Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Glenn Gould at 80.

Eighty years ago today, Canadian pianist Glenn Gould was born in Toronto. Gould isn't around to celebrate his eightieth birthday - he died in 1982, felled by a stroke at the height of his career - but the anniversary has been marked locally with a special concert last night at Gould's alma mater, the Royal Conservatory of Music, as well as a festival-cum-symposium held this past weekend at the University of Toronto. Gould's birthday also led Globe and Mail arts writer Kate Taylor to offer some thoughts on the late pianist's place in Canadian (and global) culture:
The multifaceted Gould is a kind of Rorschach test for Canadians. Would you like to see him as a digital prophet, the forward-looking recording artist and broadcaster who called for a democracy that would elevate the audience to the level of the performer and who predicted our mash-up culture? Or perhaps you prefer the child of WASP Toronto, the control freak who obsessed over the quality of his recordings, partisan of Bach and Schoenberg.

. . .

[Composer and pianist Ron] Davis places Gould, whose birthday is Tuesday, in a line of 20th-century Canadian intellectuals who thought about communications and mass media, from Harold Innis to Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye.

People have sometimes quipped that Gould is Canada’s Elvis, the musical figure whose star burns even brighter after death, and Davis sees more than a joke in the comparison: "Elvis represented a huge swath of American culture. Gould represented Canadian culture of the period – McLuhan, Frye – publicly accessible but brilliant. In the U.S., it was the showman; here, it was modest brilliance."

Of course, Gould was never modest about his talents – and not always right in his predictions.

"He was wrong on a lot of things," [music critic Tim] Page says of his old friend. "He used to say the concert would die out by the year 2000 and the record company would rule."
Glenn Gould was previously featured in this blog in a July post on Glenn Gould's Toronto. Now that I live in Gould's home city, I'm at least theoretically capable of visiting some sites that played a large role in his life.

I don't think that a post on Glenn Gould would be complete without some music, so here is a recording of Gould playing a short piece by his favorite composer, Orlando Gibbons. This recording, still available commercially, is one that has some importance for me personally, as it served as my introduction to the work of Glenn Gould: before I had ever heard Gould's famed interpretations of the Goldberg Variations or anything else that he had performed, I heard this brief recording on a classical music station in California and was immediately hooked. Here's hoping that someone discovering Gould for the first time through this blog will have the same reaction that I did. AMDG.


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