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French Suites BWV 812-817
Played by Glenn Gould

K-11

Bach: French Suites BWV 812-817 Overture in French Style BWV 831

French Suites BWV 812-817 [11:15, 9:26, 8:56, 9:07, 10:59, 10:28]
French Overture in B minor, BWV 831 []

Glenn Gould (Piano)

Sony

Feb, Mar, May 1971; Nov, Dec 1972; Feb 1973 (812-817)
Jan-Feb 1971; Nov 1973 (831)

2-CD / TT: 85:46

Recorded at Eaton's Auditorium, Toronto, Canada.
Buy this album at: Amazon.com | Amazon.com | Amazon.com

Gould's French Suites

Jim Morrison wrote (November 14, 2001):
Gould's French Suites are okay, but there are so many things about the recording that I take issue with overall they don't make that big of a positive impression on me. (In case some of you don't know, I'm a very big Gould fan, have most of his CDs, including the Beethoven and Mozart, not just the Bach. Be sure to check out his Schoenberg and Brahms and Liszt transcription of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, among other treasures.)

Let's see if I can just rattle off some of the problems I have with the recording.

He usually skips the repeats, something a few other people in my collection do, including Curtis, who I'm a fan of. Why do people want to turn these works into suites with movements less than one minute long? They zip by so fast, too quickly to savor them. (but, when you do like Gould's early Goldbergs and loud those seconds with such interesting music making, you can compensate for the brevity by playing the disc over and over agian.)

Moroney takes the repeats, as does Payne, something to be said for their recordings. I've never heard the Koopman or Hogwood sets so I can't say what they do with the repeats.

Gould seems emotionally distant. Often he seems to be loading information into the recording, but not emotion. His playing is interesting on a technical lever, but not emotionally for me; that's a huge factor in the Gould/Brookshire analogy I made earlier. Both recordings seems designed to more impress the listener with the quick fingers of the performers instead of trying to make something magical happen with the emotions of the
listeners. They are glittery, in a way, sparkly, but perhaps more like fragments than whole containers.

Some of you may know that the first four French Suites, recorded after the Fifth and Sixth, were played on his favorite piano that had recently undergone major reconstructive surgery that included changing the strings; Gould is on record as having said he was fighting against the sound that his altered piano was now making. For me, this helps explain some of the distance in the playing that I'm hearing; his broken heart just isn't all that interested in playing on the piano. I guess it's kind of like talking to an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse; the thrill just isn't there anymore, but problems and changes are, so why bother.

One thing to be said about the Sony reissue of the French Suites, is that unlike the earlier CBS recording of the 80s (which has all six french suites on one disc and nothing else) the Sony disc duplicates the original formart of the albums. First four suites on one album/disc; the last two and the French Overture on the other. Many of the Sony discs don't preserve the integrity of Gould's albums, which creates some confusion because Gould clearly liked to plan out single albums and his style changed through the years.

I don't much care for his proportional tempos or the lack of silent time/silence between movements or his general desire to make each suite seem more like one 6-10 minute movement/composition, instead of a suite that's a collection of different movements that require different approaches to bring to life. I can hardly tell one movement from the next, or one suite from another. The disc just bubbles along until the end is reached, as if it's all been one long set of tinkering at the piano.

Having said all those negative things, I'd like to add I am a fan of the First French Suite and find his somewhat famous sarabande for that suite very moving. That sarabande is one of my fav movements in all of Gould's work.

If I had to say in a few words what I think the recording needs I'd say it's a greater sense of grace and dance and relaxed ornamentation. The recording as a whole, which took about two years to complete, is too measured and emotionally distant for me. Less Gould, more Bach. Give me the Inventions or Partitas or early sets of Goldbergs as much better exambles of Gould's Bachian art.

Peter Bright wrote (November 14, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] I agree with Jim about Gould's French Suites. Some on this list take issue with Angela Hewitt's approach, but her recording of these works is far preferable for me. There is also the added bonus of other pieces which are squeezed on to the pair of discs - six little preludes (x3) plus the sonata in D minor (BWV964). A very colourful, pianistic interpretation but well suited to these relatively light works.

Francis H.R. Franca wrote (November 14, 2001):
Jim Morrison wrote:
< [...] Having said all those negative things, I'd like to add I am a fan of the First French Suite and find his somewhat famous sarabande for that suite very moving. That sarabande is one of my fav movements in all of Gould's work. >
I feel exactly the same about this Sarabande.

