132 – Technology and the Artist: Glenn Gould in the Studio

“The justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations. The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.” – Glenn Gould

One of the greatest classical pianists of the 20th century, Glenn Gould, shocked the world at age thirty-one when he announced his permanent retirement from public performance. Denouncing the concert hall as a relative of the Roman Colosseum and audiences as a “force of evil”, for the sake of his artistic integrity and personal sanity he committed the rest of his musical life to recording in the studio.

Gould’s brilliant and sometimes provocative performances of classical masterworks are well known, especially his unequaled recordings of Bach. But he was also a prolific, articulate, and no less provocative critic. In essays like “The Prospects of Recording”, he laid out his philosophy of performance, of the relation between technology and music.

He described his own experimentation with unconventional recording techniques, and made bold and often accurate predictions about how recording technology would change how the average person would relate to music. And he outright rejected many of the stagnant conventions of contemporary classical performance.

In this episode, Thomas discusses Gould’s fascinating (and often entertaining) views on music and technology, and plays a number of his recordings. If you’ve never heard Gould play, you’re missing out. If you have, you’ll find this episode all the more interesting. 

Pieces played in this episode (all performed by Glenn Gould):

J. S. Bach, Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I: Prelude and Fugue no. 3 in C-sharp major, Fugue no. 20 in A major, Prelude no. 21 in B-flat major

Bach, Two- and Three-Part Inventions: Invention no. 12 in A major, Sinfonia no. 5 in E-flat major, Sinfonia no. 9 in F minor

Brahms, Intermezzo No. 2 in A major, op. 118

Beethoven, Symphony No. 5, IV. Allegro, piano transcription by Franz Liszt

Thomas Mirus’s 2011 essay “Glenn Gould in the Studio” https://thomasmirus.com/2013/05/20/glenn-gould-in-the-studio

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