Not as Good as Gold 

(from Kevin Michael Grace, first published in Newsmagazine (National Edition)

1955 and 1981 accounts of the Goldberg Variations
Was Glenn Gould a descendant of Edvard Grieg? Rick Phillips retells the legend in the August Gramophone. The pianist's mother, Florence Greig, said so, but as the late Peter Ostwald notes in Glenn Gould: The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Genius, "The Greigs always were very proud of their Scottish-Presbyterian background, but they had difficulty tracing it, and the line to the composer was never as clear as Flora and her devoted son Glenn wanted it to be."

Canadians will hear the legend often this month, the 70th anniversary of Gould's birth. It is harmless enough in itself but illustrates a larger problem: the mystification that Gould indulged in and his acolytes perpetuate. For example, writes Ostwald, Gould was born not Gould but Gold, "and all of his early concert programs bear the name 'Glenn Gold,' a fact completely ignored in every book and article so far written about him." More serious is the false legend that Gould was a saintly aesthete--not only that, but "warm and fun, far from anti-social," as Stephen Posen, his executor, tells Mr. Phillips.
Das wohltemperierte Klavier, Book I

Gould wrote, "Gustav Mahler was a very nasty man blithely indifferent to "the fragility of any ego other than his own." Anyone who has read the bitter memoir of his former producer, Andrew Kazdin, or Ostwald's highly sympathetic biography, will know that in describing Mahler, Gould was describing himself. Gould discarded his friends, colleagues and minders like so many used tissues; he forced his father (a furrier who paid a fortune for his musical education) to abandon his favourite pastime, fishing, because it offended him; he preferred dogs to people and said so; he was gross, slovenly, a drug abuser of rock-star proportions and a hysterical hypochondriac to boot; and his favoured mode of social intercourse was the interminable telephone call, which resulted invariably with his respondent waking up exhausted and seedy on the couch to discover their lector still rabbiting away.

Charles Rosen, Goldberg Variations
Gould is a Sacred Monster, but he was merely a performer whose achievement is dwarfed by that of any number of giants, including Mahler. His beloved "eccentricities" serve only to perpetuate the "ever-popular tortured-artist effect." (Compare the rigorously objective performance style of Horowitz.) Gould's wilful CDs are besmirched by his groaning voice and squeaking chair, and they sound like they were recorded in a cardboard box. Who plays better Bach on the piano? Try Hewitt, Perahia, Schiff, Argerich, Kempff, Tureck or Brendel. Who to listen to in the Goldbergs? Try Charles Rosen's fine (and ridiculously inexpensive) version on Sony Classical.

Newsmagazine (National Edition); 9/23/2002, Vol. 29 Issue 18, p25, 1p, 1bw

This get's really interesting when the responses come in. Attacking Gould will rattle Gould-fanatics anywhere - but do it in Canada - as a Canadian - and it ammounts to treason. I personally like some Gould, understand those who love him and those who hate him. To loosely paraphrase from Mel Brook's movie "To Be or Not to Be": "He did to Beethoven what we (the Germans) did to Poland!"


"I never think I have hit hard, unless it rebounds," said Dr. Johnson; and considering the mail it provoked, my recent piece on Glenn Gould was a palpable hit. I was somewhat taken aback by the vehemence of the response, as I had failed to understand that criticism of the great man was akin to treason.

Treason? Fred Stubbings writes, "I find it hard to believe that a Canadian would take such a cheap shot at a fellow Canadian that has earned such a wide reputation all over the world for his genius." But Mr. Stubbings, I don’t appraise artists based on their nationality. As you admit, Gould has earned "such a wide reputation all over the world." So he doesn’t need me to lay offerings at his shrine; the Gould cult will continue to flourish quite nicely without my support. Besides, ever mindful of my Cancon duty; I did promote Angela Hewitt as an alternative. (As I would have done regardless of the colour of her passport.)

Mr. Stubbings accuses me of ignorance: "One would think that a person with so little knowledge of the subject could keep his opinions to himself." As it turns out, I know rather a lot about Gould. I own 20 of his CDs. Mostly J.S. Bach, of course, but also Bizet, the Elizabethans, Grieg, Haydn, Sibelius, Richard Strauss and Wagner. (No Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms—I’m not a masochist.) I have read the books by Jonathan Cott, Otto Friedrich, Andrew Kazdin, Peter Ostwald and Geoffrey Payzant, plus a coffee-table book with a forward by Herbert von Karajan, the title of which escapes me. I’ve read Gould’s own essays, heard his radio plays and watched his CBC shows and his documentary, Glenn Gould’s Toronto. It’s not a question of ignorance.

Betty Trueman takes the "Great wit is oft’ to madness near allied" line on Gould. She writes:

I don’t see Kevin Michael Grace or any other Gould-basher advocating the boycott of the music of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms or Schumann because they were anti-social, weird, possessing of a serious dark side or mentally ill. Glenn Gould was autistic, for heaven’s sake.

Autistic? Ostwald, the psychiatrist and musician who was Gould’s friend and medical consultant, has the best response to that: "Glenn obviously did not suffer from this disease. Had he been autistic, the remarkable success he had in a public career would have been impossible." Ostwald speculates that Gould might have suffered from Asperger disease, but he does not release him from moral considerations, for instance, "the precipitous dropping of old friends when he thought they were no longer of any use to him." Ms. Trueman also accuses me of believing a preference for animals over people a moral failing. Guilty as charged.

And no, I don’t advocate the boycott of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms or Schumann or any other artist because of his personal failings. ...
==>> Continue reading this review.

András Schiff, Golderg Variations
Angela Hewitt, French Suites
MurrayPerahia, Goldberg Variations (SACD)
Rosalyn Tureck, Partitas

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