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Thread: Gould's Beethoven

  1. #61
    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Merl View Post
    That's a fair assessment and sums up perfectly the way I feel about Gould in Beethoven. Sometimes mesmerising, sometimes bizarre but at least always interesting.
    You might be tempted to sometimes wish someone had kicked Gould off his pygmy stool but you'll never be bored!

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    Senior Member lextune's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Cassidy View Post
    Sviatoslav Richter once famously remarked, “You know I could play Bach as well as Gould. But do you know why I don’t play as well as he does? Because I would have to work so hard to play like him.”
    I would like to see the origin of that 'quote'. I googled it and all I got was the quora page you must have got it from. Honestly, I don't buy it.

    Here is an actual quote from Richter about Gould from Richter's own notebooks; (page 197 of Monsaingeon's Notebooks & Conversations)

    "Gould has found his own approach to Bach and, from this point of view, he deserves his reputation.
    It seems to me that his principal merit lies on the level of sonority, a sonority that is exactly what suits Bach best.
    But, in my own view, Bach's music demands more depth and austerity, whereas with Gould everything is just a little too brilliant and superficial. Above all, however, he doesn't play all the repeats. and that's something for which I really can't forgive him. It suggests that he doesn't actually love Bach sufficiently."

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    Gould's lighter piano touch is well suited to Beethoven. Unlike certain other pianists (such as Evgeny Kissin), Gould doesn't heavily pound on the piano keys in order to convey the emotional intensity of Beethoven's sonatas; a misguided approach that, when it is embraced, tends to overly generalize the wider emotional and psychological range of these scores. Personally, I believe Beethoven cared about his piano touch and sound, and only began to bludgeon piano keys & break pianos later in life, in order to hear himself play through his deafness. As Anton Schindler wrote (& I paraphrase), Beethoven's piano playing sounded wonderful at night, if you were standing on the opposite side of the street across from his house. So, I appreciate that Gould doesn't overly emote or generalize the musical expression in Beethoven's sonatas by relentlessly pounding on the piano keys.

    He doesn't exaggerate rubato either. Gould isn't interested in pitting himself against the tempo, by changing it, or pulling things around. He tends to play Beethoven very straight, rhythmically. With the negative that he can occasionally sound too rigid--especially in a slow movement, and the music loses a certain depth of feeling. (Artur Schnabel doesn't make that mistake in Beethoven's slow movements.) However, most of time, Gould trusts Beethoven, and surprisingly, what you get is a Beethoven that is wildly mercurial (despite Gould's rhythmic straightforwardness): which I see as a positive, as it allows for an appropriate sense of fantasy and imagination to emerge within the music.

    My impression is that Gould goes wherever his intuition and musical instincts take him. He deeply understands the improvisatory nature of these sonatas, and gives the feeling that they are being created on the spot. I find that fascinating. Even if I don't always agree with what he's doing or think that his interpretation is off the mark, it still remains extremely interesting to hear how Gould sees these scores. (I feel the same way about his late Haydn.) Granted, Gould's Beethoven can be eccentric, at times, & occasionally even border on the perverse, and in those sonatas, I tend to prefer other pianists--such as Rudolf Serkin in the Piano Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 2, no. 1, or Mieczyslaw Horszowski in the Piano Sonata No. 2 in A Major, no. 2, for example:

    Gould--Piano Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 2, No. 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMZdvcLHIQk
    Serkin--in the same sonata (opening movement): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ABQXzaEdwc

    Gould--Piano Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 2, No. 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uL2s...BHbo0PsbNACdYQ
    Horszowski--in the same sonata: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcAa...UZf41jIQP5ALCw

