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"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Glenn Gould

bach: the gift that keeps on giving . . .

rosemary, cyclamen and a kabocha squash on the kitchen counter . . .

rosemary, cyclamen and a kabocha squash on the kitchen counter . . .

As a pianist whose favorite composer is Johann Sebastian Bach, I have numerous recordings of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II. Any pianist who undertakes to learn them all and then perform them either by memory or using the music has my respect and admiration, even if their recordings aren’t necessarily my most favorite ones. Up to today, I owned Bach WTC I & II recordings by Glenn Gould, Sviatislav Richter and Angela Hewitt. I also have random prelude and fuge recordings by Clara Haskill, Maria Joao Pires, Martha Argerich and Peter Serkin among others.

Many of us recall the splash made by the Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould, when he came upon the music scene, seated on a sawed off wooden chair, humming to himself, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was on stage in Carnegie Hall and playing the Goldberg Variations faster (and with more clarity) than anyone had ever imagined possible. Gould also recorded the Goldbergs, this time at a much slower tempo twenty years later and it’s interesting to listen to both sets one after the other. For a long time, my favorite pianist performing Bach was Angela Hewitt, also a Canadian pianist who has recorded just about everything Bach ever wrote for the keyboard: Inventions, Partitas, English and French Suites, the Goldberg Variations, both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier and other pieces like the Italian Concerto for solo piano and the keyboard concerti with orchestra.

Today, as I was finishing my breakfast, I came upon a review in the New York Times of the French pianist, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who performed the WTC – Book I, using the score at a Carnegie Hall recital. The reviewer noted that Andras Schiff performed the WTC by memory and seemed to “channel Bach.” I happen to disagree with this opinion because I have listened to a few clips of Schiff playing Bach and am bothered by the tempo and rubato liberties he takes with the score. That is, he plays unevenly and pauses at places that seem to please him, and not as Bach intended it–at least not to my ear. The photograph in the NYTimes article of the Steinway concert grand and the pianist on the wide stage was striking, a gorgeous snapshot depicting the glory of a pianist playing Bach on a concert stage. After reading the review, I listened to a few segments on I-Tunes and then purchased the album once I figured out what my Apple I-Tunes password was after a few futile attempts.

I listened to this new set of preludes and fuges while I did an hour or so of housework this morning, and found that I liked them a lot. I cleared off items crowding space in the plant room, fed the canary and rearranged sea things that I had found on the beach last year when we went to the Cape after Christmas. I made a new playlist for the downloaded disc and burned a CD for my car. As I pulled out of the driveway to go to the post office and grocery store, this new Bach piano music filled the car. The morning sun shone through the trees, many with brilliant yellow leaves that had not yet fallen. For me, there’s no simpler nirvana than to listen to Bach while doing chores inside and errands out and about.

So, heartfelt thanks first of all to Johann Sebastian Bach, for composing all that lovely music in the first place. Gratitude for the New York Times newspaper which also keeps on giving, introducing me to concerts, pianists and recordings that I might not otherwise come across. Kudos to Pierre-Laurent Aimard for playing Bach so beautifully and for making this recording. And a huzzah to Apple and I-Tunes for making equipment that enables someone like me to download, listen to, purchase and then copy a CD for my car in less time than it takes to sweep the floor!

All in all, I’m grateful for this rapturous confluence of art and technology on a brilliant Fall day here in New England. What a JOY!

 

Postscript: I noticed that the Aimard CD in hard copy on Amazon.com is listed for $16.99 while I downloaded it on I-Tunes for $11.99.

 

playing it “Bach’s way” . . .

Sometimes I go on music playing binges. Right now, it’s listening to Rosalyn Tureck playing the Well-Tempered Clavier Preludes and Fugues of Bach. She was born in Chicago in 1913 and died in 2003. Glenn Gould, the infamous piano interpreter of Bach hailed Rosalyn Tureck as the only pianist that he revered, which she acknowledged graciously since she never achieved the stardom that he did emulating her playing style. Here are excerpts from an obituary that appeared in the British newspaper, The Guardian, written by Jessica Duchen and published Saturday 19 July 2003.

“You play it your way; I play it Bach’s way.” Addressing the indomitable harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, the equally indomitable Rosalyn Tureck, who has died aged 88, made one of her most famous and characteristic statements. For JS Bach was the composer to whom this strong-willed, demanding and fearsomely intelligent American keyboard player dedicated her life, both as performer and scholar.

She was born in Chicago, the granddaughter of a famous Kiev cantor; she related, with great pride, her father’s tales of a carriage, pulled by eight white horses, taking her grandfather on tour for the high holy days. Her main teachers were Sophia Brilliant-Liven, Jan Chiapusso and Olga Samaroff (the American wife of conductor Leopold Stokowski) and, for harpsichord, Gavin Williamson.

Her talent showed itself early, and she made her public recital debut in Chicago at the age of nine. When, at 16, she auditioned for the Juilliard School of Music, New York, she startled the panel by offering to play most of Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues from memory.

Shortly afterwards, she settled on her future direction during a strange episode in a Juilliard practice room. While working on a Bach fugue, she blacked out for a short time; she came round with an inner revelation that she needed to create a different type of keyboard technique specific to the playing of Bach. Her teacher told her it was a wonderful, but impossible, idea; in response, she changed teachers. She never stopped perfecting this apparently elusive notion.

Tureck’s pianistic style, which (unfairly enough) was a huge influence on the more celebrated Glenn Gould, was uncompromisingly rigorous, intelligent and full of attention to detail: she took, for example, great care over the appropriateness of ornamentation. But what always convinces the listener is the compelling, incandescent, almost evangelical spirit that shines through that detail. She was hailed as “the high priestess of Bach” – and that is how she will be remembered.”

She was the “High Priestess of Bach.” If you have not had a chance to listen to her Bach recordings, you are in for a treat. I introduced them to one of my daughters who wrote back that she had two words to describe her listening experience: “Hubba, Hubba.”