Glenn Gould's Bach --
f_minor postings by Bradley Lehman

I am a fan of Glenn Gould, yet his interpretations of Bach are often thoroughly unconventional. How do I reconcile these recordings with my own interpretations on harpsichord, organ, and clavichord? (My doctoral degree is in harpsichord.)

The following links are to some of my postings in the Gould discussion group "f_minor." I have participated in this group since 1995. The links are to the public archives. More information about the archives is here.

The discussions cover a variety of topics related to Gould, but frequently come around to the same types of questions:

  • "What do you think of Gould's different recordings of the Goldberg Variations?"
  • "How is Gould's recording of the Art of Fugue?"
  • "How was Gould on harpsichord?"
  • "Which are the best of Gould's Bach recordings?"
I've expressed my opinions along these lines many times, somewhat differently every time according to the discussion, but I thought it might be useful to group these postings together for reference whenever the same questions come up again. (And again and again.)

It is also useful to see the discussion context around each message: click the "Date Index" link inside the message. My postings are often reactions to other people's postings, and make most sense when read in that context. Others have valuable opinions and reactions, too, and these come out during the discussions.

Goldberg Variations, BWV 988

30 Jul 1997 - Dislike of the 1981 because Gould plays too evenly and it's not graceful

5 Sep 1997 - 1959 has best flow, 1981 too intellectual and tight

11 Sep 1997 - My most detailed survey of all four: 1954, 1955, 1959, order of preference is 1959, 1955, 1954, 1981

6 Apr 1998 - Common myths about the Goldbergs and other Bach works

9 Apr 1998 - Why the Goldbergs would not work on clavichord

15 Jun 1998 - A poem by Jean Janzen inspired by Gould's 1955 recording of the Goldbergs

5 Aug 1998 - Printed editions of the Goldbergs

11 Jan 1999 - A reference back to my 11 Sep 1997 survey

11 Feb 2000 - How many tracks on the 1981 CD: one or 32?

13 Feb 2000 - Salzburg recital (1959) details

10 Jul 2000 - More of my enthusiasm for the Salzburg 1959 as the best

13 Jul 2000 - The Salzburg concert program performed on other occasions

4 May 2001 - Questions to help listeners decide what they might want in a Gould recording of the Goldbergs....

8 May 2001 - Desert island choice, the 1959 Salzburg recital

19 Nov 2001 - Gould's four recordings compared against some other piano recordings of the Goldbergs...and enthusiasm for a recent recording by Zhu Xiao-Mei

Art of Fugue, BWV 1080

(I will add these links later on another trip through the archives....)

Gould playing Handel on harpsichord

(Ditto, I've had quite a few things to say about that Wittmayer and the way Gould imposed himself on it with no harpsichord training...)

13 Jul 2000: GG and the harpsichord

Gould's Bach from different parts of his career

11 Sep 1997 - (...) "I think that the [1981 recording] is not really a performance of the Goldberg Variations, the piece by Bach; it's a performance of some other piece about GG, happening during the time period in which all the notes of the Goldberg Variations get played. As a portrait of GG's mind, though, I suppose this performance is 'successful' as a different kind of art." (...)

1 Oct 1997 - How much should a Bach player put his/her own personality into the interpretation?

Amazon.Com review 14 Feb 2001 of Gould's recording of the Bach Toccatas: "(...) If I sound rough on Gould in my disenchantment with these performances, at least it's consistent: I think all his solo Bach recorded before 1970 is marvelous, but then it dropped off quickly after that. His style went around the bend there in the 1970's. It changed from 'Bach's music as played by Glenn Gould' to 'Glenn Gould's didactic ideas about Bach.' It seemed that he stopped trusting Bach's ability to make points on his own. He started coloring the music with heavy fluorescent markers rather than simply playing it. Cerebral dissection replaced straightforward joy and physical expression. Naturally dynamic phrasing and articulation went out the window. Artifice replaced art. Recorded over a span of 16 years, this set of the Toccatas is a microcosm of those changes in Gould's approach to Bach. He sounds like four different people here: one with a naturally musical style and a sense of fun playing Bach, but the other three too concerned with being Glenn Gould. (...)"

(more links to be added later....)