A CONTAPUNTAL REVIEW
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
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.
Copyright © 4 August 2004
Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada