Glenn Gould Desert Island Discography

Glenn Gould Desert Island Discography

Bill Bessey: The Art of Glenn Gould, Take 11. On this edition, which marks the halfway
point in this 22 week series, Mr. Gould selects the four discs, none of them his
own, he would endeavour to take with him if confined to a desert island exile, and
in the best traditions of the late, lamented CBC series Hermit’s Choice,
discusses his selections with Alan Maitland. Alan Maitland: And that’s one of them, Glenn? GG: That’s one band from one of them, Al. If I remember my Henry Comer [?] rulebook correctly, it’s
permissible to take along a multiband disc? AM: Oh, certainly. GG: You know multiple sets are frowned upon, I believe. AM: Yes I think that’s true. One has to discourage the Encyclopedia Britannica takers somehow. GG: Well, I’m
still a member in good standing then, because this disc consists of about, oh I
guess a dozen works by the only one of the composers on this program that I
wouldn’t have to think twice about when putting on my all-star team, as they
say in the NHL. AM: And he is? GG: Gibbons. Orlando Gibbons. AM: I see: English 16th century?
GG: Right, 16th and early 17th actually. AM: I’m a bit surprised, Glenn. I should have
thought Bach would have been accorded the place of honour. GG: Yeah, well, I
suppose that I opted for someone other than Bach, Al, partly because I could recreate a good deal of Bach for myself, I guess. AM: At the piano, you mean? GG: or harpsichord or reed organ or whatever. I’m assuming that my humble
quarters in this desert island would offer some keyboard consolation? AM: Well, I’m not at all sure that it’s safe to assume that, Glenn. After all, the tropics are
very hard on sounding boards, you know. GG: Is this a tropic island? AM: Well, I assume so. Exiles like yourself are usually confined to southern latitudes, after all, you know
St. Helena, Devil’s Island… GG: Yes, or Oahu, I guess, for the last days of Syngman
Rhee. AM: Right. After all, Glenn, those are the Catskills of the extraditionee. GG: Oh dear, well I somehow thought that I could have my choice of locale. AM: And that would be? GG: Oh, one of the more windswept isles in the outer Aleutians, perhaps. AM: Are
you serious? GG: Absolutely, or the Falklands maybe, except that I don’t really think
I’d want to be that close to a Latin domain. AM: But Glenn, you’re ruining a
hard-won press image. You’re supposed to be a hot weather person, (GG: Yes), intolerant of drafts, (GG: Quite), susceptible to chills, (GG: Certainly), reluctant to venture out without two pairs of gloves, except in July, when I have
personally seen you in the CBC cafeteria with one pair only on occasion. GG: That’s a gross distortion, sir. I’m basically a cold-weather person. My best and clearest
headed moments, if I may so style them, inevitably transpire in northerly climes
on days which are unseasonably cold and preferably overcast, as well. You know, I
really do find that as I’ve often said, my disposition bears an inverse
relationship to the prevailing temperature. I’m not fond of wet weather
per se, though I love fog, but I do find long periods of constant sunshine just
about unendurable. AM: You are serious? GG: Completely. If you’re really
going to extradite me to a tropic island, you’d better be prepared for a particularly uncooperative prisoner, sir. AM: In other words, you’d be the first Devil’s
Islander to try and escape swimming north? GG; Right. AM: Okay, let’s assume that we can allow you the latitude of your choice. Does this alter your record selections
in any major way? GG: No, not really. You see I’ve always believed that one should
live as though one were in exile anyway. I’m natural hermit material as a matter
of fact. Seriously, I don’t believe that one can ever come to understand oneself
very clearly if too much of the world is allowed to intrude.
I think exile, given the appropriate climatic stimuli, would probably be about
the best thing that could ever happen to me. AM: And you’d share it with Orlando Gibbons? GG: Yes. I would. Ever since my teenage years, this music
has really moved me more deeply (and more frequently since this particular
record by the Deller Consort, anyway, is one that I’ve literally worn out three
copies of), moved me more deeply and more frequently than any other sound
experience I know. AM: Well Glenn, it’s very beautiful indeed.
How about choice number two? GG: I think choice number two would be an earlier
piece still, an early Renaissance piece, probably. I don’t think it matters so much
what piece it happened to be. It could be Ockhegem or Landini or Josquin Des Pres. I think the main thing, though, is that it ought to be the sort of piece