    Other works where Gould's Beethoven misses the mark, in my view, are his Piano Sonatas 13 & 14, Op. 27, nos. 1 & 2. In the famous "Moonlight" sonata, for example, he speeds through the opening movement, and it all sounds a bit rushed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37H6...BHbo0PsbNACdYQ. Then in the middle movement, he gets quirky. Gould doesn't seem to have a natural feeling for the music. He likewise speeds through the 3rd movement, where the music again sounds rushed in places, though it's brilliantly played. In contrast, the 3rd movement of the Piano Sonata No. 13 in E-Flat Major, Op. 27, no.1, sounds oddly stilted in Gould's hands, and again, the music doesn't seem to flow naturally: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBO0...BHbo0PsbNACdYQ. My point being that you just never know what you're going to get next with Gould's Beethoven, one moment he's playing a movement to perfection, with deep insight & musicality, and then in the next he gives you an odd interpretation, only to then rush a finale--it's that kind of experience.

    Gould's "Appassionata" sonata is another example of the pianist missing the mark, in my opinion. The first movement is extremely quirky, even bizarre in places. I expect most listeners would agree that it's an odd interpretation. Yet again, it's fascinating to hear how Gould sees this music, even if his interpretation doesn't work all that well. In the 2nd movement, Gould again hinders the flow of the music, with a tendency to heavily slow down. For me, his interpretation sounds a bit lost. Although he redeems himself in the Presto movement, which is better.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tei...BHbo0PsbNACdYQ

    I'm not a big fan of Gould's Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13, the "Pathétique", either. Although I do appreciate that he doesn't pound the keys in the first movement (unlike some pianists), but keeps a lighter touch throughout. The sonata starts out well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=772t...BHbo0PsbNACdYQ. However, for me, Rudolf Serkin has deeper insights into the Adagio cantabile. This is a good example of where Gould's unwillingness to use rubato, his straightforwardness in Beethoven, becomes too rigid & impersonal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuFd...BHbo0PsbNACdYQ. I see this movement as an elegy to Mozart, a sad remembrance, a looking back, if you will, and Gould misses some of the tender human feeling that Serkin discovers and brings out in the music. In comparison, Gould sounds superficial. Nor does Gould see that Beethoven is being deliberately "Mozartian" in the 3rd movement, which isn't missed on Serkin. (But then Gould never did really "get" Mozart.) In contrast, Gould rigidly speeds through the movement in a slightly detached, matter of fact manner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07ny...BHbo0PsbNACdYQ

    To hear these differences, here's a link to Serkin's "Pathétique":

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1ji...4vvWsNUUIOmeoo
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0j2VzoArEEI
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4THAkzEHcI

    Yet I do like Gould's Beethoven--because when it works, it's brilliant. For me (& I see others here too), Gould was at his best in the three Op. 31 Piano Sonatas, nos. 16, 17, & 18, and especially in the no. 2, "The Tempest": which, in my opinion, is one of the great Beethoven performances on record. Here Gould's occasional quirkiness and speediness all work especially well. Indeed the Op. 31 sonatas seem better suited to Gould's 'rubrato free' approach to Beethoven than most of the other sonatas.

    At the opening movement of No. 16 in G Major, Op. 31, no. 1, Gould develops a free, almost jazzy feeling. Yes, it's quirky, but it works. It almost sounds like Beethoven had heard ragtime (before it existed) or some other form of popular musical entertainment. That isn't missed on Gould, who has a good time with it. I like that he becomes very playful in the first two movements, having fun with them. The 3rd movement is excellent too--here Gould's playing is full of imagination: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csoq...BHbo0PsbNACdYQ .

    Gould is even better in the Piano Sonata No. 17, Op. 31, no. 2 "Tempest", where he finds a psychological depth that eludes many other pianists. After re-listening to this sonata, I came away with the distinct impression that Gould was at his best as a pianist when the music most interested and engaged him, & here he sounds meaningfully engaged. My guess is that the "Tempest" is one of the sonatas that Gould most identified with. He finds an unusual depth in the Adagio, for example. While in the Allegretto 3rd movement, Gould's speediness works to great effect. The whole sonata works brilliantly well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GC_0...ACdYQ&index=53.

