More on Glenn Gould

by sstavis

What defines an artistic genius? We’ve discussed this in a few capacities now—at the very beginning of the semester with Josquin and more recently with Bach and Handel, composers who marked the beginnings of modern conception of music. Varying situational factors often lead to the emergence of a great musician.

Glenn Gould, who we discussed on Thursday, borders the thin line of madness and genius. The discussion of what makes a musical genius is especially relevant to Gould in that he himself was intrigued by the fact that music attributed to a certain composer was received in certain ways. He preferred to isolate works and take each piece for what it was. With Bach, Gould tried to take his music out of context. He transformed Bach’s ideas from the plain pieces of the Baroque period into much more modern, abstract pieces.

Gould was a man who believed all musicians should express themselves through recorded music. These recordings could be altered and perfected in ways that were never before seen. He questioned why “perfect” music was wrong. Digitally removing impurities from music may seem like fraud to some live-music lovers, but Gould was a fan of originality and perfectionism.

In an article from The Guardian, eccentric appears more than a few times to describe a living Glenn Gould, constantly playing Bach’s music. Pianist Francesco Piemontesi found that Gould’s sound landscapes reminded him of “contrasting psychological perspectives” from which different listeners could choose. Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, however, sees Gould as “living in an exclusively Glenn Gould world.” Though Gould’s intention was to have each listener experience music in his own way, not all listeners see it this way. Aimard, for example, only thinks of Gould when listening to Gould.

What ultimately makes Gould so intriguing to me is that he is different. He was a man who broke the mold in performing Bach’s works. The first person to break this mold is always going to create a commotion. Whether the commotion is negative or positive, that commotion is still there. Bottom line, Gould created music that provoked a listener to think. Does this mean he just chose the right piece to alter at the right time? Can this be what makes him a genius? Or does this prove that he really is not a genius at all?