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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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Did He Get it Right 50 Years Ago? The main focus in this thesis has been on Glenn Gould’s musical thought in gen- eral, and more particularly, the aesthetic and ideological premises under which he conceptualized and interpreted music. I have looked at Gould from four angles: Gould as part of the North American technology discourse of the 1960s and 1) 1970s; Gould’s ideas within the intellectual history of music, 192) th-century ideas of Werktreue, and the ontology of the musical work as an autonomous entity; Gould’s “philosophy of recording” as part of the more general 203) th-century mediation and commercialization of music, brought about by the “culture industry”; Gould as a Canadian artist, subscribing to, and constructing one version of, 4) a particular “discourse of the North” through his work. After this discussion of Gould’s musical world-view and its historical, ideological and cultural affiliations, one crucial question remains to be asked: why Gould? What is the significance of his ideas for us as educated listeners in the 3rd millen- nium? Can we learn something from Gould’s provocative ideas about the death of live concerts, especially to the extent that they are caused not only by the erosion of a broader high culture, but also by the advanced audio technology and the pro- liferating possibilities for technically reproducing Classical music in the record- ing studio? Should we, inspired by Gould’s provocative questions, rethink certain issues related to our experience of music? As I hope I’ve demonstrated above, many of the...

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