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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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The Afterlife of Gould In this last chapter, I step out of Gould’s mind and look at the unique literary and visual reception of his work and character – a reception that I’ve never come across with any other musician of Classical music. Gould does not remain in the cultural consciousness only as photographs and recordings, but also as a kind of cultural icon, the ontology of which I want to examine more closely here. While stepping outside, I am also, as it were, entering my own experience of Gould much more than in the previous chapters. I am not only interested in “di- rect” visual or literal representation of Gould in, say, paintings and youth novels but also focus on more subtle, more nuanced “hints” of Gould’s semiotic pres- ence in artifacts of pop culture. For instance, the semiotic significance of Bach’s Goldberg variations, played by Gould, in three horror movies based on a novel trilogy by Thomas Harris – Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Hannibal Rising (2009) – has puzzled me for some time, and this research lends an opportunity to scrutinize this puzzlement more closely, to analyze the “semi- otic overflow” (the term will be explained further in this chapter) I experience in seeing certain scenes in the movies. For instance, I’ve been puzzled by the scene in the Silence of the Lambs in which the protagonist, psychopath-genius Hanni bal Lecter gesticulates like Gould, over the latter’s 1955 recording of the Goldbergs in the sonic background of...

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