The Imperative to Change

Chad Reynolds, in a short post On Coldfront Magazine:

I’ve had Glenn Gould’s double disc of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in my car for three years. It never gets old.

I love both Gould’s recordings of the Goldbergs, and listened to them constantly in my early twenties. They’re both so precise and unique, and so totally different from one another, most noticeably in speed.

Gould slowed down his playing a lot in his later recordings, as though he’d begun to enjoy the sound of a lingering note or chord more than its connection to the next, stretching out melodies until they almost snapped. One composer (I forget who, but it may have been Barbara Pentland) described hearing his performance as sounding like an X-ray of her music.

Since reading his interview with Rolling Stone, which I’ve linked a couple of times, I’ve found myself wondering whether the inflection point in his career was having his beloved Chickering piano broken:

[M]y tempi have noticeably slowed down in the last year, because I’m playing on a piano newly rebuilt, which eventually will assume the characteristics that it had before. I hope and pray, but which at the moment has a heavier action. And if you play with a heavier action […] the nature of that action produces the quality of legato which I would frankly like to get rid of—I’d like to get it right back to its nice secco [dry] quality that it had before it fell off a truck. But a new piano with new hammers hitting new strings is going to give you innately more legato. […] The articulation, if you go at it at the tempo you might otherwise have done, is going to be less clean. So the instrument determines it.

I don’t know whether he ever got the piano back to a sound he liked, but the breakage seems to have been the first time he was really forced to slow down his playing. Maybe he grew to like it so much he didn’t feel like speeding up again. It certainly fits the timeline.

(Via the Glenn Gould Foundation)