Gould and variations


Ghyslaine Guertin


Louise Courteau éditrice

Date de publication

12 avril 2012





Gould and variations


BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Composers & Musicians
MUSIC / Musical Instruments / Piano & Keyboard
PSYCHOLOGY / Creative Ability

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Biographie de l'auteur

Ghyslaine Guertin teaches philosophy at the Collège Édouard-Montpetit in Longueuil, Québec, and is an Associate Professor in the music department at the Université de Montréal. In 2004-2006 she was in charge of research for the exhibition devoted to Glenn Gould entitled Sounds of Genius, which opened at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec, in September 2007.


The work of Glenn Gould employs a range of expressive techniques that combine sounds, words and images without ever compromising the unity and logic of the aesthetic vision they reflect. Nevertheless, it is his interpretive brilliance as a pianist that continues to inspire emotion and awe. The genius of Glenn Gould lies in the sounds he created.

With Gould, music becomes a language – a language of such rigour, coherence and clarity that all who hear it are able to discern its principal components. Each sound is articulated and perceived distinctly as part of a melodic and harmonic sequence that imbues it with meaning. The structure of each musical phrase is integrated into the work as a whole according to a rhythm and a tempo that continually reinforce the central discourse.

Gould compared his approach to that of a composer analyzing and dissecting his own work. As an interpreter, he did not hesitate to define himself as a “recording artist” dedicated to the “reconstruction” of that same work.The CD on which it is presented to the listener is thus the result of a lengthy process: take after take of the same phrases, the same ornaments – marginally different each time – until the point when the whole piece precisely mirrored the idea already formulated in his mind. This endless editing and splicing of the audio tape can be likened to the craft of the filmmaker.

 As well as broadening the possibilities of his art through the application of new technologies, Gould helped revolutionize the relations between composer, work and listener, requiring that the latter be not only receptive but also creative. He always conceived of a listener with access to the most sophisticated equipment, whom he could lead straight to the essence – discovery of the work – of his own quest for beauty and ecstasy.

S. Bach and his contrapuntal composition were his main source of inspiration. “I really can’t think of any other music which is so all-encompassing, which moves me so deeply and so consistently, and which, to use a rather imprecise word, is valuable beyond all of its skill and brilliance for something more meaningful than that – its humanity.”Gould’s career was framed by one of Bach’s most fascinating compositions, the Goldberg Variations. The work is concerned with balance, symmetry, harmonic coherence and, according to baroque principles, diversity and contrast. Transcending his mathematical rigour, the composer operates highly imaginatively, using a variety of genres, writing techniques and expressive means. Bach succeeds in transforming his basic musical material – an aria – without altering the general structure of the work. Owing to its harmonic form, the aria enables the listener to perceive the wide diversity of the sound landscape that is revealed as the work unfolds. The interpreter can play with complete freedom in the garden created by the composer: “It is, in short, music which observes neither end nor beginning, music with neither real climax nor real resolution.”