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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Glenn Gould Plays the Goldberg Variations

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Today’s “Fifth Tuesday” montage marks a number if milestones:
  • it is our 365th montage in our ongoing series,
  • it marks the end of a year-long survey of all of our montages in this series and
  • serves as a launch point for a new programming arc dedicated to revisiting our many contributions to TalkClassical through our Tuesday Blog, which marked its tenth anniversary a few months ago.

For the next few months, our montages will take a fresh look at some themes we explored on the Tuesday Blog over the years, and today’s montage gets the ball rolling with a look back at one of our earliest musings.

In June of 2011, we posted some thoughts on the late great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould and his four commercially available performances of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. In a post from 2014, we marked the sixtieth anniversary of his CBC broadcast performance of that work (one of those four recordings) and today’s montage packages his two “studio” versions – his 1955 “Mono” version and the 1981 “Digital” version, marking the alpha and omega of his great career as a recording artist. (For the record, we posted in our “Canada Day” montage selections from the fourth recording, that one a recital performance from the Salzburg festival.)

To mark milestones of these seminal recording releases – and by so doing anniversaries of Gould’s passing – Sony provided a number of “remastered” releases of this same tandem set. Our montage today features a copy of the 1955 version originally downloaded from the old Japanese Public Domain Classic site, and the original CD release from my own collection.

As we have written many times in these pages, to some Gould is an “acquired taste”… However, it is very interesting to compare the two performances, one by a young maverick making a splashy entry into the music scene, who “attacks” each variation with a combination of assuredness, aplomb and much temerity and the other, an older, more measured (and temperamental) pianist, a master of the recording studio striving for the “perfect rendition”, very deliberate and somewhat aseptic in his approach.

I’d argue where the 1955 version has more appeal and more “pizzazz” (though I never think of Gould as a “showman” pianist), the 1981 interpretation is a lot more personal, more like ”I’ve played this piece a zillion times, and this is my considered opinion of how Bach would have wanted each variation to be played”. Since we shared parts of his Richard Strauss recording – which I believe was his last as a pianist – Gould only recorded stuff near the end that really cranked his chain, so even these variations that are inexorably linked to him get the same treatment - “unique and special experiences”, to be cherished in the same way he made them, a craftsman above all else.

I think you will love this music too

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Aria & 30 vaiations in G Major ”Goldberg Variations”, BWV 988 (Clavier-Übung IV)
  • Mono Recording - 10-16 VI, 1955
  • Digital Recording - 22-25 IV, 15, 19 & 29 V, 1981

Glenn Gould, piano

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Updated Aug-31-2021 at 13:03 by itywltmt

Classical Music , Musicians , Composers , Recorded Music