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GG and "romantic" interpretation

In last week's discussion about whether Gould played "romantically" or
not, it seems we're throwing around that term with some people taking it
to mean one thing and others taking it to mean another.  Let's figure that
out a bit more.

Does "romantic" mean "as if it were nineteenth-century music" (i.e.
commonly called "The Romantic Period" of music history), coming out of a
literary movement at the end of the 18th century?  That affected all the

Or does "romantic" mean "playing the music with emotional involvement,
expressivity, sensuousness"?  (Which to me comes under the simple rubric
"playing musically" and has no limitation to any century or another!)
Does it include an open willingness to go beyond the printed notes,
investing them with expressive touches that cannot really be notated

The sensuousness thing is what the Baroque period is about.  Monteverdi
got it going in around 1607 with his statement that emotion should be the
master, not the servant, of the music.  (It's an age-old debate from long
before then: perfection of structure and balance, vs a more direct
expression moment to moment.)  That's the distinction behind the "prima
prattica" vs "seconda prattica", and a reason why Monteverdi has been
called a father of modern music....  The period we call "Baroque" was a
deliberately sensuous reaction against the aloof character of some of the
music preceding it: it got the body and the sentiments more involved
rather than merely pleasing the spirit.  A language of musical effects and
Affekts developed: objective devices to use in swaying listeners' emotions
and bodies.

The pendulum swings back and forth across the centuries, and continues to
do so.  People think that sensuousness is excessive or irresponsible, and
styles swing toward "sobriety" and balance and structure, a more classical
elegance.  Then when that gets boring, it swings back toward emotional
excesses again.  There is nothing new here.  The only thing that changes
now and then is what we call it, and how disparagingly or how glowingly we
intend our assessments to come across.

Which brings us to Mr Gould.  In the first half of his career he played
with a deep sensuousness that sounds (to me) thoroughly natural,
intuitive, and gorgeous.  It invested his Bach, his Berg, the Brahms
intermezzi, his Schoenberg, and just about everything else, even those
early recordings of Mozart and Haydn.  Then, in the second half of his
career, he decided that such an approach was beneath him, or immature, or
whatever.  He deliberatedly changed his interpretive style to shear away
that sensuousness in favor of expressing structure, emphasizing the
intellectual construction of the compositions.  He stripped away most of
those natural nuances of dynamics and of rhythmic subtleties, in favor of
a much more "geometric" presentation of the notes.  Yes, there was still
emotional involvement, but it was sublimated under mental control.
Anything intuitive was no longer to be trusted.  (Gould himself wrote that
his recording of the Brahms intermezzi was "sexy."  Compare that with the
Brahms disc from the end of his life: this is a different person.)

Count me among those who much prefer the early Gould.  His playing was so
deeply musical, so wonderfully natural and unproblematic, so beautiful.
It had so many dimensions that reward repeated listening, as well as being
directly pleasing.  When he veered away from that, his playing remained
intensely interesting but it developed into such artifice that it pleases
only my mind, not my body or my spirit.

I can hardly stand to listen to much of his Bach from after about 1970
anymore: I consider it a merely interesting but not very moving
experiment, and opposed to the basic Baroque spirit of lavish
sensuousness.  In contrast, his early Bach (especially the 1959 live
Goldbergs from Salzburg) can hardly be bettered...such a wonderful blend
of subtle expression and clear structure.  He had things so well balanced:
direct indulgence vs restraint, boundless imagination tempered with
objectivity, just right, at a level that few other pianists (Rachmaninoff,
Richter...) have matched.  And then he threw it away.  Some prefer the
more intellectually-controlled (I'd say "inhibited") Gould that he
transformed himself into, and that's fine too.  To each his or her own
Glenn Gould.

I wouldn't try to describe any of this as "romantic" vs not.  I'd
characterize it as natural vs artificial.  Gould was a terrific musician
whether he was playing naturally or artificially: interesting ideas, good
technique, good ability to communicate.  I believe his natural
(unspoiled...) approach was (for me) much more musically satisfying.  His
later performances, rather than simply being *of* the music, were *about*
the music, or about Glenn Gould's ideas about the music, or however deeply
one wants to nest that loop.  He took his artifice to interesting
extremes, considering it a virtue.

Your mileage may vary.

Did Gould have a handle on 19th century "romanticism" and 17th century
"romanticism" and Straussian "romanticism" and any other type of
"romanticism"?  I think so.  And I think he chose to walk away from it;
he didn't trust it as valid, according to the Glenn Gould he wanted
himself to be, so he transformed himself into something that was (to
himself) more respectable.  Too bad for those of us who preferred him at
his earlier best.

Bradley Lehman, Dayton VA
home: http://i.am/bpl  or  http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl
CD's: http://listen.to/bpl or http://www.mp3.com/bpl

"Music must cause fire to flare up from the spirit - and not only sparks
from the clavier...." - Alfred Cortot