Last month, as I was returning home from a quick trip to Bellingham, I heard Glenn Gould’s extraordinary recording of Bach’s Italian Concerto on my favorite radio station: KING-FM in Seattle. I had first heard this record when I was in high school, but it had been many years since I last heard it. I had forgotten how jaunty the first movement sounds under his fingers, how brooding and introspective the second, how uninhibitedly joyful the third. But it all came back in a moment, and I knew right away that I wanted to feature it on this blog.
To my great delight, I found that not only was there a video on YouTube of Gould playing the Italian Concerto, but this video was part of a lengthy documentary that chronicles the recording of the very performance I knew and loved, and offers some fascinating glimpses of Gould the man.
Born in Toronto in 1932, Gould’s musical gifts were manifest at a young age. He enjoyed a brilliant – though unusually short – concert career, before forsaking the concert stage at the age of 31 to focus on making records. He recorded extensively, and by the time of his untimely death at age 50, enjoyed world-wide popularity and critical acclaim.
What set Gould apart from other pianists was his exceptional individuality. I suspect that he had something of the provocateur in his nature, and have often wondered if as a young man he didn’t make a pact with himself never to play a piece if he couldn’t bring something new and unexpected to the performance. His repertoire, though it included much standard fare, also included a great deal that had been neglected. His tempi were often much slower or faster than other pianists’, and his interpretations were regularly characterized as eccentric.
Nevertheless, his playing always displayed absolute conviction, and his interpretations stand up very well to the test of time. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Italian Concerto by Bach, which I consider definitive.