Glenn Gould talks about Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Soviet music

Glenn Gould talks about Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Soviet music


Interviewer: Mr. Gould, Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique seems to have made a considerable impact on young musicians.
Do you feel that it’s destined to be the most important 20th century technique?
Glenn Gould: Well, that’s a very difficult question to answer for many reasons. Not the least of
those reasons I think is the fact that Schoenberg the composer and Schoenberg
the man who made up theories have been rather confused in the public mind, not
only in the public mind, in the critical mind, and the in the professional mind,
and in the musician’s mind, in the last 50 years. I think that one of the keys to
Schoenberg as a personality is that he was always a teacher. I don’t mean just
in the obvious sense – he did teach of course, he did give lectures and teach
pupils privately on some occasions and in the last years of his life he worked
at the University of California – but not just in that sense. He was a teacher in
his writings he constantly wrote about music, not only music as he wrote it
himself but analysis of other people’s music: Mahler and Brahms and Mozart and
so forth, music that was dear to him. But the most basic sense in which Schoenberg
was a teacher is that he used his works as vehicles through which to teach, and
this is something that one cannot say of every composer. You certainly wouldn’t
say that Puccini wrote operas to teach unless it was to teach about the folly
of Americans going oriental or something, but certainly not to to teach in any
abstracted sense. But Schoenberg on the other hand was a man who taught through
his works. Now this means that what he had to teach, what he wanted to
communicate through these works, was the practicability of certain ideas that he
had worked out in the abstract. He wanted to prove them realistically through his
compositions, and I think this is where a great many people begin to say “no, no we
cannot proceed beyond this point with Schoenberg. One has to have a will to
compose quite beyond any ideas that you feel must be abstractedly expressed
in composition.” And I think this is what’s happened in the 20th century. You
find the people who believe passionately in Schoenberg, in all aspects of Schoenberg, in Schoenberg as a composer, in Schoenberg as a theorist, and then you find people who
totally in violently disagree with everything that he wrote about, and
somehow consequently come to disagree with everything that he wrote. Now to me
this is wrong. I think that many of Schoenberg’s theories, many of the value
judgements even that he made about other people’s music are not accurate. Many of
them were based on historical judgements that were very much part of his time, and
by that I mean that he had the same limited perspective that necessarily was
owned by every composer of the turn-of-the-century. He had, for instance,
very little knowledge of Renaissance music, which is practically, you know,
standard fare for us today, and his whole historical perspective was
relevant really only to the 250 or 300 years of tonality in music, and
consequently his whole sense of his own personal activity, to the extent that he
was a revolutionary, which is true enough – he was – was limited to being a
revolutionary against tonality to the extent that he reformed judgements about
the practice in music that were really quite old, that were pre-tonality. To this
extent he was more or less unaware: he was sort of operating subconsciously. I
think that this aspect of Schoenberg, the pre-tonal relationship of his music is
being looked at now, as possibly the most serious aesthetic judgment that can
be applied to him. The revolutionary aspect, the idea of overturning something
of, you know, throwing out into the trashcan 300 years of tonal music – this
was the aspect that caused everybody so much heartache, I suppose. Those who
opposed him during his life. And I think that the only thing one can say there
about him is that in the last years of his life he said what to me is a very
revealing statement: he said that a great deal of music remains to be written in
the key of C major. But that means to me two things: first of all it means that he
was a man of some catholicity of taste – he didn’t automatically assume that
because he had espoused a certain system of composing music which came
to be called not too accurately the twelve-tone technique, that all
music not composed in that system or not harmonious with it or not in some way aquiescent to it was false or wrong, and obviously this statement does represent
a rather more liberal judgment than that. That’s one thing it represents.
