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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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Who Owns the Music? The 19th- century ideas and conceptions of music described in the previous chap- ter have had significant ideological consequences: the substance of music has been located in musical works, regarded as ontologically independent from their interpretation and reception. The agency of music, therefore, has been that of the composer, and the interpretation of musical works has been seen as mediation of the composer’s intentions. The aesthetic value of a given interpretation has been regarded as dependent on how the musician succeeds in this. One important philosophical and intellectual historical source for such a concep- tion is Immanuel Kant’s theory of the genius. The word originally refers to an exceptional creative individual who gives “art its rules” (1790/2000, 188).36 Even though Kant wrote very little on music in particular – and when he did, he de- scribed it as an art form inferior to almost all others (e.g. 1790/2000, 217–219) – the whole 19th-century idea of Classical music as revolving around the con- ceptions of genius and autonomous works is basically post-Kantian.37 The works created by the genius have been seen as defined by the score and as infallible wholes the authentic interpretation of which is bound by the musician’s ethical duty, Werktreue. A musician should aim at a disinterested interpretation, whose norms are dictated only by the “work itself,” not by the audience or the musician’s intentions. 36 Kant (ibid., 189–190) elaborates on the particular qualities of genius as follows: ”(1) [T] alent for producing...

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