Jim Morrison wrote (November 14, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] My turn to agree with you.

I think highly of the Hewitt French Suites (as I do of just about all her recordings that I have.)

And speaking of the extra tracks on her discs, such as the little preludes, the way some people zip through the French Suites makes me think a little bit that they're approaching a suite like they would one of those sets of preludes. Perhaps, big perhaps here, Hewitt is partially making a statement in her repeat filled French Suites set, that there's a difference between playing a French Suite and a more simplistic collection of preludes.

Aside from the sarabande from the First Suite, which I'm happy to here someone else is entranced with, I'm fond of the Allemande and Gigue from the Fifth Suite and the Polonaise from the Sixth.

Those last two suites having a certain charm to them in Gould's hands, though in the long run I'd rather hear the Hewitt or the Rubsam on piano, or Curtis on harpsichord.

Just about anyone that knows about my 'struggles' with some Bach recordings/compositions knows that I've long been trying to like the French Suites more than I do. That's one reason I have so many recordings of them; I keep looking for one that's going to mean as much to me as a good set of the Partitas or English Suites, but I don't think that's ever going to happen. I think something about the music keeps me from appreciating them more.

I like them; they are good, but as Peter says, they seem a bit light, don't they?

Juozas Rimas wrote (November 14, 2001):
< Just about anyone that knows about my 'struggles' with some Bach recordings/compositions knows that I've long been trying to like the French Suites more than I do. That's one reason I have so many recordings of them; keep looking for one that's going to mean as much to me as a good set of the Partitas or English Suites, but I don't think that's ever going to happen. I think something about the music keeps me from appreciating them more.
I like them; they are good, but as Peter says, they seem a bit light, don't they? >
I've recently sat and listened to 3rd French Suite (Gould). I haven't heard many other renditions of it but I didn't care - the music/composition itself made me sit for several minutes without makina slightest move. The music is good, darn it, after so many listens :)

I don't know, as light as French suites are, I would sacrifice a bit chunk of non-Bachian classical music for the French Suites alone...

Revor Evans-Young wrote (November 15, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] As someone who has been listening mostly to Gould for thirty years, I am not sure if I am qualified to comment on other recordings. I too have almost everything he recorded and most of the videos also. If you haven't heard his Prokofiev 7th Sonata then you are missing something.

As far as repeats go, Gould is very specific about his treatment of them. Most of the time he takes the first repeat and not the second. I forgot his reasoning but I know he always varied the first repeat. He also made multiple recordings of both halves and then selected which ones went together the best. I mean why should someone blindly do repeats if they have nothing else to say. Are they actually playing the repeats or editing it so it is recorded twice?

I don't find them emotionally distant either. I feel a real sense of being connected to this music in his playing that I don't feel in the first hearing of other performers(on piano). I have always heard the complaint that Gould was overly involved and hyper-emotional for Bach playing. To me it seems that the Bach always comes out in his playing.

You say the have glitter and sparkle but they need more grace and dance. I find the glitter and sparkle are the grace and dance but, who says everyone has to agree. It is much better to hear a critical voice that is well thought out then what I usually hear about Gould, "I don't like him and I don't know why".

Curtis, is that the set I should buy next? I do want another piano version but, there are so many now with such differing prices that I don't want to make a big mistake.

I recently played some of GG's English Suites for a friend of mine who had never heard him and his comment was, 'you can hear everything'. He was stunned to say the least and keeps bothering me for a copy.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (November 15, 2001):
Jim Morrison wrote:
< I like them; they are good, but as Peter says, they seem a bit light, don't they? >
Well, I particularly like Joseph Payne's reading of them. He gives them much more depth than many.

Jim Morrison wrote (November 15, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I'm not even sure what I mean by 'Bach light'

What I do know is that I've yet to find a recording of them that moves me as much as some of the favorite partitas or English suites, inventions, toccatas, wtc, etc, etc. some of the movements are so short, under a minute, if the repeats aren't taken. Surely that's a very strange case in Bach's Suite-like works. Any thoughts on why this is? What was Bach's intention with writing such short movements? Simple experiment? Were other people writing such brief movements in their (keyboard) suites?

