Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - September 2019

Monday, September 16, 2019

Maxing Out on Music: Glenn Gould Well Tempered Clavier Book I

 I'm not doing YouTube because it seems like everything I think of trying either is being done by someone else, or it's not possible these days due to current YouTube shenanigans involving "copyright infringement" (that is actually covered by Fair Use laws, but hey... corporations get to do what they want).

 One thing would be a music appreciation angle involving "Why You Should Listen to This".  Which has been done by others, I know.  It seems a popular thing with a lot of my students, explaining aspects of music/musicians that may not be obvious.  In turn you have more fun - you can enjoy an art form that much more fully.

 It's literally why my life has been spent on music.

 So today I find myself putting Glenn Gould's  _Well Tempered Clavier, Book I BMV 846-853".

 This is maybe my go-to for "finding solace music". 

"Chip, there isn't any guitar!  Why should I listen to this?" I can hear you thinking.

 The first thing that comes to mind is that compositionally it's lean.  Joe Bach had an idea in mind, in these pieces he was demonstrating the utility of the new technological revelation of well tempered tuning.  In a nutshell, prior to this era music had to be written with the awareness that only certain chords could be in tune, certain combinations of notes would be more out of tune with each other.

 Bach used these pieces to demonstrate the harmonic interaction between notes in keys that previously would not have allowed these instances to happen sonorously.  He had a "harmonic agenda".

 Each prelude and fugue is a little more contained and stentorian than some of the more lurid things he's known for.  Perhaps a casual, less intensive approach was used.  They're not ultra florid, they're not overtly complicated.  In a sense it's "simple" music, very pure.

 Glenn Gould had a special approach that some didn't/don't like.  His (first) execution of Book 1 fits his style perfectly in my opinion. He's not hamstrung by garish ornamentation and loud trilling, ultra-bright "let's ignore the dynamics" thrashing. 

 It's delicate and nuanced, every last note.  Each prelude has a unique character, and he doesn't litter his performance with technique that he could have lathered on heavily had he wanted to.  A very respectful and artistic performance.  A great synergy. 

 He later made another recording that I don't care as much for, so I'm referencing just his first effort.   This recording falls into my "near perfection" category.  Nothing makes me annoyed about it, and both the composition and the playing is exemplary and smooth, measured. 

 Effectively the most anti-21st century example of music there is.

 Hard to appreciate without enduring countless renditions of Bach that are a little too fast... too dramatically slow... too laden with trills, bombastic accents, overly exaggerated execution.   When listening to this try to note dynamic shifts that happen subtlely.

 Prelude No 5 in D, there is a descending flourish that Gould decidedly begins a little loud - a little loud - and has an accent mid-run that again is a tiny bit louder... diminuendos at a specifically measured rate.  A specific, French curve of a rate.

 Not LOUD AS POSSIBLE soft LOUD AGAIN soft.   Measured, artistic.

 On this recording he is constantly delivering an ebb and flow with nice shades of variance.  Completely selfish performance; he's not concerned with CRASHING against the listener's obdurate inability to detect flashy playing and technique.  It is using technique in the best way possible.

 I've gone weeks where this is all I listen to.  "Mainlining" music is integral to absorbing the essence of music in my opinion.  If you really like something, just listen to it as much as possible in a concentrated form.  If the reader has never done this, I suggest this is an important part of being able to create music; your subconscious mind is noting what the conscious likes.  The repetition, like learning technique on guitar, is reinforcing your personal "filter" for what comes out of you.

 Listen it, and try to note the way he gets louder and softer, faster and slower, and the pacing.  The music itself - ultra Bach-logical, but it's not hitting you over the head.  Simple, lean and pure.