Friday, September 18, 2009

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

Hello all!

To give a quick report on the new documentary that screened at TIFF this week - Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould - I am happy to report that this will likely become the gauge by which we measure the quality of future films about Gould.  It is a brilliant and highly accurate piece of work, in that the many interviews conducted, were done with those who were closest to Gould.  The Foss family is absolutely delightful, and one really gets a sense of how much of Gould's public facade was just that.  While the film is not just about his relationships with women, namely Cornelia Foss, it does make up a good portion.  And rightly so, because never before have we been able to see this other side of Gould.  There are some incredible pictures AND footage which has never been seen before.  The film does not sensationalize anything or anyone, nor does it perpetuate the myth of him being a recluse who wears winter clothing in the summer.  Gould definitely had issues with being in control, and totally knew what he was doing in creating his own image.  Let's face it, we all still buy into it to some extent.  This film goes beyond that, as I said, and shows us a side that has not yet been revealed.  We need to know this side existed, not to be nosy or anything, but more importantly, to have an accurate conception of who he was and what he was about.  It's a brilliant film and you all MUST see it!  It's worth it for the interviews alone, never mind the footage.  I particularly liked the interviews with Lorne Tulk, Kevin Bazzana and Pet Clark.  Yes, she's in it too!

On a side note, we were informed that the film will be in theatres across Canada very soon, and also that an American company has purchased the rights to show it in that country (not sure about overseas).  I believe that company will be announced shortly.  In the US, the film will show in about 30 different cities.  Back here in Canada, a shortened version of the film will air on Valentine's day, on the Bravo! network. As for when it comes out on DVD, I have been advised by the Estate that it likely won't be for at least another 6 months.  Indeed, something to look forward to!

Best wishes from Toronto!
Penny Johnson (Contributing Author, The Glenn Gould Foundation)
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Monday, September 07, 2009

New Horizons

Glenn Gould once said that he would stop playing the piano at the age of fifty. This happened in fact—just not in the way that he had in mind. The idea was that he would then move on to some other pursuit. Probably conducting, or further explorations in documentary radio production.

This is what you would expect. But I think it would have been interesting if GG had branched out in completely new directions. He certainly had the opportunities, if not necessarily the inclination, to do any number of things. Here's a few of the alternative occupations I would have liked to see GG try out, at least.

1.) Jazz Musician. Gould was an awesome improviser in the manner of the great composers of yore. But he said he was not cut out to be a jazz musician, claiming that he had no sense of swing. I don't doubt it. Gould had a few jazz records in his collection, focusing on pianists who were either really virtuosic like Oscar Peterson, or more cerebral like Lennie Tristano. Gould was telephone friends with Bill Evans and the two of them have sometimes been been compared to each other, kind of in the sense of being jazz vs. classical versions of the same guy.

Anyway, I think it would have been cool if Gould was just thrown in feet-first into the middle of something like Miles Davis' electric band from the late 60's with no preparation or time to think about it. Just go. It would have been way out of his comfort zone but eventually I bet it would have produced good results.

2.) News Announcer. Gould actually almost did this. I was reading about it somewhere. He was at the CBC studio and the news announcer couldn't go on for some reason. Gould was the only person around at the time who was prepared to go on mic, so he volunteered. He got as far as actually having the papers in hand and getting ready to go into the broadcast booth when, at the last second, a replacement announcer was brought in. I think it would have been cool if Gould decided to take the gig and make it his new full-time job.

3.) Variety-Show Host. In the 60's and 70's, variety shows were big TV. In those days there were only a few channels, so network executives figured that to get the biggest audiences you should make a show that had a little something for everybody. Hence, the variety show, usually featuring some combination of music and comedy. Various musicians or comedians had their own shows at one time or another: The Smothers Brothers, Glen Campbell, The Jackson 5, Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie, and the list goes on and on . . .

I imagine that The Glenn Gould Music and Comedy Hour would most closely resemble The Carol Burnett Show, with a focus on sketch comedy featuring recurring characters, interspersed occasionally with music performances. On this show Gould would develop and expand his existing repertoire of comedy characters like Karlheinz Klopfmeister (or whatever) and Myron Chianti. There would be a regular cast of performers as well. It would be cool if the guys from Goin' Down the Road were on it.

There would be music on the show but Gould would not perform it, and it would not be classical either. It would be stuff like Ann Murray, or The Guess Who.