    By the way, Gould's earlier live Toronto television performance of "The Tempest" may be even better than his Columbia studio recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPDBcdDGrnE

    Gould's interpretation of the Piano Sonata No. 18, Op. 31, no. 3 "La Chasse" is no less exceptional. Here he intuitively understands and revels in the playful, driven, nervous energy of the sonata, giving it an improvisatory feel. Gould totally gets the maniac, mercurial content of the music--that the music is constantly changing, developing, and being created. This is great Beethoven playing I think. Although, with that said, for my tastes, I do think that Gould could have relaxed a bit more in the 3rd movement, where I don't feel that he finds enough sense of contrast to the 2nd movement. His 3rd movement becomes too much of a continuation of the nervous energy of the 2nd movement, and I don't think that's quite right, as the listener needs a break, and surely Beethoven intended one. In my view, the 3rd movement should be more relaxed and expansive than Gould plays it, especially since the nervous energy again returns in the 4th movement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ibk...ACdYQ&index=56

    Gould's performance of Beethoven's Piano Sonata in G Major, Op. 14, no. 2 is exceptional too. I find it a breath of fresh air. He has such an imaginative, insightful take on this sonata. It's wonderful playing, and as with the "Tempest" sonata, shows Gould's Beethoven at its best, in my view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0v1f...ACdYQ&index=33
    Last edited by Josquin13; Oct-19-2018 at 20:45.

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  7. #64
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Josquin13 View Post
    Gould is even better in the Piano Sonata No. 17, Op. 31, no. 2 "Tempest", where he finds a psychological depth that eludes many other pianists. After re-listening to this sonata, I came away with the distinct impression that Gould was at his best as a pianist when the music most interested and engaged him, & here he sounds meaningfully engaged. My guess is that the "Tempest" is one of the sonatas that Gould most identified with. He finds an unusual depth in the Adagio, for example. While in the Allegretto 3rd movement, Gould's speediness works to great effect. The whole sonata works brilliantly well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GC_0...ACdYQ&index=53.

    By the way, Gould's earlier live Toronto television performance of "The Tempest" may be even better than his Columbia studio recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPDBcdDGrnE
    This is his best Beethoven? His performance of the finale is abysmal, a bad parody in fact. It sounds idiotic at that tempo. And skipping the repeat is unforgivable — the rhyming of the transition back and the continuation to G minor is an essential structural feature. Such incomprehension is appalling. Was he so lacking in judgment that he couldn't tell he was butchering it?

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    EdwardBast writes, "His performance of the finale is abysmal, a bad parody in fact. It sounds idiotic at that tempo"

    I don't see it that way. To my ears, it's not a "bad parody"--rather everyone else plays it too slowly! (I'm partly joking) They miss the sense of horses galloping at a brisk pace. I admit Gould may take the 3rd movement a shade too fast. But for me, there's an undeniable nervous, frenetic quality about this music that Gould understands. I hear sounds of hoof beats in the 3rd movement--especially in Clara Haskil's interpretation, so I don't mind it played on the fast side.

    Although I wouldn't disagree with you about his skipping the repeat.

    I'm aware that Gould can be a very eccentric pianist. I've been critical of his Bach & Mozart for years now. So if you don't like his Beethoven, or his "Tempest" Sonata, that's fine with me. I understand. Gould wouldn't be my first, second, or third choice in Beethoven, either. (Is there any Beethoven by Gould that you do especially like?)

    Although maybe it's not such a bad thing for listeners to occasionally be taken out of their comfort zone, and be challenged by an interpretation. I agree that Gould isn't Kempff, Gilels, Richter, Solomon, A. Fischer or Schnabel in Beethoven. But it is possible that if people were to listen to how Gould plays the 3rd movement of the Tempest Sonata on regular basis, other pianists might begin to sound a shade too slow. I can't tell you how many times I've heard music played on period instruments that sounded too fast to me, at first, initially, only to eventually be won over with repeated listening--to the point where my older recordings then began to sound overly slow, even dull.

