Thursday, December 30, 2010

Glenn Gould, Canada's Favorite Son

The other night I watched American Masters, on PBS, local Channel 9. It is interesting that it is about Glenn Gould, as he was thoroughly Canadian. Glenn Gould, in fact, is called Canada's favorite son. But he is a part of the American historical music consciousness. And so we see him documented on American Masters. This was an immensely affecting documentary. Gould died at 50, an age he always told a lady friend that he would not live beyond. A selection of Gould's recording of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier is on the Voyager Space Probes, exploring the outer solar system.

I saw that this episode was going to be on and so I Tivo'd it. Why? Because he was a brilliant pianist? Yes,  but more so because when I was a kid, in the late 1960s, I had an album of his. Bach Piano Fugues. I cannot imagine how many times I listened to that album. I remember, painting my closet, and I carpeted my closet with some rug remnants, making it wall to wall, while listening to that record, over and over again. I found it relaxing, mesmerizing.

I had at the time, no idea who Glenn Gould was, other than he was considered to be a great pianist. I cannot remember how I got the album. But not, in hindsight, I find it interesting that I somehow found my way to that music. I have tried to find that same exact album now, as I no longer have it, but I have had trouble finding exactly that pressing, in whatever current format it is now still available. Most likely at this point, sadly in digital format, as it would not have the same resonance I'm sure, as does the original vinyl analog format.

Half way through the documentary, I see that he owned a Chevy Impala and it looks strangely like one of two I owned. My first Impala was my first car, a 1967. My second was years later, a 65 that I traded a beat up Honda 400 motorcycle for. Straight across. How strange.

Back when I was a kid, I had an unusual music collection. I had gotten one of those compilation collections off of TV. They had famous recordings from around the world. But not full concerts,  not even full pieces, but valuable in that it was a cross section of all classical music. So, I had some knowledge of a variety of music. But there was something about Gould's playing that kept me coming back to that album of his, over and over, hundreds of times.

I remember, a friend of mine stopped by one day and I think it was the day I was painting my closet. I had two closets, one on either side of the room, one a short tiny closet, one a long one, running the length of the room. I used to hide in the long one from the household, so painting it, carpeting it, was like fixing up my extra room. So I had Glenn Gould's Bach Piano Fugues playing (and I cannot locate that album in any list), and this friend comes in and says, "What the hell is that?" Referring to the Bach.

I said, "Oh, sorry, I find it relaxing while I'm painting. How about this instead?" And I put on Black Sabbath's Masters of Reality, album; and he said, "That's more like it!" But I remember thinking, "Oh, how sad, he's so limited and he doesn't know what he's missing." As it turned out, he was pretty much a jerk. I had a tiny metal antique car collection, put out by Matchbox toy company. I had a Mercedes Silver Ghost, a Rolls Royce, and others; which, when I wasn't looking, he stole from my windowsill, where I could over look the neighborhood's housetops and off in the distance see a magnificent Mt. Rainier.

Then, after he left that day, Black Sabbath's album finished, and I went right back to Glenn Gould and Bach. It would put me into a kind of mental limbo, a sort of trance, all my concerns, melted. It felt like each impact of each key manipulated my being into a divine relaxation. I tried other piano music, but it didn't do the same thing. I listened to other pianists doing Bach and yes, it was Bach, there was something about Bach, but it was that combination of Gould and Bach that really seemed to do it.

Gould died too young at fifty years of age. But he has left us with an overwhelming collection of perfection, and freshness. Up to the point of his exploding onto the scene in the 50s and 60s, classical music was more or less a museum of classical interpretations. Almost not interpretations, but rather more of a mimicking of the original composers. Gould saw so much more in the original compositions and gave us a fascinating and sumptuous example of what can be done.

If you like piano music at all, in the more classical vein, you either already know about Gould, or you should seek his works out.

1 comment:

  1. Posted at 4.20 am that is appropriate but you need the record.