Had I been invited to choose my Desert Island Disc, I would have undoubtedly gone for Bach’s Goldberg Variations. By no stretch of the imagination could I have picked other than the 1981 Glenn Gould recording of them.
Glenn Gould was not fond of live performances. Indeed, he went to great lengths to make it abundantly clear by publishing an essay titled “Let’s Ban Applause” in which he stated that “the purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity”. I totally embrace the message.
The problem of live performances is that more often than not, some audience members cough, whisper, and even yell during events. As if that were not bad enough, they dare to hastily resound the concert hall with premature cheers and applause. Yes, I know I may sound pernickety but silence and sound are inseparable parts of music. Next time you went to a classical music concert, enjoy the silence at the end of each movement (including the last, for God’s sake).
Let’s drop the subject and return to the aim of this post. The Goldberg Variations are a set of 32 pieces: an Aria, 30 variations and a repetition of the Aria. On one level, it is a simple beautiful piece of music, on the other an icon of Western music.
As a self-taught aficionado musician I was able to play the Aria by heart. Unfortunately, I cannot sight-read and my fingers are not ready for counterpoint. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding pieces I have ever learnt.
The music from the Goldbergs is contructed symmetrically. On each variation the cohesive discourse seamlessly advances, creating a charming and moving listening experience. I virtually get hooked with this flawless work by Bach.
Why Gould instead of Murray Perahia, Angela Hewit or András Shiff? Probably because I know that Gould will have never been pleased enough for any of his own recordings. Horses for courses.