The other thing that it represents I think, is the feeling that that comes
very strongly from Schoenberg’s compositions and from his writing about
these compositions in his last years, and that is that he begins to see that the
very highly dissonant forms of twelve-tone music, of serial music, which
was the basis of his operation from 1925 onwards, that the very highly dissonant
forms aren’t necessarily a concomitant of this music. That one could apply some
of the quasi-mathematical (never more than quasi-mathematical) formulas that he
worked out and apply these to sound formations that were really quite
consonant, that were triadic, that were in fact precisely the sound formations that
every composer from the Renaissance onward had worked with. So that what you
find in the late years of Schoenberg is this extraordinary coalescence of ideas
that were extremely radical in the sense that he was saying, “I do not believe
the arithmetical components of music as it’s been practiced in the generation or
two before my own. I do not believe that these are any longer serviceable”, and at
the same time extremely conciliatory and that he was saying, “look, there is a way
to take very old sound formations, very consonant ones, totally undissonant
ones if you like, and organise them in a mathematical relationship that gives
them maximum expressivity and minimum debate against each other”, which was the
formation of tonality. So I see Schoenberg more as a man affecting a
conciliation than as a man overturning things. I think there was something of
both in his deliberations as composer, but it seems to me that the fact that
Schoenberg was a teacher, that he constantly used these works as argument
for ideas, has caused the works to be judged solely on the basis of arguments.
So that people who say the argument is invalid, it is inexact, it is unscientific
or it is un-aesthetic or it is un-mathematical or un-
something say consequently that therefore the works written with this
system can can not be any good, and the one thing that they forget, the weak spot
in that argument, I think, is that Schoenberg does, quite above and beyond
his pedagogical urge have this, what one can only call this enormous desire to
compose. I think that even had he been born at an entirely different time, let’s
say had he been born in the time of Beethoven, I’m quite sure that he would
have written music in the style of the Grosse Fuge. He would have certainly
have sought out a quasi-mathematical style of composition, but he probably at
that time would not have occasioned quite this argument because historically
he wouldn’t have been around at a pivotal moment in which this argument
could be turned against him. To me Schoenberg is a very great composer. The
older I get (which is something that I now allow myself to say having passed 30),
the older that I get, the more I think of him as probably the greatest composer of
the 20th century, and I don’t mean just the most formative, just the most
influential, I mean really the greatest. Interviewer: Thank you. Stravinsky. When Stravinsky visited the Soviet Union recently, he was very well received, and
he got the red-carpet treatment as a matter of fact, and his work has assumed
great importance there. It has been suggested that he is something of a
pioneer – a trailblazer. Do you agree with this viewpoint? Glenn Gould: No I don’t. I don’t think that except in certain rather limited ways that Stravinsky is a pioneer. I
think that Stravinsky is a great man, but not a pioneer. It seems to me that if you look back on Stravinsky’s life, you find that he’s taken an enormous journey in
that life, and not just geographically, and geographically too, because he is and
always has been a wanderer. I mean he’s a man who was born in Czarist Russia, and
who had the training, who inherited the cultural attribut es of a most
marvellous generation: the generation of Rimsky-Korsakov his teacher, and
Scriabin. And then a man who goes to various countries in Western Europe in
his middle years and finally to the United
States, and then in his old age, his very old age, takes to revisiting all the places
of youth: to the Soviet Union now, and to all the other countries of Europe and
Asia and South America, and I think that this geographical wandering is
allegorical really of his musical wandering. To me Stravinsky is a man who
has never quite come to rest. I think that’s because he’s never been
completely at home with any culture, with any existing order. To me Stravinsky is
the kind of revolutionary that some people prefer to say Schoenberg is. I
should say Schoenberg is not that kind of revolutionary, but that Stravinsky
is, but at the same time I don’t think that revolutionary means trailblazer in
this sense. I would equate the activity of the revolutionary as one describes it
in Stravinsky’s work, as being a man who – being out of a man who wants to
shock for the sake of shocking. I think that there’s a great deal of this nose-
thumbing enfant terrible in Stravinsky, and it’s an attribute of his character
that doesn’t much appeal to me, I must say. To give you some examples, I find the
Sacre de Printemps a very offensive work. I don’t find it a good jest,
I’m sure it’s effectively presented on the stage – I’ve never seen it as a ballet
I regret to say – but I don’t find it an important work from any aspect that one
