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GG: Beethoven & Brahms
> How odd...what do you say of Gould's performances of Beethoven's
> sonatas? I am, as many of you know, a big Glenn Gould fan but
> there are
> only certain works of Beethoven where Gould's interpretation
> pleases me.
> The rest are, IMHO, absolutely ridiculous.
> What I mean is, he takes tempos ridiculously fast or slow,
> depending on
> his own feelings about the works and, in many cases, his
> rendering of
> pieces caused me at first to absolutely hate the works until I
> heard more
> convincing interpretations (Richard Goode, for one). (A good
> example is
> Beethoven's Oups 14 #2- the Emajor piano sonata).
> But it seems to me that Gould's interpretations are good for
> much as Stirling's opinions above indicate: that there is a place
> for a
> "new" rendering of musical works, even if the renderings and
> interpretations don't work for one person or the other.
Humour me, as this is my first post to this group. In regards to
Glenn's interpretations of the Beethoven sonatas, I can only speak with any
remote semblance of authority about the second volume the was put out by
Sony Classical. I do not believe that Glenn's interpretations are
necessarily any less valid than any other interpretation. I feel that the
definition of "convincing interpretation" to be a very curious topic.
Although we have some information regarding the performance practice of
Beethoven's era, it is still very unclear how exactly Beethoven would have
performed it, or that he even would have been consistant in his
performances of it (presuming his deafness wasn't an issue).
Taking Stravinski, for example, we have two recorded examples of
his recordings of Petrushka (with him conducting), both of which involve
excellent orchestras and plenty preparation time (I had to do some reading
on this for a 20th century music classic in which I am enrolled). The two
recordings are completely different; all of them are note perfect, but the
tempi are different (on the whole slower in the second as I recall),
certain voices which are more pronounced in one, are less in the other, and
so on. In other words, two COMPLETELY different interpretations. Which is
more valid? The composer was conducting for both, so can we see one is
more convincing than the other? Of course not. Stravinski has every right
to do what he wants with the his music, and no one can say it is wrong or
right, because it is his.
Rachmaninov is another fine example. We have several piano rolls
of his, and, if I am not mistaken, a few bad recordings. We notice that
his tempi and use of rallentando are VERY different than those of
performers today (particularly in the famous c# minor prelude from op 3.
and the gm prelude op 23 no. 5). Was Rachmaninov wrong?
Who is to say that Beethoven wouldn't have taken such liberties
with his music? I don't doubt that he did. And I don't doubt that
performers in his day did as well.
People I have spoken to say, that a "convinincing interpretation"
is one that Beethoven is very likely to have played. How can we possible
reproduce such a reproduction considering we don't even use the same
instruments that Beethoven would have used? Some would argue that this is
a weak arguement, and, although I don't generally consider this side of the
arguement, it is tied in with my lack of consideration for the arguement of
interpretation. If someone were to argue that Richard Goode's
interpretations of Beethoven are more convincing than those of Gould, he
would probably argue the reason for this to be because Goode plays it more
like we believe Beethoven would have played it. Then, would it be fair to
argue that Christopher Hogwood's (or it is Anthony Newman's) recordings on
fortepiano (the instrument that Beethoven would have used) is more
convincing than Goode's just by virtue of the fact that it is more
accurately reproducing the sound that Beethoven would have heard (or shall
I say that his audience would have heard)? To remain consistant, you would
have to answer yes. You could argue that if Beethoven would have had a
choice now to play on a fortepiano or on todays piano he would pick todays
(I don't doubt that either), but I would argue further that he would have
composed things somewhat differently in order to bring out even further
dynamic and harmonic richness which he was simply unable to do with the
fortepianos of his day.
We have no way in knowing what Beethoven's audience would have
heard. We don't even know what qualities in the music to which Beethoven's
audience would have been listening. Remember, we have the comfort of radio
and recordings. We can listen at our leisure to a passage, and freely
ignore the rest, knowing we can rewind or replay the recording. We are
much lazier listeners nowadays. Back then, it was very common for even the
most ignorant of folk to know an instrument, and, naturually, a proficiency
in a medium makes you more sensitive to that medium. Back then, a slightly
talented person would have the ability to improvise off of a theme by ear,
even if they couldn't read music; it was just inherent to the culture. So
an audience of "astute" listeners would be much more sensitive to certain
things than we are (Stravinski, in fact, worries about the same things in
Autobiography). We aren't even the same listeners; I would bet that a very
small percentage of the population can even accurately peck out a
semi-difficult melody without difficulty, much less add the harmony, and
much MUCH less improvise more complex things. Today this is a rare skill
(Robert Levin being my favourite). How can we presume that we are even
listening to the same things that Beethoven's audience would be listening
to. It's simple: we can't.
So to say an interpretation is more convincing is, to me, a
completely benign statement.
That having been long-windedly said, I will continue with Glenn's
Glenn, as we all know, was a "performer" (not necessarily to an
audience of course) who focused very intensely on the counterpoint of
music; that is, the contrapunctal interweaving of voices, and not really
their chordal relationship. Harmony was more a secondary function of voice
leading rather than the focus with voice leading as a secondary aspect;
that is, a more baroque interpretation to a more romantic interpretation.
So, Glenn's performances of Beethoven have a certain, how shall we say,
baroque flavour to it. As a result, his interpretations of Beethoven's
piano sonatas differ greatly from those of the "romantic style" performers
Now, to digress, what makes an interpration valid to me, if
"convincing" is a useless term. To me, an interpretation is valid if the
performer can justify every action that s/he has decided upon. I will give
you an example, although I will refrain from names. A certain very
prestigous string quartet came to our school with a performance, which was
very nice. They subsequently offered a master class, to which music
students (like myself) were invited and encouraged to ask questions. When
questioned about a certain Beethoven quartet that they had performed (I do
not remember which) they responded something to this effect "Well, you guys
probably know more about this quartet than we do, but..." and answered with
something which summed up to "because we FELT it was right," but did not
qualify their feelings with any sort of musical foundtation. This to me is
a not a valid interpretation because even the performers were "unconvinced"
with their interpretation. How can we really be convinced that the
feelings of these performers reflect anything about Beethoven?
You probably noticed my use of the word convinced above, and are
probably think that something hypocritical is following, so to avoid this I
will explain what I mean. In one of Glenn's letters (to John Roberts, a
musical producer at CBC Radio, dated Feb 15, 1957) he writes:
[The three late Beethoven Sonatas] have received both exravagent
devastating condemnation. I can only say that those alterations of
tempo indication with which I too licence were the result, not of
whims, but of
rather careful scrutiny of the scores and bear, up to the moment at
any rate, an
optimistic conviction...I cannot claim that it is the most
that I have made. However, I do feel, if only as a personal
manifesto, it is the
Here Glenn has said more clearly than I could have explained the
difference between convincing and convinced. Convinced refers to how
strongly the performer feels and justifies his musical choices, which in
the case of the Beethoven sonatas (the Appasionata excepted) Glenn has a
musical justification of his reasons. This makes his performance far more
a valid interpretation than, for example, the quartet who visited our
Do I prefer Glenn's to Goode's? That is irrelevant to convinced;
it is completely subjective and unrelated to interpretation. I feel that
Glenn brings out something that Goode certainly doesn't, and vice versa.
Ok. I know you have heard enough.
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That is modulation!
Anton Webern, from "Towards New Music"
"The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of
adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of
a state of wonder serenity."