PS: Yes, I think Payne does manage better than some in these works, but for me, he's still a far cry from the way Curtis handles them, with his spontaneity and breath and dance and excitement. To me, he seems to be really making music with these works, treating them seriously, not as something to zip through or use to display some technique or his ideas on what Bach can sound like.

I've heard good things about Leonhardt as well, which I'm waiting on.

Jim Morrison wrote (November 15, 2001):
Do answer my own question, I was just looking at my Froberger (esp Remy, who I hardly ever listen to) and L. Couperin collection and was surprised to see how many movements in those suites were under two minutes long. Hmmm, Jim says of his own memory skills. I need to study more.

Hardly anything under a minute though and I can't say if that's related to taking or not taking repeats.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (November 16, 2001):
Jim Morrison wrote:
< I'm not even sure what I mean by 'Bach light'
What I do know is that I've yet to find a recording of them that moves me as much as some of the favorite partitas or English suites, inventions, toccatas, wtc, etc, etc. some of the movements are so short, under a minute, if the repeats aren't taken. Surely that's a very strange case in Bach's Suite-like works. Any thoughts on why this is? What was Bach's intention with writing such short movements? Simple experiment? Were other people writing such brief movements in their (keyboard) suites? >
I think it was pretty much the norm, when listening to other baroque keyboard suites. It is the longer movements that were somewhat exceptional.

But I do understand how you haven't found the right recording. There are many works like this for me. Though, recently, I found recordings that clicked for several Bach works - the gamba sonatas, the musical offering... I'm still trying to find the Brandenburgs that do it for me though.

Marshall Abrams wrote (November 16, 2001):
Jim Morrison wrote:
<< I like them; they are good, but as Peter says, they seem a bit light, don't they? >>
Kirk McElhearn wrote:
< Well, I particularly like Joseph Payne's reading of them. He gives them much more depth than many. >
Kirk, you're kidding! That's the one part of the Brilliant Classics collection that I got that I haven't been able to listen to all the way through (of the ones I've listened to). Payne's first couple of movements of the first suite just seemed like a waste of time to me.

OK, now I will have to listen to those two CDs, and see if I can hear in them something of what you hear. If not, OK, we're all different here, but I'll give it a try.

I admit that I don't know many versions of the French Suites; Aldwell's and Payne's are the only complete collections I have. To me the French Suites have indeed seemed less interesting than the English Suites, the keyboard Partitas, the Italian Concerto and the French Overture, .... Especially the major key French Suites. But I haven't chimed in about this before now because I've heard so few versions of the French Suites, and I know that it might just be that I haven't heard the performer that really goes to their heart, or rather that is able to use them as a vehicle for the performer's strong expression.

(As I said before, I think Aldwell's first three French Suites are very worthwhile, though I wouldn't expect that everyone here would like them.)

Donald Satz wrote (November 16, 2001):
[To Marshall Abrams] My first exposure to the complete French Suites was Gavrilov's set on EMI. I loved his performances and the music. However, when I reviewed a few different sets, I found that I much preferred Jarrett, Moroney, and Hogwood(all on harpsichord). I think these works benefit greatly from being played on the harpsichord - gives them an angularity that's attractive.

Charles Francis wrote (November 16, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] My first version was the 1973 harpsichord performance by Huguette Dreyfus. And, some 15 years ago, I was given the Gavrilov EMI set on piano, but unfortunately didn't like the performance. More recently, my discovery of Gould's French Suites was a revelation. Gould noted with regard to the influence of French culture on German music "It was a disastrous influence that inspired Bach to produce an extroverted, over-decorated style of writing." As a consequence, Gould removed the fashionable "galant" artefacts and so restored the work to Bach's natural idiom.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 17, 2001):
Charles Francis wrote:
< unfortunately didn't like the performance. More recently, my discovery of Gould's French Suites was a revelation. Gould noted with regard to the influence of French culture on German music "It was a disastrous influence that inspired Bach to produce an extroverted, over-decorated style of writing." As a consequence, Gould removed the fashionable "galant" artefacts and so restored the work to Bach's natural idiom. >
Wow! What a convenient cop-out, a rationalization that disguises Gould's utter disinclination to understand or accept the French Baroque!

Gould's commercial performances of the French Suites, English Suites (*), and French Ouverture are about as non-French as one can get. He drains all the grace and poise out of this music, ansubstitutes structural/analytical notions and Gouldian graffiti. That plus an almost rock-'n'-roll drive. It's Bach filtered through Schoenberg and Gould and 20th century culture.

