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Topic: Glenn Gould Plays J.S. Bach’s Fugue In E Major, The Well Tempered Clavier, Book 2

1079 words - 5 pages

Topic: Glenn Gould plays J.S. Bach’s Fugue in E major, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2
J.S. Bach’s renowned composition, The Well-Tempered Clavier, depicts a wide variety of color, technique, and style from a musical perspective. The piece “is a kind of encyclopedia of fugue composition, in which the greatest master of the genre tried out almost ever technique and style available to it,” (Kerman 133) and many pianists and modern composers still look back to perform and analyze the varying forms, textures, and devices Bach used to reinterpret his work. One particular pianist, Glenn Gould, established his career performing Bach’s compositions from the 1950s onward. In performing Bach’s The ...view middle of the document...

It was widely noted that he had a “contrapuntal mind” (Howes), where even during his own performing sessions he would lift up his countering hand and make conductor-like gestures to show as if each hand had its own mentality and playing technique of its own. He had several eccentricities, such as either humming or singing to himself while playing, displayed eroticism so intense that it made some that watched him play uncomfortable, and wore coats and scarves during the summer. From a musician standpoint he was a mad genius, but on a social level he was reclusive and awkward. Nevertheless, it was his unique interpretation of every piece that defined his musical career and recordings.
Just as texture is repeated throughout the piece, Gould maintains the tempo and tone color in an imitative manner. His way of maintaining the same phrasing correlates with his distaste for change and social norms, and rigid structure of his personal life. While Bach actually wrote The Well-Tempered Clavier so that it could allow for alternative performing forces, Gould performed this piece on the traditional piano and preferred to stick to musical recordings rather than live performances. As he performs this piece, the consistency with his tempo actually strays from how Bach had interpreted the piece: “E Major is a key for which Bach developed his own sense of affect…The sixteenth notes should be grouped in legato sets of four, and played with a subtle sense of flexibility” (Goldberg 5). Gould seems to be playing rather dutifully, with each stretto echoing the previous voice with little to no ornamentation or change. This in return parallels his obsession with musical structure: “Ever the idealist, he [Gould] seems to have equated musical meaning with musical structure, and structure was to be found in the work’s notation – its pitches and rhythms – rather than its performance markings…When preparing a performance, Gould seems first to have interpreted the work on the basis of its notation alone…” (Bazzana 38). Likewise, he conducted his life in an obsessive and rigid manner, isolating himself most of the time and preferring to telephone his friends over talking to them. He was known to hate strong display of emotions, was very critical of other...

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