Thursday, October 28, 2010

J.S. Bach - Glenn Gould plays The Goldberg Variations (1955) and The Art of Fugue [Excerpts] (1967)

The great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould stunned the world and rose to instant fame when he released his debut recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations in 1955 (he would do this agian years later upon renouncing live performance). When Columbia asked the newly signed 22-year-old prodigy what he wanted to first record, they were somewhat unsettled to hear the answer "Goldberg." At that time far out of the standard repertoire for any pianist, much less a young one, the the variations became Gould's signature piece for the beginning of his career. In the introduction to the published screenplay of the fantastic documentary Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, Denyr Arcand remembers a concert in 1958 and thinks, "Listening to [the Goldberg Variations] played live by Glenn Gould is a bit like losing your virginity with Marilyn Monroe: You never quite recuperate from it." Indeed, Glenn's extreme pace and lightness of finger is nothing but stunning.

I've included also a recording of Gould playing excerpts of Bach's incomplete masterpiece The Art of Fugue. The selection is certainly relevant to Gould, who, like Bach, spent his entire life seeking a contrapuntal polyphonic ideal. The films by Girard and McKellar are also composed in a sort of narrative counterpoint, meant to illustrate the fugal mode in which Gould lived his life and composed his music. One can almost physically feel the intersecting and horizontal movement in Bach's compositions, and Gould seems to inhabit the very intent of the O.G. master of counterpoint. In addition to the piano selections, this recording has nine tracks on organ, which Gould recorded only having ever practiced them on a piano.


The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988

1 - 32. Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
33. Fugue in F-sharp minor, BWV 883
34. Fugue in E major, BWV 878


The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080
1-9. Contrapunctus I-IX (Organ)
10-12. Contrapunctus I, II & IV (Piano)
13-15. Contrapunctus IV, XI & XIII
16. Contrapunctus XIV (unfinished)
17. Prelude and Fugue, BWV 898


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