[ (*) arguably more French in style than the French Suites are, except for their Italianate preludes.... ]

Bach's style in his French music sounds "extroverted" and "over-decorated" only if it's played without an understanding of French dance. Gracefulness, poise, disciplined deportment, and strict decorum are everything. Gould just chose to send Bach's music in a different direction when he did those sets in the 1970s.

Interestingly, Gould's own earlier performances of the English Suite #1 (1/17/56 broadcast) and French Ouverture (3/13/69) are better: more natural, generally more relaxed, more understated, more French. That 1956 English Suite performance has about as much poise and graceful motion as one could hope for in a piano performance...very nicely done. And it doesn't sound extroverted or over-decorated at all. It sounds gorgeous.

The young Gould was willing to take Bach on Bach's own terms, and his playing is exquisite. The older Gould (from about his late 30s on, his mid-life crises including his piano's death) was more interested in making Bach into something else.

If Bach wanted to write French music, I think we should let him.

As Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne point out in Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach:
"Bach knew personally or knew the work of three eminent French dancing masters in Saxony: Johannes Pasch, Pantaleon Hebenstreit, and Jean-Baptiste Volumier. (...) Beschreibung wahrer Tanz-Kunst, of 1707, shows Pasch to be well versed in philosophy and rhetoric as well as dancing. He defends French Court dancing from the attacks of pietist writers, describing it as 'the true dance art,' and arguing that the graceful movements are not only morally uplifting and lead to noble actions, but are in agreement with philosophy, mathematics, and theology. A well-regulated dance is natural and useful to man, and only its misuse becomes immoral. (...) [Hebenstreit] became one of the court musicians at Dresden in 1714, and was a friend of Bach's. Jean-Baptiste Volumier (c1670-1728) was also one of Bach's good friends. A Belgian who had been brought up in the French court, he was a dancing master, violinist, and finally Konzertmeister and composer of music for ballet entries at th!
e court in Berlin before coming to Dresden in 1709. (...) Clearly, Bach had ample opportunity to see, to know, and to appreciate French dancing and dance music. We may fairly conclude that French Court dancing and French influences were an intrinsic, important, and graceful component of Bach's world, and that his titled dance music reflects the noble and subtle movements of early ballet."

(I highly recommend this book.)

Why didn't the older Gould play the music that way? Because he didn't want to! And it's not surprising that he came up with snide comments about the "disastrous influence" of French culture on Bach...comments that conveniently excuse a personal Gouldian preference as if it were a moral certainty.

I repeat: If Bach wanted to write French music, I think we should let him.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (November 17, 2001):
Marshall Abrams wrote:
<< Well, I particularly like Joseph Payne's reading of them. He gives them much more depth than many. >>
< Kirk, you're kidding! That's the one part of the Brilliant Classics collection that I got that I haven't been able to listen to all the way through (of the ones I've listened to). Payne's first couple of movements of the first suite just seemed like a waste of time to me. >

Here is my review of them. I reviewed the Bis set a few months ago.

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)
French Suites
Fifteen Inventions
Six Little Preludes

Suite I in D minor [12.06]
Suite II in C minor [16.17]
Suite III in B minor [15.34
Suite IV in E flat major [14.15]
Suite V in G major [18.31]
Suite VI in E major [16.26]

Fifteen Two-Part Inventions [23.56]

Six Little Preludes [11.19]

Joseph Payne, harpsichord
Rec: March 1992.
BIS-CD 589/590 [133.35]

Bach's French Suites are among his most appreciated keyboard works. Their relative ease of playing (compared to more complex works, such as the Partitas, or the Goldberg Variations) has ensured their place in the repertoire of amateur keyboard players, both harpsichordists and pianists. These six suites, three in minor keys and three in major keys, are highly melodic, and show a wide variety of invention throughout their different movements. Written according to a standard set of dance movements, these are happy, lively works.

Joseph Payne approaches these suites in a different manner than many performers. Unlike many pianists, he makes no attempt to turn them into virtuoso showcases, by playing them at breakneck speed. And unlike some harpsichordists, he avoids turning them into over-ornamented avatars of French keyboard works, like those of Couperin. While they are called French Suites, they are not specifically French. This name was given to them by F. W. Marpug in 1762, but, curiously, it is Bach's English Suites that sound more French!

