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GG: Rosen on GG and Horowitz; Dubal

On Mon, 25 Oct 1999, Allan MacLeod wrote:

> The Rosen article in the New York Review that has been discussed already
> several times is worth looking at for many reasons.  I found the
> discussion on what exactly "touch" means quite enlightening.  But some
> of Rosen's ideas might also explain why Gould's fame seems to continue
> to increase while so many of his contemporaries seem to be becoming
> forgotten.  Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me that Gould and
> Horowitz were the two titans of North American pinao playing in
> mid-century and that Horowitz is being relegated to the museum whereas
> Gould continues to live.  The reason, I think, is that Gould gave up
> performing in public for good and thus concentrated on recording
> performances that would be valued for their sound and not the theatrics
> of the performance. 

I agree with you if I get to substitute the word "individuality" for
"sound" in your last sentence.  :)  GG's playing has that quality that
compels us to go hear GG's interpretive opinions about every piece he did
(we collect the records because they're of GG...i.e., it matters to us
that GG specifically is playing them, rather than merely a highly skilled
anonymous recreative performer).  GG's interpretations are
thought-provoking; his performances were so often *about* the pieces
rather than *of* the pieces.  We're there to hear GG's analytical ideas at
least as much as to hear the music.  GG was able to parlay his star
individuality into a huge [record-buying] audience draw.  It's
theatricality itself.  "Come hear GG do something that will
surprise/astonish you!!!"  The fact that this is on a disc rather than in
a live concert is only a minor detail.

Another observation: GG was also aided by having *one* well-distributed
recording company for almost all his career; Horowitz, Richter, and many
others recorded on so many different labels that it's hard to assemble a
coherent collection of their work.

I was doing some spot reading yesterday in the recent (1997) 2nd edition
of _Reflections from the Keyboard_ by David Dubal...45 interviews with
various pianists.  I noticed from the index that the 20th C pianists most
talked about by Dubal and the *other* pianists were: Horowitz, Gould,
Rubinstein, Rachmaninoff, Schnabel, R Serkin, Hofmann, and Richter.  
Cortot, Fischer, and Gieseking had slightly fewer mentions, but still more
than everybody else.  Schiff and David Bar-Illan had particularly nice
things to say about GG, having worked with him personally.  (Imagine the
scene: Andras Schiff and Gidon Kremer by private invitation watching GG
films with GG in GG's studio, and GG going through Schiff's Goldbergs in
detail with him!)

GG's own interview in this book is about physical technique and [not]
practicing; it's more a GG essay than an interview, as there are few
questions from Dubal.  There's a facsimile page showing GG's answers as he
drafted them longhand.

Gyorgy Sandor has some interesting things to say here about the huge
differences in playing for recordings vs playing live.  "...Competition
playing and recording have very real similarities.  Both demand a degree
of standardization.  When recording a composition, an excessively
individual rubato or phrasing may be enjoyed the first time, but by the
tenth time the listener will be irritated with it.  So there can be no
very interesting rubatos or lingering pauses, which are so important in a
live performance, where the visual and acoustic elements justify these
nuances.  Similarly, during concert performance one's touch can be unique
and varied, but on records one's touch is homogenized by the recording
equipment.  From the studio to the miking to the Dolby to the master tape
and the pressing--not to mention the editing--we are far from the live
performance. (...) One must cultivate two different kinds of
interpretation.  These two modes of performance have very little in
common.  We also have to overcome the myth that we can get the real truth
from recording 'live' performance.  There's no mike that can take the
extreme ranges without distortion of some kind.  There's nothing I hate
more than being given a tape of one of my live performances.  It's
inevitably awful."

GG of course went ahead against this standardization anyway and made
recordings that have the individuality of live performance.  He knew they
would be listened to and talked about *because of* this effort against
standardization.  He was right.  Again, theatricality.  Many of us would
rather listen to GG's personalization of something a dozen times than to a
more straightforward standardized recording a dozen times.  Ditto with
listening to Gieseking, Cortot, and Rachmaninoff: they bring personality
that is still fresh after the dozenth time hearing the record.  Is that
true of Horowitz, recorded either live or in the studio?  (I'd say

I picked up a few extra copies of this Dubal book (new) when I bought this
at an overstock warehouse, and am putting them out to eBay auction over
the next few weeks.  (http://www.ebay.com and search for "Dubal")  
Definitely worth reading for the types of things discussed here on

Bradley Lehman | http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/ | Dayton, VA, USA