To the Editor:
Samuel Lipman’s long and adulatory article, “Glenn Gould’s Dissent” [Music, November 1979], draws a dissent from me. In his performances of Bach’s keyboard music, Gould displays excellent technique. But he also displays occasional sharp departures from good taste. I appreciate the desire of a recitalist to present a new interpretation of a classic, thereby distinguishing his performances from conventional ones. But I prefer to hear conventional interpretations that are in good taste to unconventional ones, such as those of Gould, that are sometimes in poor taste. . . .
Let me give an example. I frequently listen to part or all of the Prelude of Bach’s Partita no. 1 in B-flat, played by Gould, because it happens to be the theme of a program on my favorite radio station, WETA in Washington, D.C. This piece has an occasional trill in either hand (two of them appear in the first measure in the right hand). Gould plays these trills louder than the melody. The effect is ludicrous. . . . Gould also introduces numerous embellishments which are not in the original text or in the original spirit, and plays some chords broken which are unbroken in the original, especially the very last chord of the Prelude, which gives this dignified piece a flip ending.
Many other examples could be given, such as Gould’s occasional tendency to play a well-executed staccato when the manuscript does not call for it, and when it is in poor taste.
Is it an accident that Gould’s denigration of Mozart, cited by Mr. Lipman, is that toward a composer whose music displays a sense of taste more exquisite than that of most other composers?
I am aware that taste is a highly subjective matter. But I dispute Mr. Lipman’s contention that Gould is rejected for his bold innovations themselves. Unfortunately the innovations are at times the wrong kind. . . .
George J. Schuller
Samuel Lipman writes:
It is plain from George J. Schuller’s remarks on Gould, Bach, and Mozart that in music he prefers classical restraint and the observance of previously agreed-upon limits. Such a position is not only an honorable but indeed a necessary one if music is to continue in an orderly fashion. Unfortunately this conservative way of looking at the performance of music written up to the death of Brahms has by now hardened into a tyrannical orthodoxy; just how powerful this tradition has by now become may be gathered from Mr. Schuller’s strong rejection of the very trifling liberties Gould takes in the opening of the Bach Partita.
For more general evidence of this state of affairs, one need only go to any hundred professional concerts. Here the listener will find unlimited good taste and respect for the composers. What will only rarely be found is any individuality at all. When one does find an individual approach, and when it is based, as it is in Gould’s case, upon what Mr. Schuller himself calls “excellent technique,” one can only applaud its existence. This is a matter beyond listeners’ likes or dislikes, for when individual creativity is lacking, replication becomes a meaningless task.