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Voice One: Gould as Pianist


Gould is a legendary pianist and Kevin Bazzana faced a massive subject when he approached the nature of Gould's pianistic skill. But he does take it on and delves into significant areas that deserve consideration.

First, Bazzana has tracked down the obscure facts of Gould's only professional teacher: Alberto Guerrero. Contrary to Gould's assertions that he was self-taught, he actually studied for a significant amount of time with this excellent, though forgotten, Chilean-born teacher. What Bazzana has discovered closes the case on Gould's claim. Guerrero (who also taught a significant collection of other Canadian musicians) was a superiour musician-pianist and had a large influence upon Gould.

Second, Bazzana has tracked Gould's experience with other pianists. Most significantly is the tidbit that Gould heard the pianist Josef Hofmann and was 'awe struck.' Gould did not grow up in total isolation and he heard many of the best pianists of the 1940s in concert in Toronto. Also significant is the 'relationship' with Vladimir Horowitz who had a considerable influence as well -- Gould was one with a whole generation who aped the master.

Bazzana also asks very pointed questions about Gould's technique and its impact upon his interpretations and repertoire choices. Gould had a brilliant technique, but he may have been more than personally uninterested in the big war-horses of the repertoire. He may have fully realized that it was not physically in his best interests to regularly perform such works (though without question he could do it).

But what is the essence of Gould's glory as a pianist? Apart from the contrapuntal mastery which is so often commented upon, I believe the answer is in two parts. First, his amazing rhythmic verve. Many modern pianists imitate Gould's spicatto (Italian for separated, distinct) style of piano playing, but they never catch the animation and swing of Gould's playing.

Second, Gould's 'sound' as a pianist. Gould himself wrote during a period when he was having difficulties with his playing, that the 'sound' was back. He knew full well what he had. The very greatest pianists possess, by some alchemy which combines technique with some unknown elements, a personal sound which is easily recognizable. Horowitz, for instance. Paderewski or Gieseking, are other examples. This is one attribute so often missing from modern pianists: they have not found their own sound. Perhaps they have not even searched. But this Gould possessed: a unique sound. It is the essence of great pianism.


A contrapuntal review

Introduction: Adagio

Voice One

Voice Two

Voice Three



Copyright © 4 August 2004 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada


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