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

By Kevin Bazzana | Go to book overview

5
Counterpoint

COUNTERPOINT WAS ONE of the most important factors in Gould's musical thought. It was crucial to his musical judgements, and he was renowned for his ability to clarify contrapuntal textures at the keyboard. He told Humphrey Burton in 1966 that he had 'an inordinate fondness for all music that is in the least contrapuntal',1 and throughout his career he made comments to the effect that his interest in a piece of music depended greatly on the degree to which it was contrapuntal. For Gould, musical craftsmanship was almost synonymous with the development of musical material in a contrapuntal setting. As Peter Kivy notes, counterpoint has historically been closely allied with such musical values as technical skill, learning, economy, and the development of possibilities-- and, moreover, 'since time out of mind, has been associated in the thinking of musicians with the profound and the serious'.2 Gould's sympathy with this position was emphatic; indeed, he insisted that contrapuntally worked out music was superior not just aesthetically but ethically.

Gould played a wide variety of music, but the composers with whom he had a special affinity were invariably those with a pronounced contrapuntal bent: Byrd, Gibbons, Sweelinck, Bach, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Brahms, Scriabin, Strauss, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Hindemith, Valen, Krenek. With composers who were more problematic for him ( Mozart, Beethoven, the early Romantics), he tended to admire most those works which were explicitly contrapuntal, like Mozart's K. 394 fugue and Beethoven Grosse Fuge. His taste in counterpoint always ran to more strict, formal, abstract works like fugues, and he showed no appreciation for the looser, more 'poetic' counterpoint of composers like Schumann and Chopin--the 'essentially pianistic and colouristic' counterpoint that Charles Rosen has recently analysed so trenchantly in The Romantic Generation.3 Gould's Chopin, to recall a famous jibe of Schnabel's, was a 'right-handed genius'. Ever the idealist, he admired the counterpoint most appreciable on the printed page, the

____________________
1
Burton, ii. For similar comments, see Mach, 98; M. Meyer, "'Interview'", 17; and Page. The contrapuntal nature of Gould's thinking in even non-musical contexts has been the subject of some discussion in the biographical and critical literature.
2
Kivy, Music Alone, 206. Discussing Mozart in 1978, Gould likewise equated 'a contrapuntal aspect' with 'a life of the spirit (quoted in Angilette, 143).
3
Rosen, The Romantic Generation, 672.

-142-

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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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