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The Gould Variations

Technology, Philosophy and Criticism in Glenn Gould’s Musical Thought and Practice


Juha Markus Mantere

This book focuses on three aspects in Glenn Gould’s (1932-1982) musical thought and practice: Gould’s embrace of music technology, his notions of the ontology of music and musical interpretation, and the place of his thought in Canadian intellectual history. Focusing not only on Gould’s writings on music technology but also on those of Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) and Jean Le Moyne (1913-1996), this book provides a fresh perspective on Gould’s thinking, which was embedded in and keenly alert to the intellectual world outside music. The book also touches on Gould’s public reception, his national iconicity, in Canadian literature and Hollywood movies. Gould’s stardom is discussed as a phenomenon more commonly associated with contemporary popular culture.


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”Enough of Glenn Gould!” This is what my piano teacher, having heard my Gould-inspired interpretation of J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C-major in the first book of the Wohltemperierte Klavier, in obvious desperation, cried out dur- ing one of my last piano lessons in the spring of 1995. The previous week I had asked her recommendations for recordings to listen to in order to make progress with this deceptively simple piece of music, the first real challenge in polyphony I had ever put my fingers on. I wanted to progress as efficiently as possible and also become familiar with the performance tradition of Bach’s Wohltemperierte Klavier, one of the cornerstones in the standard repertory for the piano. My teacher, an elderly Greek woman with a long experience in various conserva- tories, listed for me several pianists through whom I could gain a deeper under- standing of the interpretation of Bach’s music: Walter Gieseking for his sonorous richness, Sjatoslav Richter and Murray Perahia for their analytic playing, Andras Schiff for his energy and rhythmic drive, and Tatjana Nikolajeva for the sheer poetry of her playing Bach. But no Glenn Gould. I wondered why. Looking at my teacher’s strict and patron- izing approach more than a decade later, I realize that she failed to see me as an in- dividual, a pianist-novice with my own aspirations, goals, and opinions about mu- sic, and as a student capable of taking responsibility for my interpretative choices. Instead, she thought she knew best how...

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