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Re: GG's playing "erotic" ? (long)

 aq094@lafn.org (Eugene Selig) writes:

>I have never read any review or analysis calling GG's playing "erotic."<

This is an interesting subject, and I'd like to add a little information.  I
think perhaps what Mary Jo meant was not that the *sound* of Gould's playing,
his pianism, was erotic, but rather that certain of his habitual physical
mannerisms when playing were evocative of that specific type of sensuality.
 It's true enough that no contemporary reviews from Gould's concert years
specifically use the word "erotic"  (though the New York Times did make
reference to Gould's "con amore" air during performance), but I would guess
there might be a twofold reason for that;  firstly, in the 1950s and early
1960s, sex (in all of its manifestations, even a tangential one like this)
was not commonly discussed publicly (which doesn't mean it was not noticed; a
letter from a female fan to Gould written in that era begins "Dear Glenn;
 You make love to the piano, and it is a beautiful sight to see...")
  Secondly, most music critics, and later, those analyzing Gould's
recordings,  would have confined themselves to a discussion of Gould's actual
playing (most often characterized as "cool" or "controlled", rather than
sensual, as Mr. Selig pointed out) instead of delving into a dissection of
his platform expressions.  His mannerisms were indeed very frequently
mentioned, but only in the sense of their impact on the musical performance
(thus the endless complaints about how "distracting" and "irritating" they
were.)  Newspaper critics would not commonly have analyzed these mannerisms
in depth for the clues they might provide to Gould's state of mind when
playing, since this fell outside of their purview (which mainly consisted of
answering the question "How was the concert last night?")  Later  works on
Gould, especially posthumous ones written by authors with access to the
treasure trove of his personal papers (unavailable during his life) at the
National Library of Canada, have addressed the subject of his ambiguous
sexuality and personal life, as well as his "erotic" connection to music, in
some detail.

For instance, Geoffrey Payzant's book "Glenn Gould; Music and Mind" (written
while Gould was alive)  analyzes in detail Gould's "musical ecstasy",
 identifying it as an "exaltation" and a "self-forgetfulness" with some
components of narcissism (this suggested by Gould himself.)  However, Payzant
offers no thoughts on this ecstasy as substitute for more conventional
romantic or sexual expression;  it's worth noting, though,  that narcissism,
in its root myth and its psychological use, is an autoerotically charged
term.  Gould himself is more emphatic about the connection, referring
frequently to the act of playing as a "love affair", and, (in a reported
conversation about sex with a bassoonist acquaintance) saying "My music is my

The reflections of one contributor to Otto Friedrich's posthumous book, a
woman who knew Gould rather well, went beyond half-joking references to this
aspect of his physical mannerisms.  Janet Somerville, who produced "The Idea
of North", said "When you watch him playing the piano on television, that
sort of thing is pretty clearly woven into what he's doing.  I mean,
sexuality can be very deeply engaged in a lot of things other than sexual
intercourse, and it certainly is engaged in making music... Glenn had it to
an unusual degree."   Later, she elaborates; "...(H)is physical reaction to
beautiful sound, to making beautiful sound... was so strong that I wanted to
look away, sometimes... I felt sometimes that I was crossing that fine line
of voyeurism."

>The problem with the comment that GG's playing was "erotic" misses the 
>point: it was his complete involvement with music, including a physical 
>response. This response has been expressed by other musicians, including 
>the violinist Midori, the soprano Cecilia Bartolli, and others. They each 
>said essentially the same thing: that music gave them fulfillment that 
>obviated the necessity for any other physical "satisfaction."

Mary Jo's comment on "eroticism", rather than missing the point, actually
addresses it.  Gould, as well as the other performers Mr. Selig mentions,
expressed the sense that this "fulfillment", this "physical response",
"obviated the necessity for any other physical 'satisfaction'."   In other
words, it fulfilled (one assumes to a greater or  lesser extent for each
individual) the need that in most people is commonly assuaged by sex or
romantic love... therefore, for these artists, the music is, in some way,
serving an erotic function, though it is not merely an analogue for sex.
 That idea alone is bound to make this subject interesting to the vast
majority of us, though it is only loosely connected with the most important
aspect of the performer, his or her music;  it is relevant because we all at
one time or another wonder where the ability, the talent, in some cases the
genius of these musicians springs from...  we wonder what fuels the creative
drive, and we attempt to investigate the source of the genius, and in
considering this specific aspect of music, we begin to find a partial answer.

In Gould's particular case (as I have mentioned before in posts to the list)
 the "eroticism" of his physical aspect when playing tends to draw attention
because his personality and his musicianship threw this facet of his relation
to music, his physical response to it, into sharper relief .  He was
frequently quoted about his "puritanical" viewpoints, and seemed to carry
them through to his private life (which appeared nearly monastic.)  His
mannered, guarded mode of expressing himself in public conversation, and his
need for control in these relations (to the extent of scripting questions and
answers, as was his habit) were fairly well known to the general public;
 thus the surprise and occasional embarassment of some at the sight of this
very restrained man responding with such uninhibited passion to music, and
responding in a way that, for most of us, has very specific associations
which have little or nothing to do with pianos!  True enough, many of us
watching Gould play on tape or on television are not musicians, "red-blooded"
or otherwise (and I must say in passing that I fail to grasp what validity
"acknowledgement" lends to a musical gift);  thus we have no other frame of
reference to try to understand this ecstasy of Gould's than the one common to
most of humanity, that of sex.   I would venture that most people only
infrequently  experience ecstasy of the mystic and intensely pleasurable kind
that is evident in Gould's expressions and body language when he plays;
though it can be produced by other appeals to the senses, for the majority
pleasure of that extreme pitch is de facto of a sexual nature.  The alchemy
that produced this ecstasy for Gould (apparently nearly every time he sat
down at a piano) from the playing of music is indeed difficult for a layman
to understand, and thus is noticed, commented on and discussed.  The
appropriateness of this curiosity is another matter (if Glenn Gould had been
happily married with three or four children, no doubt any amount of his
"erotic mannerisms" when playing the piano would have gone largely
unremarked), but this is not a prurient or shallow inquisitiveness, by and
large; it is entirely understandable, in the context of Gould's genius for
music,  and certainly is not unexpected (nor is it, in my opinion,

It's a subject we have batted around on this list before.... anyone else care
to add any thoughts?