can judge it musically. I think it’s an important work only in the sense of its
acting as a kind of therapy to the admittedly high temperature of late
romantic culture at the time in which it was written. But I don’t think it’s an
important work of itself within it – starting from within itself. At the same
time I think that (this is a very conventional judgement indeed) but I
think that Firebird which was written a couple of years earlier and is much more
truly of his inheritance of Rimsky- Korsakov and of Scriabin, that
Firebird is indeed a very great work. I think it’s precisely the sort of work
that the world has always acclaimed it to be possibly indeed one of
Stravinsky’s genuine masterpieces. To me Sacre is the simply work of a rather ill-tempered child ill-at-ease in the society to which he’s
been transplanted, in that case Paris. Then one comes to the middle years of
Stravinsky and you find him writing again spoilsport music essentially – music that
is deliberately contrived to make sacrilege of epochs in musical history
that are hardly deserving of that kind of parody. You think of music like
the Symphony in C which is certainly one of the, I suppose, the high-water marks
of Stravinsky’s period as neo-classicist. To me
Stravinsky uses the classical forms of the 18th century and he turns them
inside out not because of some restoration of a technical tradition
that – for which he turns to them, but simply to be shocking, simply to be
irritating and annoying to a degree. I think there is a different kind of
neoclassicism altogether. There’s Hindemith’s kind. Hindemith was a man
who was admittedly insecure in precisely the years that Stravinsky felt this
insecurity of a post-World War One anemic disposition in world music coming
upon him, and he wanted to do something to to create a certain ripple in the
the lake of progress. Hindemith’s way was a very different way. Hindemith saw
neoclassicism as a way of revitalising certain traditions that were inherent
within himself. So did Schoenberg to a degree at a
certain time in his life, but Stravinsky saw it I think as a way of upsetting
people, of deliberately seeking an easy success, a kind of sensational blatant nose-thumbing success, and I find this very distasteful. Then we come to the last
chapter of Stravinsky as far as one can assume is the last chapter: the
works that have been written in the last decade. For me these works are the most
interesting of all the things that he’s done. I find some of them very beautiful.
I find the movements for piano and orchestra, the ballet Agon very beautiful
indeed, because the one thing that can never go
unsaid is that Stravinsky is indeed one of the most voraciously imaginative,
really, composers of this century. I think that if Stravinsky is something less
than a great composer, and I believe he is something less than a great composer,
I think that what he lacks is simply a certain sense of application, a
certain sense of application not to the world outside himself (because that he
has in enormous abundance). He’s constantly picking up tidbits here and
there and imitating this and that and that’s fine, that’s all very good and
inquisitive and admirable. What he lacks I think, is a certain consistency
starting from within himself, and I think that’s because in all his life he’s
never really come across – he’s never really uncovered – the total character
of Igor Stravinsky. I think when you look back on that life and that journey
geographically and spiritually, Stravinsky comes across as a man who’s
never quite been able to synthesise his own experience and his own personality. To me this is the tragedy of his life. To what extent this is – this will be –
important or be seen to be important to historians who look back on his work in
the future, I can’t say. I find him however something less than the
great composer of the age that other people proclaim him to be. They may well
be right, I don’t know, but I do find that musically he is as much on this same
unfulfilled quest as geographically he’s always been. Interviewer: Really I think you have answered the next question I was going to put to you, that his works have become so westernised now that Russians cannot
recognise their own traditional themes. They say it doesn’t even sound the same
thing at all, and in fact his music has become foreign to their ears. Do you
agree with this? Glenn Gould: Yes, I’m sure that’s true. Not being Russian, I can’t see it
from precisely that point of view.The purely Russian character in his
music I would take to be the – in large part – the rhythmic element in the
music. I must say that when when one just for a moment returns to the earliest years of Stravinsky, which are perhaps the most interesting years, and compares the music that he wrote circa 1915 with the same – with music in much the same style that was being written by composers like Prokofiev, who were as
Russian as he by birth, and perhaps more Russian by inclination. I find
Prokofiev’s music of that period – I’m thinking of music like the music to the
Scythians ballet and comparing it with music like Le Sacre de Printemps, with
which it shares certain characteristics, I find Prokofiev’s music more genuine,
not necessarily more important, because I think that Stravinsky’s music has this
enormous influence that one cannot hold to Prokofiev’s credit, but Prokofiev’s
