Glenn Gould’s Girlfriends

It had to happen; maybe it’s amazing it hasn’t before. But at last the truth is emerging about Glenn Gould’s girlfriends. A new film, The Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould, is set to revisit the Canadian eccentric/marvel of the piano and hears testimony from the women in his life for the first time. The New York Times has a fascinating article about the film here.

And here is the trailer:

Amazing the way that Gould, who died as long ago as 1982, still holds such fascination for the public, with an appeal that goes way beyond “normal” pianophiles (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms). That can partly be blamed on the old madness/genius chestnut – though in many ways Gould was saner than most, and many other crazy musicians simply vanish from view with good reason. On the other hand, the film isn’t actually scheduled for general release, to the best of my knowledge; it was shown in the Edinburgh Film Festival and will be in selected cinemas in New York this month, but that seems to be it at present. We may have to wait for the DVD.

I am still concerned about Gould’s pervasive influence on pianists of today, though. Young musicians approaching Bach have a hard time escaping from his shadow. Imagine it:

You are a young artist performing Bach on the piano. Do you:

1. Try to imitate a harpsichord because it’s authentic.

2. Try to imitate Glenn Gould.

3. Learn from Andras Schiff, Murray Perahia and the giants of the past like Edwin Fischer who prove that neither of the above is necessary if you simply explore the music itself…

Looks like a no-brainer? Well, you wouldn’t believe the number of youngsters who plump for no.2. It’s a recipe for disaster, because only Glenn Gould could ever make Glenn Gould’s approach sound convincing. There were times when even he couldn’t do that.

Here is an example that demonstrates my problem with Gould – and not in Bach. Please compare and contrast the following interpretations of Scriabin’s Etude in D# minor Op.8 No.12. The first one is Gould. The second is Vladimir Sofronitsky.

Meanwhile, a couple of corrections to my review of the Cleveland Orchestra in Lucerne, which is out in the Indy: first, the all-important name of the sponsor of the excellent scheme that commissions new works for the festival and the Clevelanders seems to have bitten the cutting-floor at subbing time: it is of course Roche. And the commissions happen once every two years, not every year, so Sofia Gubaidulina’s piece is for 2012. 

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