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Beatles and Chopin

Hi All.
    I dug out my copy of Jonathan Cott last night and, indeed, there is
a lengthy section in which Cott tries to pin Gould down on his dislike
for the Beatles.  Gould dodges the question by going off in all sorts of
directions.  First, he claims that his piece on Petula Clark in which he
makes his unfavourable comments on the Beatles was something he worked
on for 6 months and takes the form of a "sort of Spiegelbild," much like
Webern's Variations for Piano, first movement.  Further pressed on the
Beatles, he replies:  "I have to say that I was appalled then, as I am
now, by what the Beatles did to pop music.  I recall that Ned Rorem once
said that they were the best tune-writers since Schubert, or something
of that sort.  It was very au courant to say that kind of thing at the
time I wrote my article, and I was really so outraged by this point of
view, which I could not and cannot understand, that I felt that somebody
had to debate this Rorem-esque theory, however indirectly."  He follows
up on this comment with a digression on a comment made by Mussorgsky
about Mendelssohn, the gist of which appears to be that Mendelssohn
lacked soul.  He then gets to a substantive criticism which is of rock
music in general, rather than the Beatles in general, and that is the
way in which the vocal line is mixed down and lost in the wash of the
rock sound.  He also objects to the lack of dynamic variation in rock
music:  it is recorded at one level and that level is loud.  In effect,
the Beatles simply represent for him the rise to dominance of rock music
within pop music.  He admits that the Beatles did not originate this,
but their incredible critical success legitimated it, and, as a result,
all other forms of pop music disappeared from the scene (only to
reappear lately with the rediscovery of crooners like Bennett, or new
artists like Gonnick, or the new interest in swing).  In fact, the
Beatles were probably the only rock group Gould knew anything about, so
he let them, perhaps unfairly, stand for all that was wrong with it.
Basically, the music lacked complexity.  It was a wash of sound; inner
voices either did not exist or were impossible to identify clearly.  It
did not as music appeal to the intellect; it was structurally
simplistic.  Clark, we remember, recorded in French as well as English.
She harked back to the French chanteuse tradition and the era of the big
bands which was the high point of pop music for Gould.  Finally, he
says, "I cannot bear assaults of any kind, and it seems to me that the
Beatles were essentially out to affront and assault."  He asserts that
when all the hype is cut away, all that is left to the Beatles' music is
three chords, and "if what you want is an extended exercise in how to
mangle 3 chords, then obviously the Beatles are for you."  He finishes
by suggesting that the classical composer he would compare the Beatles
to is Berio.

I also dug out an interview done by Bob Doerschuk with Pogorelich
published in the May 1986 issue of Keyboard.  Pogorelich mentions in the
interview that "in the '60's you (America) had a pianist who had no
equal in Europe:  Byron Janis."  He laments the lack of attention Janis
got, although that perhaps is being corrected.
Of Gould he comments:  "The tragedy of Glenn Gould is that was one of
the brightest and most talented people born in this century.  He could
have become a unique value in art, but he never did.  He was born to
perform.  The gap between his natural gifts and his low-level education
led him to the crucial mistakes that eventually killed him.  He was
totally sidetracked."  As I understand him, he is saying that Gould
lacked both a good, formal academic education which would have opened
his mind and imagination to other cultures and ideas; and he lacked
higher musical education with a truly outstanding teacher who would have
been in a position to force him to play and think about Chopin,
Beethoven and Mozart more seriously.  Instead, Gould formed an early
dislike of these composers, wrote witty put-downs of them, and was never
forced by a serious musician to re-examine his thoughts.  He did, after
all, avoid contact with other professional  musicians.  His only
teachers were his mother and Albert Guerrero, and good as the latter
was, Gould probably needed to leave Toronto to study with someone else
for a while.  Pogorelich also seems to think that the experience of
performing live, with audience feedback and praise, would also have
encouraged Gould to tackle and appreciate other composers.
In The Romantic Generation, Charles Rosen describes Chopin as the
greatest master of counterpoint since Bach and Mozart.  He warmed up for
a concert by playing preludes and fugues from WTC.  Why did Gould reject
Mozart and Chopin given his love of Bach and Schoenberg?  Why did he
gravitate to the romantics who were not masters of counterpoint?  There
is something illogical about his dislike of Chopin.  Perhaps it is
because Chopin meant Rubenstein in his youth, or Horowitz, neither of
whom he liked.  But one senses that Gould might have been intellectually
insecure and once having made a judgment was reluctant to change it.
And he so arranged things that he would never have to be challenged in
these judgments.  He liked to challenge others, but did not himself like
to be challenged.  We should be content with what he did with Bach
alone; why should he have been a master of Chopin as well?  Still, the
dislike is strange.  And Murray Periaha, as well as Pogorelich, show
that Chopin interpreters can be great Bach interpreters and vice versa.
Asked about Gould's influence on him, Pogorelich says that when he first
heard the three-part inventions he was astonished.  "There was so much
beauty, and so much movement toward that beauty.  That recording made me
believe that there was somebody living in Canada who could discover a
great deal of philosophy and beauty in Bach.  I took it as a spark of
genius."  But later recordings disappointed him.  "I knew what the
problem was.  I pity him.  The loss of Glenn Gould is so big to me
personally.  If he was given the chance that I had to respect another
musician enough to be able to learn, to take what is given in such a
generous way, to adopt it, and to try to live up to that standard, he
would have benefitted.  That's why I say there is no such thing as a
self-made man."  (Pogorelich thinks that genius is born, but it must be
trained and nurtured and developed.  Gould was born a genius, but lacked
the second part of the equation).
Finally, though, Pogorelich says that his recording of two of the
English suites was the fulfillment of a dream he had had since 13 when
he first heard the Bach recordings if Glenn Gould.

I would add some comments on why the Beatles are infinitely superior to
the Beach Boys, but I'll save that for another day.

    Allan MacLeod