music I think is more is more genuine. It’s more essentially part of the
unfolding of Prokofiev’s personality as Stravinsky’s is not.To what extent the
later works – the post Agon pieces – the the twelve-tone pieces – the serial works –
to what extent these are un-Russian – well they are to one extent, and that is
that as I understand it, in the Soviet Union very little if any music is
written that relates to any degree to the Schoenberg theories, and to the
extent that Schoenberg has undeniably influenced Stravinsky, ironically enough
only after Schoenberg himself is no longer around to witness his triumph, but
the extent that he did influence Stravinsky or has seen to be a great
influence on Stravinksy in the last 10 years – these works perhaps are just more unfamiliar in idiom to
people in the Soviet Union at the present time, To what extent the future
will pull all this into a different perspective and say “no, these works are
quite as Russian as Firebird or Sacre”, this is something I simply can’t answer. Interviewer: Well then, we lead on to the question: should music become international, should composers in
fact try to retain a style that can be easily recognisable as coming from,
originating from a particular part of the world, or should it become so
international that it’s acceptable everywhere? Glenn Gould: I wonder really if one can say “should music become international?” I strongly suspect that one has to
phrase the question: has it not already become international in this way? I would
think that there are certain times in musical history when national strains
have have played a very important part in exciting the imagination of creative
people. One of the most prolific advances in a certain sense, that music has ever
made within the limitations of a culture was certainly in Russia in the
nineteenth century, and to a very great extent the sense of cause, the sense
of national identity played, as you well know, a very important part in this
advance. The whole ferment of activity that took place with composers like
Moussorgsky and Tchaikovsky – this had its roots in in national aspiration. But one
has to also remember that a very special set of historical circumstances
prevailed at that time and for music in that culture, to the extent that in the
19th century, Russia produced the first great international composers that had
been native to that country, and many circumstances were propitious to make
these composers terribly conscious of their identity vis a vis the world, vis a
vis Western Europe, and vis a vis also the sense of – when I say historical
limitation I don’t mean this in any critical sense – but historical limitation
in that Russia was to some extent deprived of the knowledge of music in
the West more or less before the time of Peter the Great, and this necessarily
imposes a certain limitation, and it also creates a certain and very
justifiable pride in in the tremendous accomplishments of the 19th century
artists in in Russia, and not just composers, writers also
certainly. At that time historical circumstances were very propitious for a
very strong nationalism affecting music and emboldening sentiment I suppose
as among composers. I don’t think this is so today. I think that a great many
aspects of our international life, international feeling argue against this,
and not the least of these aspects is the media through which we become aware of music. In my view electronic media – radio and television, recordings –
represents the future of music as of many other things probably. But I think
they represent the future of music in that it makes an enormous audience
accessible to a very few ideas and it makes it very difficult for the
specialised pockets of initiative that existed all throughout the 19th century –
pockets that to some extent developed without very much concern for what was
happening around them, what was happening in the world outside, it makes it very
difficult for this this kind of specialised interest in music to
thrive. I’m not saying that it can’t exist: it can indeed. There is
even a sense in which a certain kind of tolerance exists because of electronic
media that has not happened before. By this I mean that in the past
we’ve tended to see the existence of a culture – let’s say that of the
Soviet Union – as a separate and identifiable thing which we could look
in on more or less as we chose. Now this is no longer likely to happen because
it’s terribly accessible – the music that’s written today in the Soviet Union
is viewed as instantaneously as it’s recorded or broadcast or televised by
countries all over the world and vice versa of course, and it means that those
particular historical judgements based on how good something is as within itself
are no longer very important. So it becomes more important to decide
how good it is as against that of which it is a part. But at the same time
the tolerance that is attained through recording is something that’s
never happened before. I’m fascinated to discover cases of
composers – there really are such composers today – who write music in
very old fashioned styles. I know of one man who lives in Norfolk Virginia and
who is not active as a composer – he’s in the import business as a matter
of fact, and he chooses not to be active as a composer in any professional sense.