Payne's approach to these suites is intimate and reserved, yet he does not hesitate to play somewhat more freely in the repetitions of the various movements. His interpretation is clear and unambiguous; firm in, say the first suite, more delicate, almost dainty in the sixth suite. Under Joseph Payne's fingers, these works take on a new feeling.

This two-disc set also features some excellent "filler"; since the French Suites themselves are not very long, Bis had the good idea to add the Two Part Inventions and Six Little Preludes.

The Two Part Inventions, originally written with a pedagogical goal, are some of Bach's most interesting "little" pieces. Curiously, one can easily overlook the intricate counterpoint in these works; I only appreciated them when trying to play them. Payne gives a clear, unambiguous performance of them, helping show them more as the inventive works they are than simply exercises for intermediate harpsichordists. (Payne also made an excellent recording of these Inventions on clavichord for Hänssler, last year, as part of the W. F. Bach Klavierbüchlein.)

The six Little Preludes (again, not the name given by Bach) is another group of works of limited difficulty, which Bach apparently used with his students. Again, far more than simple studies, these works show that Bach could write pedagogical works with great musicality.

On all of these works, Payne uses all the possible sounds of his instruments (a beautiful Ruckers copy, by William Dowd, with two manuals, and a magnificent copy of a Flemish harpsichord, by David Jacques Way, also with two manuals) to enhance the music, adding as much variety as possible. The impeccable recording (as is often the case with recordings by Bis) adds to the immense pleasure that this disc provides.

A brilliant recording of some of Bach's most appreciated keyboard works. If the remarkable sound of the recording is not reason enough to buy this set, the delicate and flexible phrasing and subtle ornamentation should be.

Juozas Rimas wrote (November 17, 2001):
Charles Francis wrote:
<< unfortunately didn't like the performance. More recently, my discovery of Gould's French Suites was a revelation. Gould noted with regard to the influence of French culture on German music "It was a disastrous influence that inspired Bach to produce an extroverted, over-decorated style of writing." As a consequence, Gould removed the fashionable "galant" artefacts and so restored the work to Bach's natural idiom. >>
< Wow! What a convenient cop-out, a rationalization that disguises Gould's utter disinclination to understand or accept the French Baroque! >
In terms of satisfaction I wouldn't object if a performer removed certain embelishments from the score. I've already written to the list about Robert Hill playing the Sarabande from the BWV996 suite. Even if Bach himself wrote that heap of embelishments (somehow I doubt it:), making the piece almost impossible to listen, I woudefinitely choose a rendition with less embelishments to listen and enjoy :)

I know Bradley meant not only decorations but the style in the broad sense. Of course, most of Gould is not recommended for those wanting something less individualistic.

Jim Morrison wrote (November 17, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Nice post, Brad, but once again, I'd like to stress that we should also pay attention to all that was going badly in Gould's life in his last decade. I think under such conditions it would be hard for any artist to maintain a high level of grace, ornamentation, and dance. I don't think his late-Bach was simply a case of some kind of cold Gouldian logic at work.

Heck, the guy wouldn't even visit his mother in the hospital when she was dying. (She died, I believe, in mid 1975.) He also refused to go to his father's re-marriage a few years later. The man was clearly having personal problems both at and away from the piano, problems that I suspect would affect just about any artist.

The wonder isn't that (for some of us) his Bach took a downturn in this last decade. More surprising would have been if his playing didn't become more serious, less playful.

Donald Satz wrote (November 17, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] I imagine that I'm going to sound harsh here, but Gould's personal problems were nothing unusual, and most folks get over them and move on. If Gould did go downhill because of personal problems, he is the one responsible for poorly reacting to the problems. There's no reason to give him any slack.

Charles Francis wrote (November 17, 2001):
Donald Satz wrote:
< ... If Gould did go downhill because of personal problems ... >
The musical mind changes with time since one has acquired a greater range of experience and practice to draw on. What pleased the composer or performer in his youth can sound trite and mundane in later life. He/she has travelled a long musical path and perfected personal aesthetic notions. But for the listener there can be barriers. One has not travelled the same path, one does not have the same experience to draw upon. So in the case of Bach, for example, beginners will often find his Brandenburg Concertos and Well Tempered Clavier Book 1 more accessible than, say, the Art of Fugue, the Clavierubung 3, or Book 2 of the Well Tempered Clavier. But the same is also true of performers such as Gould. One may initially be attracted by their youthful virtuosity and break-neck tempos, but eventually one has traversed the path and comes to appreciate the superiority and subtlety of later interpretations.

