Glenn Gould

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I believe that the justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations. The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.

Glenn Herbert Gould (25 September 19324 October 1982) was a Canadian pianist, noted especially for his recordings of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He gave up concert performances in 1964, dedicating himself to the recording studio for the rest of his career, and performances for television and radio.

Quotes[edit]

The trouble begins when we start to be so impressed by the strategies of our systematized thought that we forget that it does relate to an obverse, that it is hewn from negation, that it is but very small security against the void of negation which surrounds it. And when that happens, when we forget these things, all sorts of mechanical failures begin to disrupt the functions of the human personality.
My private motto has always been that behind every silver lining there is a cloud.
  • The mental imagery involved with pianistic tactilia is not related to the striking of individual keys but rather to the rites of passage between notes.
    • review of Payzant, Glenn Gould Reader p445
  • The prerequisite of contrapuntal art, more conspicuous in the work of Bach than in that of any other composer, is an ability to conceive a priori of melodic identities which when transposed, inverted, made retrograde, or transformed rhythmically will yet exhibit, in conjunction with the original subject matter, some entirely new but completely harmonious profile.
    • "So You Want To Write A Fugue", Glenn Gould Reader p240
  • The trouble begins when we start to be so impressed by the strategies of our systematized thought that we forget that it does relate to an obverse, that it is hewn from negation, that it is but very small security against the void of negation which surrounds it. And when that happens, when we forget these things, all sorts of mechanical failures begin to disrupt the functions of the human personality. When people who practice an art like music become captives of those positive assumptions of system, when they forget to credit that happening against negation which system is, and when they become disrespectful of the immensity of negation compared to system — then they put themselves out of reach of that replenishment of invention upon which creative ideas depend, because invention is, in fact, a cautious dipping into the negation that lies outside system from a position firmly ensconced in system.
    • Glenn Gould Reader p5
  • I believe that the justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations. The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.
    • Attributed to Glenn Gould (1962) in Payzant (Glenn Gould: Music and Mind), p. 64
  • I wasn't motivated to do it [re-record Bach's Goldberg Variations] until rather recently, when it occurred to me, on one of my rare relistenings to that early recording, that it was very nice, but that it was perhaps a little bit like thirty very interesting but somewhat independent-minded pieces, going their own way, and all making a comment on the ground bass on which they are all formed and to which they all conform. And I suddenly felt, not having played it in, well, since I stopped playing concerts, about 20 years, having not played it in all that time, that maybe I wasn't savaged by any over-exposure to it, and that if I looked at it again, I could find a way of making some sort of almost arithmetical correspondence between the theme and the subsequent variations, so that there would be some sort of temporal relationship, I don't want to say just exactly 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, that kind of correspondence, but, you know what I mean, there would be a sense in which, substituting for the fact that Bach had absolutely no melodic design that is continuous but rather a base harmonic design that is continuous, there would be at least a rhythmic design that is continuous, and the sense of pulse that went through it. And that seemed to me sufficient justification [...] to do it all over again.
    • transcribed from The Glenn Gould Collection vol 13 (Sony laserdisc).
  • I think that if I were required to spend the rest of my life on a desert island, and to listen to or play the music of any one composer during all that time, that composer would almost certainly be Bach. I really can't think of any other music which is so all-encompassing, which moves me so deeply and so consistently, and which, to use a rather imprecise word, is valuable beyond all of its skill and brilliance for something more meaningful than that -- its humanity.
    • Gramophone
  • I tend to follow a very nocturnal sort of existence mainly because I don't much care for sunlight. Bright colors of any kind depress me, in fact. And my moods are more or less inversely related to the clarity of the sky, on any given day. A matter of fact, my private motto has always been that behind every silver lining there is a cloud.
    • transcribed from The Life and Times of Glenn Gould

Quotes about Gould[edit]

  • Don't be frightened, Mr.Gould is here. (audience laughter) He will appear in a moment. I am not — as you know — in the habit of speaking on any concert except the Thursday night previews, but a curious situation has arisen, which merits, I think, a word or two. You are about to hear a rather, shall we say, unorthodox performance of the Brahms D Minor Concerto, a performance distinctly different from any I've ever heard, or even dreamt of for that matter, in its remarkably broad tempi and its frequent departures from Brahms' dynamic indications. I cannot say I am in total agreement with Mr. Gould's conception. And this raises the interesting question: "What am I doing conducting it?" (mild laughter from the audience) I'm conducting it because Mr. Gould is so valid and serious an artist, that I must take seriously anything he conceives in good faith, and his conception is interesting enough so that I feel you should hear it, too. But the age-old question still remains: "In a concerto, who is the boss (audience laughter) — the soloist or the conductor?" (Audience laughter grows louder) The answer is, of course, sometimes one and sometimes the other depending on the people involved. But almost always, the two manage to get together, by persuasion or charm or even threats (audience laughs) to achieve a unified performance. I have only once before in my life had to submit to a soloist's wholly new and incompatible concept, and that was the last time I accompanied Mr. Gould. (audience laughs loudly) But this time, the discrepancies between our views are so great that I feel I must make this small disclaimer. Then why, to repeat the question, am I conducting it? Why do I not make a minor scandal — get a substitute soloist, or let an assistant conduct? Because I am fascinated, glad to have the chance for a new look at this much-played work; because, what's more, there are moments in Mr. Gould's performance that emerge with astonishing freshness and conviction. Thirdly, because we can all learn something from this extraordinary artist who is a thinking performer; and finally because there is in music what Dimitri Mitropoulos used to call "the sportive element" (mild audience laughter) — that factor of curiousity, adventure, experiment, and I can assure you that it has been an adventure this week (audience laughter) collaborating with Mr. Gould on this Brahms concerto; and it's in this spirit of adventure that we now present it to you.

The Alchemist[edit]

A documentary by Bruno Monsaingeon
Bruno Monsaingeon: What a strange instrument you have!
Glenn Gould: I think that it has a quite good sound!
Monsaingeon: I am not talking about the piano, I was rather talking about this... this... this thing that I don’t know exactly how to call it...
Gould: That thing! (seeming to be irritated, imitating a German accent) Mister, don’t be so disdainful about a member of the family!
Monsaingeon: What do you mean by "member of the family"?
Gould: It is a travel companion, without whom I cannot work, without whom I cannot play. I have been using it for 21 years, this... thing! That we could also classify as chair!
Monsaingeon: Did you really perform concerts with it?
Gould: I’ve never given any concert without it; at least for 21 years.
Monsaingeon: Do you mean... that it has been as close to you as Bach?
Gould: Oh, very much closer for telling the truth.

External links[edit]

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