He has no relation with publishers or with critics or with performers or with
conductors but he sits at home and in the evenings he writes symphonies in the
style of Anton Bruckner, and the reasons for this extraordinary historical lapse
are that he’s absolutely convinced that sooner or later it is going to matter
very little indeed that that his music is today considered terribly
unfashionable, and that this music is going to be recorded, and to make sure of
that, he records it himself. He manages to arrange that each symphony as he writes it is recorded privately for him. He makes two or three dozen
recordings of this and he sends it to people who believe passionately, or maybe
less than passionately, in his music. In any case he files it away. He’s convinced
that when so many generations have passed someone is going to come back and discover his music and say “ah now why was this man overlooked all of this
time?” And he’s also convinced that this is possible only because of the
recording and he’s absolutely right. Now to the extent that this provides for a
kind of tolerance, an assumption of tolerance I should say, that …
we’ve never known before in the arts, to the extent that it suggests that the
future is going to examine the things that we do today, and be less snobbish in
the judgements that are applied against them, be less concerned with the degree
to which they represent something new, something absolutely inventive and
revolutionary. To this extent recording goes against some of the immediacy that
that other forms of electronic communication
imply, because certainly a television program or a radio program, unless it’s
recorded as this one is being, they do imply immediacy. They do imply that
that the listener is going to come to a decision, is going to judge, is going to
react to an event that’s happening now. But recordings have this marvellous
opportunity of saying, “no let’s hold in abeyance our judgments. Let’s decide 20
years from now, or maybe let’s have our grandchildren decide how good something
is.” To this extent I think that the isolation that occurs, that has occurred
historically in a country like the Soviet Union, will be seen in a very
different perspective fifty or a hundred years from now than it is seen
today, because I think that there is no question that a certain artistic
hostility exists between composers in the Soviet Union today who tend to be
against the the more revolutionary traditions of twentieth-century music
and their confreres in the West who on the whole, if one can be statistical
about this sort of thing, on the whole tend to be very much in favour of the
more or less avant-garde judgements about musical theory. I think it’s unfortunate that composers argue so much. They do of course. When put together
they’re constantly arguing, but I think that at the same time recordings are going
to make possible this very tolerant view that’s never happened before,
and that it’s quite likely that my friend in Norfolk Virginia who writes
symphonies a la Buckner, or a composer in Siberia at the present time who writes
music in the manner of Scriabin will be found a hundred years from now to be
among the great geniuses of the time. Interviewer: You said Soviet composers always argue when they’re put together which leads me to the question of when the Soviet composers
attended the International Composers’ Congress in Stratford a few years ago, I
think it was in 1960 as a matter of fact, they returned home very enthusiastic
about it. They thought it was very useful. What is your opinion on the usefulness
of such of meetings? Glenn Gould: I think they are very useful. I think they’re very useful
right now, but I think at the same time we have to realise that composers’
conferences are something that are quite new. They are something that
certainly were never thought desirable at any time earlier than about the First
World War about 1920 is the first composers conference that I can think of
that was considered in any way important. In those days it was the getting
together for the performance rather than the talking of new music, but that was
simply because recordings and radio and television didn’t present too many
opportunities for performance of it, so they had to get together to hear it in
one place. But today composers’ conferences are all the rage, so are
writers conferences. Painters never seem to get together to talk very much – that’s
mostly because they don’t talk very much, I suppose. But can you imagine the
absurdity of putting Bach and Handel and Scarlatti and Telemann into one salon
and then saying “have a composers’ conference gentlemen, and decide what one should do with this new music of our time, you know, are we going to go on
writing fugues and cantatas or are we going to write concerti and symphonies, you know, what’s going to happen?” This has never happened before and i don’t know really