that makes you realise the distance that music has come, and at the same time
makes you think about the way or ways in which it might have gone. See, I think
that the impact of one’s own personality upon one’s self, if I can put it like
that, would be the real benefit of an isolated existence. I think that it’d be
only possible to experience that impact after you’ve gotten through being
nostalgic about the things that you left behind, and I suspect that if you took too
much music of the post-Monteverdi world with you, you’d be inclined to
sit about and just wax nostalgic indefinitely. AM: But isn’t that a pretty
negative reason for picking medieval fare, Glenn? GG: No not really, because I think once your exile gets through remembering and savouring the past, he’ll probably want to start reshaping the world. AM: In his own image? GG: In a manner of speaking, yes. Certainly in whatever image seems to correspond to his own reflections upon
that world. See, I think that this hermit of ours would be most grateful for a
reminder of some of the antecedents of the modern world, ones which he could then endeavour to build in quite a different fashion if he wanted to, than the post-
Renaissance traditions decreed. AM: Hey, I like that. GG: So do I. Josquin Des Pres. AM: Do you remember his dates? GG: Yeah, late 15th
century, approximately – about a hundred years earlier than Gibbons. AM: But wouldn’t you take anything contemporary with you Glenn? I mean wouldn’t it be worthwhile to
recall some of the directions things have taken in effect? GG: Yeah, that’s true,
although it’s a bit of a liability assuming you really could redesign
your environment, I think you wouldn’t want too many conflicting influences
around, but yeah, I think I would. I think I’d probably break down in
the end and take one of the most adventuresome and most delightful pieces
that Arnold Schoenberg ever wrote: the Serenade Op.24. Do you know that one? AM: That’s a 12 tone piece? GG: Almost, but not not quite. That’s why I like it. AM: What was that, a guitar and clarinet? GG: Yeah, guitar, mandolin, two clarinets, I think, and string trio. I love that piece. AM: Well, there’s one thing I notice about your list so far, Glenn: it’s fairly
esoteric. Wouldn’t there be room on your sub-Arctic shelf for a divertissement of
some kind? Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think so well, although mind you that
Schoenberg piece has a real out-of-doors nocturnal flavour if that’s what you’re
looking for. I used to have a theory that there might be a
certain kind of prospective Desert Islander who while on mic would assure
you that he’d take something very solemn and didactic, say the Kunst der Fuge. AM:
Yes, or the Grosse Fuge by Beethoven. GG: Right, or the complete Frescobaldi or something, whereas I suspect you could have a whole other game figuring out
what that guy would really choose. I bet the fellow who would make a
very big deal out of selecting the Kunst der Fuge would be the very person who, once he was off the air, would really opt for Tales in the Vienna Woods or something. AM: Yes, starlight favourites from the Hollywood Bowl. GG: Right, that was a good one, eh? It’d be great fun to run a whole other series I think devoted to the list
that people would really submit if under hypnosis. AM: A fascinating idea. Would your own list undergo any changes if that were the case? Do you think that this
applies to you in any way, Glenn? GG: Oh no, no. As I’ve said, I feel that my list is carefully considered, Al. AM: What I’m asking is, “do you think that this applies to your own choices Glenn? GG: No I think that I that I’d still pick Gibbons and…. AM: Let me ask you
again, Glenn. Do you think you’d really take the recordings you’ve told us about
today, or would you have another list altogether? GG: I, uh…I’d take…. uh, [sighs]. AM: Are these really the records you would take? GG: Um, what? What’d you say? AM: I said, “are these really the records that you’d take?” GG: Of course I’d take Sch…Schoenberg, Gibbons… AM: and Josquin Des Pres, I know. Anything else? I mean, you do have a fourth choice coming. GG: Oh yes. Yes, well I’d take Sibelius for that fourth choice. AM: Because of the northern identification, I suppose? GG: Yes, and because Sibelius strikes me as being the perfect example of a
passionate but anti-sensual composer, which is a very difficult blend to
achieve. But I think it’s a blend that you’d need as an emotional backdrop for
an isolated existence. That peculiar northerliness of Sibelius
that people are very fond of talking about is nothing other, I think, than
