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Glenn Gould and Classical Interpretation

Discussion in 'The RedBanned Bar & Grill' started by Rohann van Rensburg, May 17, 2023.

  1. Came across this video and thought this was an interesting discussion:

    I remember @Doug Gibson posting a video about Gould talking about Stravinsky's "bad voice leading" and how his music "drives him literally up the wall". He also had an essay on why he thought Mozart was a "bad composer" later on in his life. I personally side far more with Bernstein on this topic -- even before I was accustomed to many of Bach's pieces, I never enjoyed Gould's performances of Bach as it felt like his playing lost the sublimity of the music and lacked respect for it. He goes as far as to deliberately ignore performance markings on many pieces.

    His rationale overall was essentially that these pieces had been performed as written "to death", so the only thing left to do was "reimagine" or "recompose" them.

    There seem to be two camps of sorts, with some variation in between. On the one hand, the great composers are great for a reason, we should revere and respect their work and play it as intended, and they deserve to be there. On the other hand, the greats are somewhat arbitrarily propped up and deified, and their work should be interpreted and room should be made for new work. Both sides have their extremes too (the greats are gods before men and are to be revered as such vs. music theory is "racist" or whichever postmodern idiocy is insisted upon). Personally, while I'm all for the innovation that came with later composers and other forms of music, I find the latter camp tends to be less philosophically robust, missing the mark on the universality of the music and the nature of interpreting music written by a composer in the first place. We all have individual expression, but composers make performance markings for a reason, and without these, the piece loses an important component of itself. I think boundaries and confines are wholly warranted in performance.

    I also find it unsurprising that Bernstein is a strong advocate for sharing the love and beauty of music with children and had strong things to say about teachers complaining about hearing pieces too frequently with fresh-eared students, while Gould was contemptuous of the public and seemed to love being snidely contrarian about art in general.

    Any thoughts?
  2. I believe in the Holy Trinity - Composer, Performer, Listener. I do everything I can to get my music, as I hear it in my head, into the listener's, by way of the performer. But I learned early on that the performer had something to add; something unique and individual such that it mattered precisely who was performing it. It is never enough to hire a good - even great - player; that alone does not define their contribution.

    Today, I try to be less dogmatic, and less specific where I can so as to let the performer influence the work more directly. I found this philosophy to work in directing actors, and in raising my son as well. But when the time comes that I'm very particular about a detail, I mark it as such, and because I'm generally not heavy-handed, it doesn't fatigue the performer or strangle them.

    Glenn Gould makes odd choices, and sometimes brilliant ones. When Draco was learning Invention 13 we laughed at, and not with, Gould's take. But he's also right that after hundreds of years, if you're performing it at all, do you have anything to add?

    In the end, if I wanted every note and nuance to be precisely as I intend it, I'll just sit at home and play with myself. But I'd be missing an opportunity for it to grow beyond itself, if I endeavor to find the right performer in whom I can trust.

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