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GG: slashing repeats

James Wiskeychan asked:
>Does anyone know why Glenn Gould chose not to play the repeats in many of
>his recordings?  Did he play them when he was giving concerts?

The two musical forms most germane to this question are (1) binary dance
movements (Baroque and later) and (2) "sonata-allegro" (CPE Bach and
later).  In both of these types of music there are two sections, each
repeated: AABB.  Further, there is a typical key scheme organizing these

- If the home key (tonic) is major, the A section modulates from tonic to
dominant (I to V), and the B section modulates from V back to I

- If the home key is minor, the A section modulates from tonic to mediant
(i to III), and the B section modulates back from III to i

This basic scheme is also true of other works: for example, Bach's
two-part invention in E major, the individual variations of the Goldberg
Variations, some of the preludes in WTC 2, etc.

In his analysis of music for performance, Gould seems to have given a high
priority to the idea of harmonic arrival.  The music starts in some key,
goes to other keys for a while, and eventually returns home.  To Gould's
way of thinking, when the music has arrived at the home key it MUST NOT be
permitted to leap back to take some of that modulatory journey again.  In
the above forms, then, it is OK to repeat the A section (optionally) since
it is moving away from the home key; but it is never OK to repeat the B

This is a consistent pattern throughout Gould's career.  He would
sometimes repeat the A section, but (as a rule) not the B section in music
that has such a harmonic scheme.  [Admittedly I have not checked *every*
minuet/trio of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven in the Gould recordings, to be
absolutely sure of this consistency, but I know it's true of Glenn Gould's
Bach, Scarlatti, and Handel.  There's enough there to cite this as a
pattern, even a fingerprint-like quirk, of Gould's.]

This has the effect of turning AABB forms into either AAB or AB.  There
are some of us (I include myself...) who think that an AAB performance is
a violent distortion of a work's architecture, upsetting the balance of
the composition.  AB is also a distortion, perhaps a lesser one....  But
that was Gould's way, choosing (evidently) to put harmonic-arrival
considerations above other elements.

One way of looking at it: in this choice for a modern performance style,
Gould chides or punishes the composers for using a convention he didn't
care for....  Too bad if a composer was happy enough with the structure he
wrote!  Gould considered it fair game to overrule the composer, playing
his own commentary about the music instead of merely playing the music.


Gould's harmonic emphasis also came up in his writings.  The most obvious
example I can think of presently is his essay "Bodky on Bach," a 1960
review of Erwin Bodky's _The Interpretation of Bach's Keyboard Works_.

Gould praises the book, but disagrees most strongly with Bodky's emphasis
on motives and voice-leading at the expense of harmonic considerations.
"(...) Bach's counterpoint is harmonically centered counterpoint, and
there is no aspect of Bach's style which is not ultimately mediated by
harmonic considerations.  The registration of his dynamic terraces, the
dissonant twang of his ornamentation, the articulation of contrasting
rhythmic figures--all are controlled by the steady pulse of harmonic
movement.  And, on a larger scale, it is Bach's modulations from key to
key that determine the formal posture of a work, that make cohesive the
relation of episode to episode. (...) It is the overall harmonic
architecture of the work, in regard to both the terraces of modulation and
the more minute movements within the phrase structure, that determines the
character and attitude of the composition.  And this analytic approach
must be held to stand equally for the more circumscribed shape of the
dance movement or the muscular sinews of fugal texture. (...)  That he
himself [Bodky] grasps the structure of Bach's works in all their
dimensions one can have no doubt.  His descriptions have the tantalizing
familiarity of one who hears more than that of which he chooses to write.
Nevertheless, in toto, it is as though someone described in minute detail
the stucco ornaments of a baroque edifice but scarcely mentioned the
pillars that they enrich."

[_The Glenn Gould Reader_, p 28-31]


Gould also took a machete to Bach's Toccata in f# minor, attempting to
"improve" the piece's harmonic structure.  There is a sequential passage
starting at 8'00" in Gould's recording, bar 108.  At 8'28" he skips from
the end of bar 112 to the beginning of bar 127, which means (at his
funereal tempo) he has omitted about 80 seconds of the music.

At this point in the toccata, bars 113 and 127 are identical and therefore
"nothing of consequence has happened" in between them, other than a bunch
of sequential stuff that only ends up where it started...so Gould chops it
all away.  Whack.  Thank you very much, Glenn Gould.  What if Bach
*wanted* that effect of "going nowhere" as part of the piece?  [For
example, when this piece is played in unequal temperaments, i.e. the
tuning styles young Bach knew when writing this piece c1712, this passage
is a delicious exploration of the sounds of the weirdest keys available.
That's true whether it's played in f# minor or (as I suspect) originally
in f minor.  That improvisatory "fooling around" is a part of the piece.]

Kevin Bazzana (_Glenn Gould: The Performer in the Work, A Study in
Performance Practice_, p26) says the same thing but with more civility
than I do: "(...) For Mozart, variety was the point, for Gould, typically,
consistency and clarity of structural function. He made another
significant amendment in Bach's Toccata in F sharp minor: he dropped
fourteen bars (113-26). In so doing, he cut by about two-thirds a long
sequential passage, excessive sequencing being one feature of
improvisatory works that he deplored. (Schoenberg also complained of such
passages, especially in the music of Handel.) Since bar 127 begins with
the same dominant seventh chord on F# that begins bar 113, this long
passage offered him a rare opportunity to amend such a 'flaw' without
creating an awkward seam. (...)"

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