Apparently, Gould actually wanted to do more comedy for the CBC, but the producers discouraged him because they thought his performances weren't very funny. If so it would be the only known case of the CBC rejecting a comedy idea on the grounds that it wasn't funny enough.

4.) Game-Show Host. I believe Gould would have made a good host for a show like Jeopardy although I'm not sure why. I also think he would have been an okay panelist on Hollywood Squares, or What's My Line? But, being Canadian, he would most likely have ended up as a panelist on Front Page Challenge, which would have been best suited to his personality, but also very boring.

5.) Stock-Car Racer. Gould should have looked into this since, apparently, he drove like that anyway.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Guest Blogger - Kamila Dameron

This is the next post in The Contrapuntal Blog Guest Blogger Series. The purpose is to showcase some of the worlds most passionate and creative Gould fans' creations through photo, video and writing.

Kamila Dameron is a 20 year old student in Seattle majoring in English and Journalism. She is a closet pianist, and has studied on and off for nearly 15 years. Contact Kamila:
The Invisible Artist

Thomas Mann once wrote something to the effect of “The piano is not an instrument on which to learn a skill, but rather music.” In our highly competitive, commercialized society, music, like most things, is being used as a means to an end. Conservatories and private teachers pump out Wunderkinder by the thousands, competitions establish who is surely going to end up with a record deal with Sony Classical, and eighteen-year-old violinists tour the world with their Kreislers and Mendelssohns and Dvořáks. Is this how we want to treat music? As a self-affirming tool, a spotlight for our egos? Granted, numerous gifted artists are discovered this way, too. However, the atmosphere is eerie; it is one of competition, one wherein the Self is more highly regarded than the art which one is propelling. Glenn Gould, in theory, would agree.

“The purpose of art is not the momentary ejection of adrenaline, but rather the lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity” (Gould). With wonder there comes a sense of smallness, a sense of being a part of something bigger; the Self is no longer the Universe, but a humble servant of its symmetries. I often find myself turning off the radio in a fit of frustration, for it seems all I hear these days are bloated performances of Chopin etudes and ballades, Take-No-Prisoners-Beethoven string quartets and German symphonies for whose interpretations the conductor had a few too many “Original Ideas.” As an antidote, I’d put on a recording of Glenn Gould, who, irrespective of his humming, had the rare gift of making himself invisible. Leonard Bernstein once said, “I'm not interested in having an orchestra sound like itself. I want it to sound like the composer.” Are we so desperate to be remembered, in a country whose arts have been ravaged by war and commercialism, that we are willing to shove Beethoven aside and say, “Look at me, look at me”? Has it gotten to the point where any sixteen-year-old pianist who can play Prokofiev without missing a note is a virtuoso artist—even though, in most cases but not all, the student hasn’t the emotional capital to understand what he is playing?

I propose we all skip a few piano lessons and listen to Glenn Gould. He said once that you could learn technique in five minutes. It’s the giving one’s self up to the music, as a servant and not a star, that makes it genuine. Music should teach us that the universe is impossibly infinite, not that we are the masters of it. As a young pianist, I used to get violently nervous about performing and piano lessons, because the music was directly attached to my ego and self-esteem. But with time and isolation from the mainstream world of music education, I was lucky enough to put myself away and pay attention to what the music wanted to say, as opposed to what I wanted to say. One might argue that Glenn Gould, in his seemingly eccentric interpretations (tempi, etc) was being selfish; but I see him as a man exploring all the possible angles of a work, simply because it is an injustice not to explore them. A fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier is a capital example. In his “official” recording of the WTC, the fugue no. 9 in E Major from book two (BWV 878) is a triumphant exclamation, whereas in a stray recording of the same fugue (year unknown to me), it is “reserved,” placid, filled with reflection and wisdom. This polarity is Bachian, for it seems in his music there lie the equations for divinity, no matter the tempo. Gould took full advantage of this, providing us with a multidimensional Bach. Though it may have been Gouldian to explore extremes, I would argue that it was his desire to portray as many true versions of music as possible, for music’s sake and not his own.

I don’t expect that many will share my form of pessimism about the modern music scene, and maybe they shouldn’t, for maybe it is not productive—but I long for the days when music was about music, and where people like Glenn Gould dedicated their lives to doing right by it.
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