards to your pre-concert feelings.

You mentioned the Bach arrangement of the Marcello oboe concerto...that sounds so interesting and I'm wondering if that includes an extraordinarily beautiful movement that I just love. Do you have a recording or a video of this that you could share on your blog?

Thanks again...I look forward to reading and hearing more from you.

christos makropoulos said...

Dear Erica,
Thanks for this comment and for your kind words. I really liked your blog (it's much better than mine!).

Re Bach/Marcello: I am sure you have in mind the second movement (the Adagio). Serenity and beauty...
Here is the piano version, with Glenn Gould: