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

By Kevin Bazzana | Go to book overview
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Articulation and Phrasing

AS A GENERAL rule, Gould preferred articulation that can best be described as non-legato or détaché (I consider these terms interchangeable). His desire for clarity, so basic to his musical personality, extended to his rendering of phrases and even individual notes. Landowska once remarked that even her staccato was legato; Gould had the opposite priority: even his legato was détaché. Rarely, even in his smoothest phrases, did he blur the boundaries of individual notes. As he told an interviewer in 1981, he wanted 'each individual note to be heard precisely; he felt 'that music did not have to be tied together with pedal and legato'.1 Thus 'the non-legato state . . . between two consecutive notes is the norm, not the exception';2 it was legato that had to justify itself as a special effect, as a departure from the norm. He attempted, he said in another late interview,

to make the isolated legato moment a very intense occasion. I happen to adore the cleanliness, the clarity of texture that one gets when the prevailing touch is of a detaché [sic] nature. But in addition, when into that prevailingly detaché sonority, in which virtually every note comes equipped with its own space separating it from the note that follows it, there is injected a legato element, then there's something quite moving that happens, a kind of emotional sweep that the music does not have if the prevailing assumption is that the piano is a legato instrument, and the slicker the sound the better.3

Many writers on harpsichord performance have advocated cantabile playing to counteract the innate 'dryness' of the instrument; Gould, by contrast, advocated more detached playing to counteract the innate 'wetness' of the piano. He described his usual articulation in different terms at different times; in the same interview, he once used all of the following: 'secco, pointillistic, détaché', 'deliberate and dry', 'clean'.4 Like some of his critics, he used the term 'staccato', too, but it is mis- leading. His basic touch was not a true staccato, and his references above to non- legato and détaché are more accurate.5 He avoided the blurring of adjacent tones with fingers or pedal and largely preserved note values as written, not holding them

M. Meyer, 'Interview', 16.
Aikin, 26.
Cott, 49, 62.
Kazdin, 116, quotes Gould's reference to the 'very staccato articulation' in his Bach performances. The 'extreme staccatissimo' that Siepmann, 27, refers to is clearly an exaggeration, though exaggeration and even parody of Gould's articulation is common enough in the critical literature.


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


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