The Well-Tempered Ear

Today is Glenn Gould’s birthday. What’s your favorite recording? | September 25, 2009

Glenn_Gould_1By Jacob Stockinger

Today (Sept. 25) is the birthday of pianist Glenn Gould, who was born in Canada in 1932 and died in Toronto on Oct. 4, 1982. Had he lived (he died of a stroke at 50), Gould would be 77.

Along with Rubinstein, Horowitz and Richter, Gould remains one of the most famous classical pianists of the 20th century.

He was known for his personal and musical eccentricities (people today speculate that he had the Asperger’s Syndrome form of autism) and for his pioneering recordings of Bach, which left out repeats and used no pedal, emphasizing a detached harpsichord-like touch.

Not very many people can do two completely different performances of Bach’s mammoth “Goldberg” Variations and make both of them thoroughly original and equally convincing. Gould did, at the beginning and end of his career.

But aside from Bach (which he was in the process of re-recording when he died), he did some other interesting work (though many say his Mozart and Beethoven are best avoided.)

I particularly like the album he did of pre-Baroque masters William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons. And I like his interpretations of late Brahms intermezzi, which are rich in polyphony.

If you get a chance, see “32 Short Films About Glenn Gould.” It’s as fascinating as he is.

I still love Gould’s Bach. But I have also moved on to somewhat richer, more pianistic interpretations. These days, I am partial to Till Fellner (the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 and the Two- and Three-part Inventions), Andras Schiff (French and English Suites) and Richard Goode (the Partitas).

Still, Gould brought the piano back to Bach, or Bach back to the piano.

What do you think of Glenn Gould?

What is your favorite recording of his?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music


  1. Apart from both Goldberg Variations,
    my ears have fun with his English Suites.

    Comment by ricardomenacuevas — January 13, 2015 @ 4:59 pm

  2. Andras Shiff and Richard Goode are mediocre s$#@%

    Comment by John Smith — November 7, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

    • Hi John,
      Thank you for reading and replying.
      Of course you are entitled to your opinion. But I woud be interested in knowing more in detail why you say what you say and what you look for in great piano Bach.
      But there are many listeners — players, critics, performers, fans — who simply disagree with you.
      You may prefer Gould,and many do, nut that does mean that other performers are without merit.
      I myself would put Andras Schiff and Richard Goode right at the top of the best of the non-Goulds. I would also add Till Fellner.
      All of them have a great sense of clarity and rhythmic drive as well as subtle shading and a gift for counterpoint.
      The Ear

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 8, 2012 @ 8:31 am

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