Juozas Rimas wrote (November 17, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] They do give slack to the irresponsible criminals, don't they? :) What I'm trying to say that many geniuses (or demi-geniuses if you don't want to devalue the word) are different to the point of the mental disorder, including Gould (there are constant discussions on the Gould's mailing list about him having Asperger, Tourettes, hypochondria and other syndroms and phobias). So we should give him slack :)

Can Denizsi wrote (November 18, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] I think Gould's personality or private life does not interest anyone if the subject is his music, and if you do not want to write a biography.Of course his performances will be influenced by his life conditions.However, that does not give us the right to judge him.If these people were normal!!! Like us they would not be Beethoven,Mozart,Bach,Schumann or Picasso.Their emotional conditions and skills are quite different from ours so that they are what they are.It is the most general fault of human beings to mix the different categories of one person's life and to juge for one of them.That is why Beethoven is the most heroic, most viril, and best compositor considered by most of the music authorities, because they want to ideolise him and they want to make us perceive his music by the way of his life.Or every melomane knows what is thought on Wagner's life, ideas and music by some people.So what a pity.I love one of Zubin Mehta's words:"Listen more because music is listened...."

Revor Evans-Young wrote (November 18, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Recalling things that I have read in various books about Gould, I think he probably knew as much about French Baroque as anybody. He was a genius in more ways than one. He chose to play them the way he did and had a good reason(at least in his mind) for doing so. One thing one could never say about his playing is sloppy or not well thought out.

I thought 'French' and 'English' referred to the names of the dances in the suites. Wasn't Bach filtering his own music though a French 'style' in his own way much like Gould filtered it through his own sense of what he thought it should be?

Just my .02

Revor Evans-Young wrote (November 18, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] Can you listen to his 2nd Goldberg and tell me that some of the variations are not playful?

Marshall Abrams wrote (November 18, 2001):
With all this disparagement of Gould's later work, I'd like to pipe up say that I just heard Gould's 1981 Goldberg Variations for the first time, and roughly the second half contains some of the most intensely emotional Bach I've ever heard, IMHO. I don't know Gould's work well--only a few things--but given the evidence of the '81 GV, I'm reluctant to accept negative generalizations about Gould's late work.

And I hate to jump into the discussion of moral judgements, but I can't resist any longer: Why not just judge an artist's personal life by the same standards that you judge anyone else's personal life (whatever standards you may use), and judge their artistic work independently? Neither need excuse or add weight to the other. (Similar guidelines apply to certain other creative endeavors. For example, for me Gottlob Frege is one of the greatest logicians and philosophers of the last 150 years or so, maybe even of all time. But my praise of him because of certain of his work is not praise of everything about him. He was a vehement anti-semite, for one thing.)

Donald Satz wrote (November 18, 2001):
[To Marshall Abrams] I agree with Marshall. Although I try to stay away from judging anyone's personal life, I can't see applying different standards to the artists of the world. I know that many of them want different standards, but they can only get them if others support the differences.

John Grant wrote (November 19, 2001):
Marshall Abrams wrote:
"Why not just judge an artist's personal life by the same standards that you judge anyone else's personal life (whatever standards you may use), and judge their artistic work independently? Neither need excuse or add weight to the other. (Similar guidelines apply to certain other creative endeavors. For example, for me Gottlob Frege is one of the greatest logicians and philosophers of the last 150 years or so, maybe even of all time. But my praise of him because of certain of his work is not praise of everything about him. He was a vehement anti-semite, for one thing.) "
Well-said, and ditto for Heidegger, Pound, and the like. The former not a bad philosopher (although I do not like Penomenology), the latter not a bad poet. (Although some of his poetry is explicitly anti-semitic, and where this is the case his poetry is invariably bad.)

And so with Gould, a great pianist whom we love to hate, but who has had more impact on the playing of Bach than anyone else in this century. Though I do not like almost all of his WTC, I do not tire of lilstening to it. Both Goldbergs are without peer. The French Suites seem to me somewhere in between. Some of his interpretations seem to me almost mechnical, especially when he plays quickly. He is much better where his tempi are slow (and more thoughtful).

