Here is one of those youtube treasures: Glenn Gould (GG) talking about J.S. Bach.
Without surprise, GG gives (in his eloquent, articulate and elegant style) very interesting and valuable insights not only on the music of Bach but also on the history of music before and after the death of Bach.
I found particularly interesting the point he makes about Beethoven. After the death of Bach, the main focus of music shifted from the sacred to the profane (or from the church to the theater, as he put it), the dialogue between man and God was replaced by a dialogue between man and man, reflecting a ‘rational’ view of the world. The struggle (the quest) to transcend the human condition was still at the essence of many works of art and of the music of Beethoven in particular, however … ” the Grandeur of Beethoven resides in the struggle, rather than in the occasional transcendence which he achieves”. This is indeed what I feel when listening to Beethoven; a passionate man, often tormented, expressing his strong emotions through music to appease his self. Bach’s music is more of a reflection on the perfection of creation. This may explain why Beethoven is generally more accessible to people than Bach: he is somehow more like us, more … human.
Another interesting point he addressed is the importance of accepting the music of Bach as it is. Gould, as a very intelligent man gifted with a creative mind, doesn’t take seriously the efforts of interpreting and theorizing the symbolism of Bach’s music and finds the quest for ‘the correct interpretation’ dangerous. In fact he seems to consider this kind of research vain. A position to which I totally adhere.
This kind of historiographical approach to the understanding of art, by putting the emphasis solely on the artist and giving him full control on his creative work, is simply flawed. Not only nobody can reconstruct the real chain of events leading to the works of art (including the artist himself) but also the historical account is never complete and is biased. At best it gives a correct story or anecdote. The other point is that the spectator is simply discarded in this kind of analyses; a crucial point raised by Duchamp (see related post: here). Without too much theorizing, and sticking to the facts (remember Russell’s advice), he simply says that “Bach was first and last an architect […] the greatest architect of sound that ever lived.”
No need to say more, this is GG on JSB! Enjoy:
After watching this I felt the urge to listen to the Art of Fugue. An extremely contrapuntal and difficult masterpiece, that Gould probably mastered like anyone else. Andras Schiff is reported to have said that “Gould had better control over five voices than most players have of just two”. Here, GG playing the first nine fugues (by the late 70s I guess):