    But I wouldn't disagree that Gould may be a shade too fast here. I just don't think it's by much--not enough to call it a "bad parody", in my view. I think the issue is more that Gould refuses to use virtually any rubato in Beethoven, which can have the effect of making his playing sound somewhat machine-like or inflexible at times, rhythmically. In other words, it's not so much that he's playing too fast--tempo-wise--as it is that he's playing the music with virtually no variance in the tempo, & the combination of the two doesn't always work well.

    I'd be curious to now hear what forte pianists do with this 3rd movement, as I wouldn't be surprised if they play it as briskly as Gould does. The older pianos lend themselves to such an interpretation, as they're less resonant & unwieldy than modern grands, & the piano touch is lighter (like Gould's). I'll have to get my Ronald Brautigam set out ...
    Last edited by Josquin13; Oct-20-2018 at 09:51.

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    I rather like Gould's Beethoven. I'm not sure exactly why, but I find the way he plays the sonatas to be very accessible. I generally don't like solo piano, but I can listen to Gould's Beethoven. Of his Bach I've only heard the Goldbergs and I've got to say I don't particularly like them. These are difficult pieces for me at the best of time and I feel Gould just makes them even harder. I much prefer Zhu Xiao-Mei. For example, I find the first variation sounds really pedantic in Gould '81 but Zhu makes it live and breath. Gould's Mozart is totally impossible for me to listen to.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shane View Post
    Gould exercises his eccentric quirkiness all over this music, and I had to stop listening to it. I bounced around a bit, sampling other sonatas, only to find him rushing crucial moments and was left with an overall feeling of blasphemy and violation in respect to these highly regarded works.
    EXACTLY!

    (I avoid Gould's interpretations of Beethoven like a plague.)

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    Gould's Beethoven doesn't work for me--it's too eccentric. Give me Claudio Arrau, Stephen Bishop, Andrea Lucchesini, Emil Gilels, or Igor Levit any day!

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    Quote Originally Posted by 88keys View Post
    Gould's Beethoven doesn't work for me--it's too eccentric. Give me Claudio Arrau, Stephen Bishop, Andrea Lucchesini, Emil Gilels, or Igor Levit any day!
    I don't like Gould playing the Beethoven sonatas, but I really appreciate his recordings of the concerti, especially the 5th "Emperor" concerto, w/ Stokowski and the American Symphony, a great performance.

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    See what you make of this


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    ^^^

    Gould's Beethoven is at its best in the C Minor and Eroica Variations. Both works have a certain improvisatorial nature akin to Bach's Goldbergs, in which Gould excelled. I only wish Gould had recorded the Diabelli Variations.

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    Some of the bagatelles too came off well I think. The studio and maybe this even more so

    71ULxjtUaGL._AC_SL1000_.jpg

    What do people make of his op 110? There are at least two recordings, the studio one and this one

    51RsRJ02KjL.jpg

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    Senior Member Barbebleu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    See what you make of this

    I'll go out on a limb here (and remember folks, it's Christmas, so keep the abuse to a minimum please) and say, I love this. I've always liked Gould's interpretations which, to my ears, reveal something new at each listening. But not to everyone's taste I know.
    Last edited by Barbebleu; Dec-23-2019 at 11:11.
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    ^^^
    I have the CD and I enjoy it very much.
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    Clearly, it's an offbeat interpretation, especially when you compare him to Emil Gilels, who excelled at this music, in my opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfQsrf3cofA. But then that's Gould. I go into it with the expectation that he'll probably have the courage to play the work like no one else. I love his late Haydn sonatas for that reason, because when it works, he's brilliant, and not at all similar to Alfred Brendel in Haydn, for instance (who I also like in Haydn). (Why else buy multiple recordings of a piece of music?) Besides, Gould's pianism deepened towards the end of the life, in my view (& his), and this performance doesn't reflect that change.

    But do I need Gould's 32 Variations? No, it's not my cup of tea. I prefer Gilels.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Dec-23-2019 at 21:33.

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