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 19, 2001):
John Grant wrote:
< (...) > And so with Gould, a great pianist whom we love to hate, but who has had more impact on the playing of Bach than anyone else in this century. Though I do not like almost all of his WTC, I do not tire of lilstening to it. Both Goldbergs are without peer. (...) >
I'll repeat my cheerleading for Gould's best work.... Anyone who has not yet heard the live 1959 Salzburg performance ofthe Goldberg Variations, please RUN get a copy!

The familiar 1955 and 1981 studio recordings are good, yes, and the 1954 radio aircheck is well done also. But his Salzburg performance is head and shoulders above them all. This is Gould at an ecstatic summit all his own.

Here are some of my earlier raves about it:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/2021
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/2428

He was so good in his early years. So good! His playing had astonishing purity, passion, beauty, control, focus, and naturalness. It was selfless, otherworldly, timeless, alive.

That's why I find it sad and disappointing that he abandoned those great skills later in his career and chose to play differently, calling more attention to himself than to the music. His playing remained highly accomplished and unmistakably brilliant, yes, but it lost that astonishing purity, passion, naturalness, and much of the sheer beauty.

The unfortunate thing about a summit is that there's nowhere to go next but down.

The Salzburg performance shows what great music is about, being played almost as well as it can ever be played. (Not only the Bach, but the whole program.) It's essential. It's Gould being the best possible servant of the music, a conduit of divine grace...not Gould Being Glenn Gould.

Michael Grover wrote (November 19, 2001):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I'll repeat my cheerleading for Gould's best work.... Anyone who has not yet heard the live 1959 Salzburg performance of the Goldberg Variations, please RUN get a copy! <snip> >
What's the title of this CD? I briefly searched Amazon and couldn't seem to find it. You've got me sold, Brad - I have to find it. I don't own any Gould yet and this sounds like the place to start.

Juozas Rimas wrote (November 19, 2001):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Here are some of my earlier raves about it:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/2021
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/2428
He was so good in his early years. So good! His playing had astonishing purity, passion, beauty, control, focus, and naturalness. It was selfless, otherworldly, timeless, alive. >
What other recordings by Gould have the aforementioned qualities in your opinion, besides the 1959 Goldbergs?

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 19, 2001):
[To Juozas Rimas] Sticking to his Bach: the partitas and the first Italian Concerto recording are fairly close to that level.

 

Gould on the French Suites

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 14, 2002):
David Schulenberg has an article on the French Suites in the Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach [Boyd], Oxford University Press. Schulenberg tries to point out that the French Suites have elements in common with the English Suites and that the English Suites are more like the suites of Bach's French contemporaries than the French Suites are. In any case, Bach never gave them this name, a name first mentioned by Marpurg in 1762 well after Bach's death. The NBA KB V/8 confirms in detail that never during his lifetime did Bach refer to these suites as being 'French.' The NBA editors see any discussion of a possible French influence in these suites as being secondary to the possibility that since there is an existing opinion (no firm evidence for this) that the English Suites may have been composed in response to a request by an Englishman, an analogous 'creation' should exist as well. They (publishers? after Bach's death) simply looked about for another nation that might similarly be honored with a name for this loose (and fluid) group of suites that served substantially for instructional purposes (for this reason there are a greater number of embellishments indicated in the score than one might normally expect.)

 

Gould's French Suites - pitch problems

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 20, 2003):
< Speaking of that Gould recording of the French Suites: in the sarabande of the C minor suite did they ever fix the pitch problems?
That's track 9, about 1'42" into it. Because of a splice into tape that was recorded at slightly different speed, there's a sudden shift downward in pitch, and it remains flat for the rest of that movement.
There are similarly shifty pitch problems in the gigue, track 12. Really annoying, IMO. (I have the 1986 CD issue, CBS #42267; I'm asking here if either of the later reissues have fixed that mess.) >
I'm listening to a friend's copy, in the two-disc Glenn Gould Edition:
they've cleaned up that gigue, but the sarabande still has the problem. It's less blatant but still there, still annoying, very sour. Anybody with the "anniversary edition" single disc reissue from 2002, is it fixed there?

 

French Suites BWV 812-817: Details
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Last update: July 12, 2010 21:02:34