Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Shall we talk?

I have listened to Glenn Gould's later recording of the Goldberg Variations so many times that I am quite sure I could identify his interpretation in a blind taste test.
But wait, I flatter myself. Perhaps I recognize it as his not because of the infamously lingering pace of the Aria but could it be the tell-tale murmur alongside the notes?
It was said that recording technicians despaired of Gould's tendency to sing along as he played. They were actually described as "groans and croons." Sound technicians were sometimes only partially successful in excising his trilling.
I confess I rather like it. I have even turned up my ipod to full volume in an effort to catch every nuance of Glenn's vocalise. It seems to me, wholly unself-conscious, evidence that he was captivated by Bach but still reverential of the exquisite spaces. The intoning doesn't ruin the performance the least bit. In fact, it's comforting. This is a human being rendering those beautiful sounds and that fact makes its beauty all the more astonishing.
Some years ago in my earlier incarnation as a piano student, I was forced to take part in a recital. I was the only adult playing, a fact that was burnished on my very soul as I sat looking nervously at the other draftees. Two of them were my own. They sat there in the church pew, alternately chewing fingernails and glaring at their mother, the one who was making them play. Little did they realize that I was also glaring resentfully -- at the piano teacher who suggested that I participate to send the message to the kids that there was nothing to fear at a recital. Nothing indeed!
My number came up.
I strode up with music in hand (no memory work for me -- I wasn' t that crazy). The piece I had chosen was a dumbed down version of "St. James' Infirmary."
From the first uncertain notes I set down to the last querulous chord, this jazz classic was treated with an unconventional accompaniment -- mutterings inserted by no editorial musicologist. Just a litany of anguished noises, mumbled apologies and scarcely articulated curses.
I met the gaze of a supportive friend as I escaped from the piano bench.
"As long as you're playing, " he sighed, "Glenn Gould will never be dead."
Somehow I knew that he wasn't talking about the grace or sensitivity with which I delivered my piece.
But I like to think that surely Glenn, in his time, must have uttered a choice word or two.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Liz,
    Just discovered your GG blog today from someone on the F_minor email discussion group on the Rutgers website: (come join if you're so inclined!)
    I'm very much enjoying your casual, personable style and look forward to you sharing your experience of getting to know the great man.
    In particular, I picked this post to comment on because, like you, I've found I really do like to hear Glenn humming along with his music, and he is the only musician of whom that is true. You've expressed it beautifully.
    Now why is it that when Oscar Peterson does the same thing, it drives my up a wall? Well, for one thing, he tends to be a bit more loud, and maybe I'm just not as fond of his jazz as I am of Glenn's sublime Bach.
    One more thing, it seems I'm among the first to comment on your young blog. From what I hear though, most blogs have many more readers than commenters, so don't take it to mean that you're talking to an empty room. I know I'll be here waiting to hear from you again and again!