Classic Mornings

From Vaults Of Gould

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At first, I thought it might be a hoax. But it’s being offered by a major record company during a milestone year.

OK, so it’s for real. It’s still the kind of thing that I can’t imagine will sell out – or even sell a lot, to be honest about it.

September 25 marked the 90th anniversary of the birth of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. Last Tuesday, October 4, marked the 40th anniversary of his passing. Yes, a little math will remind you or inform you that he died just 9 days after his 50th birthday.

Only a month before, Glenn Gould made big news with the release of his second recording of the so-called Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach. He had recorded them in 1955. That recording got a lot of attention. And Gould became a classical music celebrity in the years to follow.

In 1981, he re-recorded the Goldberg Variations, having rejected his earlier interpretation. Both of his recordings have been available over the years, even packaged together so that music listeners are able to compare them, or just have them both on hand to enjoy. And there have been re-releases of Gould’s complete discography, Bach and otherwise.

So, what do I find so unbelievable? Well, recently, Gould’s record company released the complete and previously unreleased studio sessions of his second recording of the Goldberg Variations. It’s being advertised as an 11 CD set of every note played in the studio during the recording, as well as conversations between Glenn Gould and those on hand for the project. 

Do you know how many hours that amounts to for a single piece of music with takes and re-takes? Have you ever sat in the vicinity of a school of music practice building with some open windows? Oh, I’m sure it can be fascinating to some extent. After all, it is Glenn Gould. And I’m guessing that some Gould/Goldberg fans already have listened to the 11 CDs the first time through, since Gould had – and still has - quite a following. 

In 1993, I was taken with a film that Roger Ebert had recommended, namely: Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, directed by François Girard. It wasn’t a documentary. But the vignettes were biographically inspired. Colm Feore portrayed Gould. When Roger Ebert visited the WILL studios in Gregory Hall in the late 1990s to appear on Focus 580, I had the chance to thank him for recommending the film. He immediately recalled it, as well as the fact that he had given it “thumbs up.”

There are writings by Gould, books about Gould and CD releases of some of the documentaries he produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). I explored bits of all of those. And I came to understand that Gould was brilliant, as some folks had suggested. I couldn’t begin to keep up with him on many topics. But I’m glad that I at least gave it a try. I also came to enjoy a bit of his sense of humor.

Twenty years ago, there was a re-issue that included both recordings of the Goldberg Variations. Included was a CD with a conversation between Glenn Gould and critic Tim Page. It was an interesting and entertaining session. I remember that we scheduled it for broadcast on a Sunday evening. I introduced it simply by asking listeners to enjoy it. But I added that I had something to say about it afterwards. I would reveal that Gould had scripted the entire conversation.

Gould was so closely associated with the CBC that there’s a small concert hall named for him on the ground floor of that organization’s Toronto headquarters. That’s interesting, since Gould, at one point, stopped performing live. The recording studio became his element, and he embraced it. That’s what makes it such a pleasant surprise to listen to the live performance he presented on the CBC in 1968 of Franz Liszt’s piano transcription of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6. There was no live audience. But neither were there retakes or edits.

I immersed myself in the Glenn Gould legacy enough to appreciate that others may indeed want to do that to an even greater extent. And given Gould’s preference for the studio, many might want to listen in great detail to his work there. I probably would be somewhat fascinated by some of the 11 CDs of studio time after having spent countless hours in program production over the years. But it also would remind me of times when I wished it hadn’t taken so long on some of those late nights.

I’m glad that our first fund drive of the fiscal year lasted only four days. That was just enough time for us to hear from over 250 listeners with gifts of support. Thank you!