Published by
WQXR Features

From the Vaults: Glenn Gould on Bach's Goldberg Variations

Email a Friend

In 1982, the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould sat down with the critic and broadcaster Tim Page on WNYC’s “New, Old and Unexpected” to talk about the composition that came to define his career more than any other.

Gould’s recording debut in 1955 of Bach's Goldberg Variations took the world by storm – it was reported to have sold 40,000 copies by 1960, and had sold more than 100,000 by the time of Gould's death in 1982. His decidedly un-Romantic and highly personal approach elucidated Bach's music in a whole new way. In 1981, he revisited the Goldberg Variations and delivered a new interpretation far more introspective, with more calculated phrasing and ornamentation.

Here Gould explains how he re-listened to his 1955 account before recording the new version. "I was really curious about what I would find,” he tells Page. “I found it was a rather spooky experience. I listened to it with great pleasure. I found it had a real sense of humor, for instance – all sorts of perky, spiky accents and so on that gave it a certain buoyancy. I found that I recognized the fingerprints of the party concerned.

“But I couldn’t identify with the spirit of the person who made that recording. It really seemed like some other spirit involved and as a consequence I was really glad to be doing it again.”

He adds: “As I’ve grown older I find many performances – certainly a great majority of my own early performances – just to fast for comfort.”

Technical issues aside, the interview also offers insight into Gould's eccentric humor and unique outlook on music. The pianist died of a stroke later that same year.