Glenn Gould: The Performer in the Work: A Study in Performance Practice

By Kevin Bazzana | Go to book overview

3
Performance as Discourse

The Performer in the Work

THERE IS THE QUESTION of whether a performer should play a creative role, but there is also the question of why. To what end does the creative performer impose himself on the work--or, perhaps more accurately, put himself in the work? Is it only for the sake of random play that the performer should demand some of the composer's creative authority? I do not mean to underestimate the importance of sheer play in Gould's work (more on that later), but I believe that for him a performance usually served some higher purpose. In many of his performances, he seems not only to realize or interpret the work, but to discourse about it. Sometimes he would explain the intended discourse in spoken or written comments, but often his performances of themselves had a didactic or polemical quality that amounted to a contribution to the secondary literature on the music at hand. Often, indeed, he seems to have performed a work only when he had some distinctive personal comment to make about it, and this tendency became increasingly marked as his career progressed. Gould, in short, set in high relief the commonplace that all performance is, by definition, a kind of exegesis. He held an unusually liberal view of what it means to 'play a piece', of the proper uses of the performance occasion. In fact, his performances and writings constitute an important body of work addressing performance-related issues like analysis and criticism. (In this sense his work can be considered metacritical.) For example, he clearly sought to blur the distinction that Jerrold Levinson has proposed between 'performative' and 'critical' interpretation. For Levinson, the performer is 'more transmitter than explicator', more like a translator of a foreign language than one 'whose mission is inherently exegetical and amplificatory'; he denies that a performed interpretation can embody or 'unambiguously communicate' a critical interpretation, even where it is demonstrably based on a critical interpretation.1 (His 'transmitter' recalls Stravinsky's 'executant'.) Levinson suggests that while critical interpretations focus on a work as a whole, performances are necessarily limited to presenting only one side of a work at once. But this point of view does not

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1
Levinson, 'Performative vs. Critical Interpretation in Music', 37, 57. On 41 n., he refers to Gould as a 'theory-driven' performer, in that his performances often rested on explicit critical foundations.

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Glenn Gould: The Performer in the Work: A Study in Performance Practice
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS vii
  • Contents xiii
  • CONTENTS OF CD xiv
  • LIST OF PLATES xv
  • Contents xvi
  • NOTES ON FORMAT xviii
  • Abbreviations xxii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - PREMISSES 9
  • 1 - Aesthetics and Repertoire 11
  • 2 - The Role of the Performer 36
  • 3 - Performance as Discourse 85
  • Part II - PRACTICES 129
  • 4 - Gould and the Piano 131
  • 5 - Counterpoint 142
  • 6 - Rhythm 160
  • 7 - Dynamics 204
  • 8 - Articulation and Phrasing 215
  • 9 - Ornamentation 228
  • 10 - Recording Technology 238
  • Conclusion 253
  • LIST OF GOULD PERFORMANCES CITED 269
  • BIBLIOGRAPHY. 277
  • Index 291
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