The Glenn Gould Edition - Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
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It's rather amazing today, when recordings of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier practically fall of the shelves, to recall just how unusual it was back in the 1960s for a pianist to undertake to record this amazing work. It's probably fair to say that until Glenn Gould got his fingers around it, Bach's music was used for teaching purposes more than anything else. What Gould proves in this essential set is that Bach is decidedly not just a threat to hold over the head of budding pianists but a joy to listen to. One of Gould's very greatest recordings. --David Hurwitz
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Now when I go back to Gould it feels a little too analytical and detached. I have been told I need to go back and listen to him again, but that is how I feel about his playing at this time.
Yet I am most grateful that all three interpretations are available.
In some cases (Beethoven piano concerti come to mind), much is to be gained by strict adherence to "period" styles and instruments. In other instances, however, certain music lends itself to revitalization...the WTC is a perfect example. This was music written to demonstrate advances in music notation; in other words, it was the eighteenth-century equivalent of today's hi-fi "demonstration disc", it existed to serve a technical purpose. It's hard to imagine that Bach would have considered WTC to be inviolate, although he certainly must have felt that way about much of his other work.
That notwithstanding, a surpassing genius such as Bach deserves special consideration, regardless of his original intent for the music. However, we must also remember that the idea of preserving period sounds is a twentieth-century phenomenon; eighteenth and nineteenth-century composers were used to their music being radically modified from performance to performance. I believe that if Bach could survive the shock of playing as individualistic and emotional as Gould's, he'd be delighted by the new angles uncovered by this strikingly original, if not shocking interpretation.
Yes, Gould "sings along". Yes, he takes liberties with tempos, articulation, etc. But in the end, his reading of WTC is fresh, original, and uniquely his own, without denying the unapproachable perfection already put there by Bach himself. Bach would have approved, and Gould's reading has stood the test of time. No one says that this needs to be the "definitive" WTC, but it is a triumph in its own right. Like Bach, Glenn Gould was a true original.
This is part of a largely-self-guided learning course on Bach and classical music in general.
Let me get to the most interesting part: At points during the recording, you can hear someone, I assume Gould, singing or humming along, which I find astonishing, because it shows the absolute joy and engagement of the performer (again, an assumption) in this music. I noticed this vocal accompaniment more in the Book 1 than in Book 2, which I bought concurrent.
The sound is pristine, bell-clear. Amazingly, I noted with interest, a few of these recordings were made on the day after I was born (and well before), an age ago.
The liner notes are interesting and relevant - much appreciated. You should know that there are different essays in the two books.
OK, it's not the original harpsichord, so does that make it inauthentic? I find the beauty and range of the piano so much fuller, that it's well worth the tradeoff.
Clearly I have so much to learn, but whether you understand the structure and complexity of the composition of the entire work, this is beautiful music to dip into even for a few pieces.