an ability to ride out the more mundane consequences of his material and not get
embarrassed about those consequences. It’s very like looking at a flat and
gray tundra expanse and not expecting flowers or mountains. He
doesn’t just push on to a climax or impose a climax regardless, as even
very great composers like Richard Strauss sometimes do. AM: Mm-hmm. I suppose even Wagner and Tchaikovsky are guilty of that. GG: Indeed. No, Sibelius doesn’t do it and I think that one knows, however, that there will be an eventual climax. You
feel that there is an emotional centre to his life and to his work, consequently.
I think it’s that balance and that perspective that makes him appeal to me
particularly. AM: Well now, which Sibelius are you taking? GG: I think I’m going to take
the fifth symphony for two reasons: first of all because even though it’s
less obscure I suppose than some of its companion pieces, the fourth symphony,
say, and hence supposedly less revealing or less meaningful according to the true
Sibelius devotee. I happen to think that precisely because of the clarity it
offers, it really is the best of the lot by far. Secondly, it has a couple of very
special connections with my own life which, even though I argued against the over-
reminiscent exile… AM: Yes, I was just about to say that. GG: Well, we’re human, you know. Which are occasions that one would probably like to remember in exile. The most recent one was a year or two ago, and I used the finale of this
symphony as – I was going to say background music, but it wasn’t
background music really – it was a sort of a component, a component of the
epilogue, the final scene or the epilogue of the radio documentary that I did on
northern Canada. AM: Yes, Idea of North. GG: Right. It appeared as a sort of musical support
for some really extraordinary comments and philosophical summations, I suppose,
by one of our northern subjects, the surveyor Wally Maclean, and I think the
two elements made a very moving blend, if I do say so myself. AM: By the way, you’re
going to give North a rerun in this series, Glenn? GG: Yeah,
I hope so a bit later on, yeah. AM: Well you said there were two personal…GG: Oh yeah, the first one was the occasion of my first performance as an itinerant troubadour
in Germany. AM: This was in Berlin? GG: Yeah, in ’57 and as the concluding work of that
concert Herbert von Karajan conducted this symphony. It was the first time it
had ever been played, I think, by the Berlin Philharmonic, at least that’s what
they said at the time. AM: And you were impressed? GG: Much more than that. It
was one of the great musical awakenings, for me at least. At that time I wasn’t
even much of a Sibelius enthusiast, but I went to most of the rehearsals, and each night I’d go up to the broadcast booth because they had the
very civilised habit of repeating all of the concerts for broadcast purposes
three times, then picking the best takes, and putting those takes out on the air,
which I which we’d adopt here, and so I got to hear this glorious, massive,
awkward, moody piece about half a dozen times, and I heard it being shaped more
meaningfully than in any performance I’ve ever heard. BB: That was the Symphony No. 5 in
E-flat by Jean Sibelius, Glenn Gould’s fourth and last choice for desert island
listening, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under the
direction of Herbert von Karajan, and it has concluded Take 11 of The Art of Glenn
Gould. Earlier in the program, Mr. Gould expressed a preference for the hymns and
anthems of Orlando Gibbons as interpreted by the Deller Consort; the
instrumental output of Josquin Des Pres as rendered by the Pro Musica Antiqua of
Brussels; and the Serenade Op.24 by Arnold Schoenberg, one movement of which was performed by an instrumental group under the direction of Bruno Maderna.
Next week, Mr. Gould’s regular interlocutor Ken Haslam returns from
investigating a few exotic watering holes of his own, and their program on
that occasion consists of one work only: Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 in C
minor, as transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt. This program was produced in
Toronto by Richard Coulter with technical operations by Lorne Tulk and
this is Bill Bessey speaking. [captions edited by Bruce Cross]

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1 Comment

  1. Beautiful performances in reaching such a high level of ecstasy.Very sensual and reassuring at the same time.
    I believe that Glenn provided the questions as well. What a treat.
    Thank you so much for uploading.

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