what’s going to come out of all of this, because I’m convinced that when
composers come to composers’ conferences they come there less to learn from
others than to defend themselves. I think they all come with the same set of
biases with which they work because composers have to work with biases. The
whole force of the creative responsibility is based on a certain
sense of hostility to what somebody else is doing in a sense, and I think that
composers come together to exercise, to sort of stretch their biases a little
bit, but not really to to adapt themselves to the ideas of others, so
whether this great spate of composers’ conferences that we have now, whether
this is a mark of the future or whether music is – will become a talking craft is
something that I’m really far from sure about. I think that one thing becomes
quite clear though, that insofar as music becomes more and more involved with
electronics, not just that electronics play a part in making an
audience aware of music through its performance over that medium, but insofar
as composers themselves begin to work with electronics, they begin to write
music that’s suitable for the microphone. As strange as it
seems, this is already happening. Composers today are actually writing
works and thinking in terms of orchestral sonorities that are
particularly palatable in a closed room instead of a large hall for a microphone
instead of for the ears of two or three thousand people listening to those
sonorities, and this means an enormous change in in the whole acoustical aspect
of music. So to that extent the composers have today something to talk about not
just among themselves but to talk about with people who are specifically trained
to give information about electronic media, and then there is the extent to
which composes involve themselves in absolutely electronic music and
prepared tape music. Most of these composers are not sufficiently trained
as engineers to do this without some outside help, and so they have to have recourse to technicians, to engineers. I would think that the real
conference that needs to be arranged now is a conference that is between
composers and engineers rather than composers and composers.
I think it’s on that field that one can learn a great deal. Interviewer: Well, I know you prefer the recording studio, or the television studio now, to performing at a public concert. Perhaps you would explain why
you have this preference. Glenn Gould: Yes well I had always hoped when I was very young that
I was going to involve myself with music throughout my life. This seemed to be the
one thing that I most wanted to do. The one thing that I did not want to do was
to involve myself with music to such a limited extent that that the piano
served as my sole intermediary to music, and I had always felt that as a
performing musician, as a pianist, as someone who travelled about and gave
concerts, that I was necessarily imposing a set of limitations on my own personal
horizon that weren’t useful, that I wanted to be rid of. At the same time I
felt that I certainly did not want to stop playing the piano. This would be
impossible. I couldn’t stop playing the piano if I did want to because it means far too much to me. Well this combined with
this same feeling of mine about the enormous potency of electronic forms –
images – and a feeling that I wanted to be involved in playing the piano in only
those roles in which what I was doing then could be to some degree made
permanent. I felt an enormous sense – I still feel because I still
occasionally give concerts – but very rarely – no more often than I can help. I felt an enormous sense of
frustration that what I was doing then was vanishing forever with the
doing of it. I don’t mean by that that it was automatically so good
that it should be preserved. I gave some very bad concerts, but on those occasions
when one happened to give a very good concert there was this feeling that
it did vanish with the memory of those who were in the audience and that on the
other hand recordings offered the possibility of preserving for as long as
the recorded form is considered valid the best thoughts that you were able to
assemble at any given time on a particular piece of music. Because one
can assemble these thoughts in recording. You don’t have to be subject to the the
whims of the moment. One is to very large extent subject to whim when you give a
concert. There’s always this great temptation no matter how self-effacing
you may be (and I’m not saying that I was at all self-effacing) but there is
nevertheless this great temptation even if you were the most modest fellow in
the world to show off in front of the audience, and there are very few people
who play in the same way for a large audience as they play for a microphone.
