The world is catching up with Glenn Gould

April 10, 2009

Posted by Nick Sarno


Forty-five years ago, Glenn Gould gave his last public performance. He was only thirty-one years old at the time, and he would spend the rest of his life making music only in the recording studio. He foresaw a time when technology would allow people to fashion their own interpretations of pieces of music in their own homes, speeding up or slowing down tempos, splicing together different performances, remixing, mashing up. Michael Hiltzik of the LA Times writes:

Forty-five years ago this week, the great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould stepped off the stage of the Wilshire Ebell Theatre and became the prophet of a new technology.

Gould’s act was an act of omission, not commission. That April 10, 1964, recital in the Los Angeles hall was the last concert he ever gave — a forsaking of the tradition of public performance that was unprecedented for such a young (31) and eminent interpreter of Bach and Beethoven.

I thought this milestone of Southern California cultural history worth revisiting not only because Glenn Gould happens to be one of my personal heroes, but also because his vision of music and the music business has been so thoroughly validated over the years.

For Gould’s withdrawal from the concert stage did not mean his withdrawal from the music world. Rather, it enhanced his stature in that world, making him an inspiration for the digital recording era.

Over the following two decades, until his untimely death in 1982 at the age of 50, he released scores of albums, in some cases exploring a repertoire he would never have dared to present onstage — modern atonal and pre-Baroque music alike. He developed recording and performance styles aimed at an audience granted unprecedented control over what it heard and how it listened.

The public recital, he predicted, would fade away, supplanted by a purely individual interaction between listener and artist — an outcome he welcomed. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Gould saw recording not simply as a means to document performances, but also as a way to fashion new interpretations.

He foresaw how listeners would be able to compile their own programs via technology and even alter existing performances. “Dial twiddling,” he held, is “an interpretive act.”

As he wrote in 1966, “forty years ago the listener had the option of flicking a switch inscribed ‘on’ and ‘off.’ . . . Today, the variety of controls made available to him requires analytical judgment.”

Those controls were only a hint of the future he imagined.


Read the rest here. But before you do, prepare to have your mind blown:


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