The Gould Variations: Technology, Philosophy and Criticism in Glenn Gould's Musical Thought and Practice

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Literature, Arts and Criticism Juha Markus Mantere, The Gould Variations: Technology, Philosophy and Criticism in Glenn Gould's Musical Thought and Practice (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2012), 277 pp. 7 figs. Paper. £41.90. ISBN 978-3-631-62279-7.

The Gould Variations is an intelligent, thoughtful and well-researched work that examines the weighty musicology and philosophy behind pianist Glenn Gould's unorthodox views. In other words, it is not for the casual fan in search of biography. Mantere correctly assumes that any reader of this book has already heard the oft-told anecdotes about gloves and trench coats worn in summer, hypochondria and Gould's diet of Arrowroot biscuits and prescription drugs. He also steers clear of Gould's recording legacy, favouring an approach that is 'similar to literature criticism' (p. 32) as he considers Gould's writings more than his famous Bach recordings or bizarre takes on Mozart's sonatas.

Whether Mantere adds much to Gould scholarship is debatable - but then, whether anyone can add meaningfully to the masses of popular and scholarly Gouldiana is unlikely. Gould has, after all, been dissected more than any other pianist (way back in 1994 pianist Anton Kuerti asked whether the singular hysteria surrounding Gould, who died in 1982, was not 'getting a bit out of proportion'). What The Gould Variations does offer is a welcome synthesis of Gould's many published and unpublished writings, secondary literature on Gould, and general philosophy and musicology. Mantere considers, among other things: musical authenticity or Werktreue; Gould's naïve faith in technology; and his continuing fascination with the North. The final chapter, 'The Afterlife of Gould', looks at Gould's posthumous existence in literary works, films (including the creepy Silence of the Lambs) and other homages. …