Now many people would tell you that this is precisely what’s wrong with the
microphone, what’s wrong with the microphone as a vehicle of communication: that people do not play the same way or act or behave in the same way in front
of the microphone as they do in front of an audience. That they behave in a much
less inspired way. I don’t happen to believe that this is true. I think that
there are undeniably certain artists of an older generation who have become so
conditioned to playing before a public that in fact if they make a recording
they assemble their family and friends into the studio to give them the same sort of exhilaration that they find
on the public platform. But I do think that this this reaction to audience
grows less and less valid with every passing year. In my own case it was never a reaction that I acknowledged to any extent. I always felt that the
opportunities that a microphone can give you first of all to not have to do
something at a given moment if you don’t feel like it, to sit and have another cup
of coffee instead of do it at that very moment, if you will, to do things twice
or 64 times as need be, until you have absolutely assembled the best possible
interpretation of a particular work of music. Well this is something that you
cannot do in public. You can give 64 concerts – you can give all 64 concerts on
off evenings. You may have also the opportunity of giving them on evenings
when you feel exactly right about a certain piece of music, but even at that
the impression will be forever lost. Well then you come to the third question
which is to say well look if you don’t like giving concerts and if you do like
recordings why not give concerts and record the concerts because this has
been done. Well it has been done: Sviatoslav Richter has done it and has done
some marvellous concerts this way but then Sviatoslav Richter is a man
who I think is genuinely made for the concert stage. There is a sense of
electric communication about Richter and an audience. There’s something quite
special – the perfume of the event to coin a phrase is very much in
evidence when he gives a concert. I heard him give concerts in the Soviet Union
and here too in Toronto and there’s no question but what something in
Richter’s temperament does happen to take off in full flight when he’s
confronted with an audience. So to record his concerts is a very different matter
than to record those of most of the rest of us who don’t express this same
intoxication I think with an audience. There’s another question that even when
you record the concerts of a very great artist like Sviatoslav Richter you don’t
get a recording. By that I mean that you don’t get a studio product. What you get
is the facsimile of an event. You get an attempt to render an evocation in sound of what a certain evening in a certain year
happened to be like. You get an attempt by the engineers, by the producers, by the
technicians to be very discreet so that the microphone doesn’t upset the artist,
and keep it well away from the piano usually, and what you get really is a
sort of halo, a very saintly halo put around the framing of the page
which announced this concert and for people who…and made available for people who want to sit back and say that was Richter on November the 16th 1964, you
know, but you do not get a recording because a recording by its definition is
something that aims at a certain kind of perfectionism I think. Perfectionism not
just of the performance, because that you might well get from Richter on a certain
evening, but it also aims at a perfectionism of sound it, it aims at
expressing a certain series of ideals about what sound is in relation to an
instrument, and the role that a microphone has to play, and this you
simply cannot get in a public circumstance recording a concert. So my
feeling is that for myself, recording is the future and the concert stage was the
past. I will occasionally give concerts if I find one or more works that I
have not at the moment an occasion to record and that I very much want to try
out an audience or try out on myself which is what it really is, then I will
give a concert as need be, but otherwise I will confine myself to
recording. Interviewer: I know that you are very interested at the present time and perhaps you have been so for
many years, in lecturing. Do you foresee this as assuming an even greater
importance in your future? Glenn Gould: I don’t know. I see writing about music in some form
whether I actually read what I write myself from a podium doesn’t concern me
too much. I see writing about music as an important part of my future because I, as
I have said before, I feel that what I want to do in my life is to sort of
experience a certain series of statements about music, some of
which will be statements that perhaps will be original to me through my
performance or through writing or through composing, most of which will be
original to other people, in which I will simply test out and hopefully add a
certain invention to. The things that one can do with music the things that… the
speculations that one can make about it – the theories behind the reasons that
we involve ourselves with these strange twitchings that music produces in us at
all, fascinate me and I want to write about
them and to think about them. Whether I actually deliver these thoughts from the
platform is not important, but I do want to write about them. Interviewer: And that really is your future, composing? Thank you very much Mr. Gould, for coming in this evening. Glenn Gould: A pleasure [captions edited by Bruce Cross]

3 Comments on "Glenn Gould talks about Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Soviet music"


  1. It is interesting that the CBC did not broadcast this fascinating interview. I think it was because Gould's negative take on Stravinsky could have created a problem, considering the work Stravinsky and Craft were doing with the CBC Orchestra at the time.
    As far as the date, he makes a reference to a hypothetical Richter live record: "That was Richter on November 16, 1964." So I think that was the date of the interview. True, Gould had made his last recital a few months earlier, but he did not think of it as irrevocable yet.

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