Sunday, October 19, 2008

Most Written-About Pianist. Ever.

Since I'm about to add to the already copious amount of writing on the subject of Glenn Gould, I think it's appropriate to take a look at what's out there, or—more to the point—exactly how much is out there; because my suspicion is that GG is probably the most written-about pianist. Ever.

So, for starters, let's test this hypothesis—the modern way: by searching Google. My completely unscientific method will be to take a totally arbitrary group of pianists, including Gould, run parallel Google searches on them and then see how they compare. At the end we'll see if there is a clear "winner." Or maybe not.

In addition to Glenn Gould, I'll be running searches on Old-World Romantic Vladimir Horowitz, Cold War-Horseman Van Cliburn, Contemporary Action Superstar Lang Lang, Ultra-Serious Maestro Maurizio Pollini, and–why not?–Liberace. It should be interesting.

The first contest is the basic Google "Web" search. This simply gives you results for every page on the web that contains a given search term. My prediction: a win for GG with Lang Lang coming in second. But I'm not going to venture a point-spread unless anyone wants to start a pool. And now the results:

1. Lang Lang: 3,840,000
2. Gould: 1,370,000
3. Liberace: 1,230,000
4. Pollini: 852,000
5. Horowitz: 378,000
6. Cliburn: 219,000

Okay, so I'm obviously not a bookie. On consideration it makes perfect sense though: Lang Lang is currently active with an ultra high-profile performing schedule, including the Beijing Olympics, and, even as I write this, has the full marketing force of the Universal Music Group putting his name everywhere, including on Adidas running shoes.

Still, GG's ranking is pretty strong for someone whose death predated the emergence of the Web by more than a decade. I suspect that if you filter out promotional sites, concert announcements, and duplicate current-events reports that Gould would come out on top here.

How about that Liberace, though! A surprisingly strong showing from Mr. Showmanship. Seriously.

The next test is YouTube clips. This metric doesn't really measure the amount of "writing about" anything, but I already said that this wasn't going to be a scientific inquiry. Here I'm calling for a landslide win for Lang Lang based on the fact that he is a YouTube-era superstar. I am predicting GG to come in second. I'll even venture a spread: LL over GG by a ratio of 7:1. Let's see:

1. Gould: 1,010
2: Liberace: 783
3. Lang Lang: 701
4: Horowitz: 664
5: Cliburn: 228
6: Pollini: 149

Maybe I should just stop with the predictions. Clearly Jimmy the Greek would have had nothing to worry about from me. GG was just all over that media! Once again though, check out that Liberace. Hotcha!

Now on to the Google News portion of the experiment. Of the three living pianists on our list, two are active and one is deep into retirement. The other three can't really do much to make news at this point. So I'm predicting another massive win for Lang Lang. But, hey, what do I know?

1. Lang Lang: 199
2. Liberace: 161
3. Gould: 128
4. Cliburn: 68
5: Horowitz: 28
6: Pollini: 26

Well, obviously I don't know much. What is going on here? How can the news spread be so narrow between one guy who currently ranks at the top of the international concert circuit versus two others who have not walked the earth for decades? I don't get it. By the way, the Van Cliburn news results are somewhat misleading, as many of the hits actually refer to the Van Cliburn Foundation, while several others are simply reprinted accounts of the triumphant 1966 recital that he gave from within a Gemini spacecraft flying over the Soviet Union.

Finally we move on to Google Books. Here's where we will get the best idea of the amount of actual writing about our six subjects. I'm predicting Gould to top the list here with Liberace coming in a close second.

1. Liberace: 1084
2. Gould: 1023
3. Horowitz: 847
4. Cliburn: 814
5. Pollini: 651
6. Lang Lang: 255*

Well I was kind of right. It was close but tilted in favor of The Glitter Man. Gould does lead, however, in the number of books about which he is the sole subject. I counted at least 25. The other pianists are only partly the subjects of, or merely mentioned in most of the books in which they appear.

So, in conclusion, uhh . . . I guess I haven't really demonstrated anything conclusively other than my blatant predictive ineptitude. But it's pretty clear that the subject of Glenn Gould has been extensively covered both in writing and in other media as well, which is really the point I wanted to establish. Of course, I knew that before doing all this Googling, and so did you probably, but it was fun doing this bit of unscientific research. The next time I do something like this I'll try to involve some lab
coats and fuming beakers. Then it will be scientific.

* The Google book results for Lang Lang are greatly overstated since "Lang" is a common name and, even after being qualified with the additional term "piano," the search still turns up results for Judith Lang, BJ Lang, Fritz Lang, the Reverend Innocenz Lang, etc.

1 comment:

  1. Love your "scientific" research and sense of humor!

    A GG fan.