Goldberg Variations (Gould)

In Classical Music, Opera on April 2, 2011 at 7:47 am

I thought i would give WordPress a go so this is an original blog entry from blogspot …

First of all please note that this is a blog. These are personal views. A mental meander through my own thoughts on music. Not based on a career as a critic but on a passion for classical music and a fundamental but I would hope thorough education many years ago in the subject.

This is a place where I will publish my own thoughts. I don’t always agree with what other people say and I definitely don’t expect people to agree with what I think about classical music, specific performances or performers. However I hope that if this is read then people will feel that they can start a discussion and share their own thoughts.

So why? I don’t profess to be an academic. I don’t profess that anyone will read this. I admit that all blogs are vanity projects and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. There is a side to me that wants to see if I can generate debate. Perhaps I will. Perhaps this will fall flat on its face. Although that would be impossible for a blog. Rather perhaps it will dissipate after a few entries. Either when I not longer feel compelled. Or I simply get bored. Who knows but perhaps bear with me for now.

So were to begin? Perhaps with the genres of music I enjoy. Then at least you can decide if you wish to read any further.

I enjoy all classical music. While that is a sweeping generalisation, it is simply true. I can and do sit through a lot of music. Some in performance, some on radio and some on DVD. But while I listen to a wide range of genres and styles that doesn’t mean that I enjoy it all.

What I particularly love is vocal music – opera in particular – and orchestral music. To hone this down even further I prefer the music of Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Handel and Mozart when it comes to opera and vocal music, but do also enjoy forays into the works of lesser known operatic composers. In terms of orchestral music, Richard Strauss again features as do Mozart and Handel, but the Bachs feature heavily as do Beethoven, Mahler and Haydn. And with regards choral music, JS Bach is right up there with of course the great choral moments in Mahler – religious experiences in a sense – together with the great polyphonists.

But if I look at my iPod I have Korngold – perhaps not so surprising considering my love of Strauss – but also Bruckner, Couperin, Chausson, Gretry, Hartmann, Lebrun, Lorenzo Palermo, Lully, Messiaen, Porpora, Rossini, Schmidt and Suk to name a few. But each can draw a line back to my first list in some way.

And naturally some composers I have come to later than others. A good friend of mine – who sadly died a few years ago and with whom I enjoyed many memorable concerts – once said that as you grew older the appreciation accorded to composers changed with life experience. It is something that I have heard on countless occasions but always as a sense of moving inexorably forward and discarding composers in your wake. He taught me how to listen to new composers – or should I say ‘other composers’ – through the prism of those I already loved and admired. It’s how I came to appreciate Mahler – a composer I had for so long struggled with. And more importantly it meant I never lost my love for other composers.

So it surprises me that as I write my first entry I am in fact listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. My intention is to note what I am listening to at the top of each entry. So having written that my primary passions are opera, vocal and orchestral music, here I sit writing this while listening to the complete opposite. Music for solo keyboard. I think perhaps that this blog will be full of these contradictions but on the whole chamber music – as I call it – generally leaves me cold.

So why Glenn Gould’s performance of the Variations. And does it matter that it is the 1955 recording. Does that make me a snob in some way? No. But simply I sat down to write after I had selected this piece of music. I love the beautiful simplicity of his performance. Many years ago, my piano teacher said to me that the secret of a great performance was that the listener should feel that he could walk to the stage and feel that he or she could perform the same piece of music. Not necessarily to the same artistic standard, but feel inspired to give it a go.

Now I know that I cannot play to the standard of Gould but his performance makes me want to ‘get inside’ the music and the only way I know how would be to sit at a piano and bang away. Not with the aim to recreate perfectly the sense of balance and finesse that he brings to this beautiful piece of music, but rather to discover and enjoy my own sense of musicianship and interpretation that his performance compels me to find.

Does that make me strange? Does anyone else ever feel the same compulsion?

So Gould compels me to leap to a piano. I would if I had one so instead I feel compelled to leap to this alternate keyboard! Another thing – often when listening to the Goldberg Variations I stop every four or five and return to the original Aria. This is something I started doing only recently. Why? It isn’t like Bach does not ensure that the Aria is recognisable even in the most complicated or abstract or the thirty-two variations. But after three or four variations I feel the need to once against marvel at the shear simplicity of the opening Aria. I cannot think that there is a single piece of music apart from this Aria where the simplicity of the opening few bars is so starkly beautiful that is takes one’s breath away. And then evolves into veritable avalanche of music thought.

And at the very end. A return to the original Aria. Beautiful.

So there you have it. My first entry. I had thought that I would wax lyrical about Wagner or Strauss. Or perhaps even Handel. But there you have it. I said there would be contradiction and there it is. In my first entry.

But what a beautiful contradiction it is.

Thank you.

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