GOULD'S PENCHANT FOR extreme tempos, apparent throughout his career, has received much comment and criticism. Though many of his tempos fell within the limits of common practice, he often exceeded those limits, sometimes strikingly, and he was willing to depart from a composer's tempo directions as well as from documentation on historical performance practice. Tables 6.1 and 6.2 show some of his more extreme tempo choices, at both ends of the spectrum, and Table 6.3 shows that he often chose significantly different tempos in repeat performances of a piece.
In Baroque music, even in movements clearly based on dance types, Gould often ignored both common and historical practice when choosing a tempo, relying instead on criteria like musical character, expression, and even quality. In Bruno Monsaingeon 1979 film The Question of Instrument, in a discussion of the Gigue from Bach's French Overture in B minor, he says that the intensity of expression in this extraordinary movement ('a gigue to surpass all gigues') demands a slower, more probing tempo than usual: it is 'ridiculous to put straitjackets on the music' where it transcends the norms of its genre. (He suggests a tempo of ♩. = 54.) When he played Bach's suites, he generally tried to convey a unified conception of the whole work, and so was concerned as much with the rhythmic relationships between movements as with the tempos of individual movements. He held few, if any, preconceptions as to the 'correct' tempo for, say, a gigue; rather, he adjusted individual tempos for the sake of the consistency of an overall conception, with the result that a 'Gould gigue' might have any of a variety of tempos. As he said in a 1963 interview on Bach's Partitas,
if you play one movement arbitrarily slowly, as a point of experiment, it's going to impose certain demands on the other movements. You could not, in the C Minor Partita, play a very somber and quasi-tragic realization of the Allemande through Sarabande and then do a thoroughly giddy Sinfonia and Capriccio. Obviously, even the movements that are of some dexterity and caprice would still have to maintain that sobriety which you depicted in the other movements.1