8 years ago

Volume 13 - Issue 9 - June 2008

Bravo Fortissimo Glenn

Bravo Fortissimo Glenn Gould: The Mindof a Canadian Virtuosoby Helen MesarosAmerican Literary Press480 pages, photos; .95In 1959, whenGlenn Gould wastwenty-seven yearsold, he signed alease on a twenty-sixroom mansion northof Toronto to escapehis parents' house.Petri tied, he endedup cancelling thelease, though he didmanage to move outon his own. The same year he claimed tohave been severely injured when a pianotechnician at Steinway greeted him with toomuch enthusiasm. He needed endless treatments,which included an upper body cast.Not long after, he withdrew from the concertstage altogether.For Toronto psychiatrist Helen Mesaros,these events marked the beginning of hisdecline, both psychological and physical.Much of her book covers territory that hasalready been dealt with in the many previousstudies of Gould's life and mind. Mesaros isnot even the first psychiatrist to study whatshaped Gould's mind. But no-one has doneso much detailed examination, or delved asdeeply into his childhood and youth. Mesarosspent fifteen years tracking down andinterviewing those who played a role in hislife, many of whom have now died. Some,like his nanny and chiropractor, had not beenpreviously interviewed. Other key figures,like his disapproving father and cluelessdoctor (whose last name, Percival, is misspelledthroughout), reveal things not previouslyuncovered. Everything from the Valentine'sDay poem he wrote his mother whenhe was seven to his notoriously erratic drivinghabits come in for analysis.Mesaros creates sympathy for Gould byshowing that if he hurt many people, hisown was the greatest hurt. Indeed, by theend, he was 'deeply disillusioned and abandonedman'. She emphasizes that that he washelpless to control his eccentricities. Sowhy, she wonders, did no-one recognizethem as symptoms of clinical depression, andtried to help him? However, Mesaros doesnot explore the common links between creativityand depression. Nor does she say howshe would she have treated Gould - withoutaffecting his playing.This book should be read not just for itswealth of material, but for its profound insights.I would welcome a new edition toedit out unwieldy explanations, irrelevantpersonal comments and linguistic gaucheries.It could include a detailed analysis of62Book Shelfby Pamela MarglesGould' s relationship with Cornelia Foss,whose recent emergence as Gould's loverMesaros was just able to mention. Imagine ifshe could interview her! Clearly, the story isnot finished.After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianismand Modern Performanceby Kenneth HamiltonOxford University Press319 pages, illustrations; .95Kenneth Hamilton ~·was prompted towrite this study ofromantic piano styleby what he describesas 'a deep uneasewith the sheer routineand funerealboredom of somepiano recitals I haveattended (and nodoubt given).' Hamilton,a Scottish pianist i:;:;;!b,...., ........ "'""'....;-and writer, offers a wealth of material basedon his studies of first-hand descriptions ofconcerts, early recordings and scores producedby legendary performers like Liszt,von Biilow and Busoni.For Hamilton, pianists today - especiallywhat he calls the 'urtext fetishists' - are hamperedby a too-reverential attitude to the writtenscore. He longs for the expressive spontaneityof golden age pianists. It's not thatpianists today aren't talented, but they needto take performing traditions into accountwhen performing works from the 19th century.Following in that tradition, a cadenza canbe stylistically jarring, chords can bearpeggiatedfreely, and rhythms can be elastic.He would even encourage 'preluding', where19' 11 century virtuosi, most of whom werecomposers, would introduce and connectmovements of a piece with improvised interludes.His main target is not pianists but musicologists,who have co-opted the essentialjob of editing scores, even though 'theiracademic skills are far more advanced thantheir executive.' Among the few pianiststoday Hamilton singles out for unqualifiedapproval is Canadian pianist Marc-AndreHamelin who combines 'a remarkable rangeof tone colour with an inquisitive musicalintelligence.''The message', as handed down fromLiszt to his pupil Martin Krause to his pupilClaudio Arrau, he writes, 'seems to be communication,imagination, and variety.' Hamilton'sdelightful wit, narrative flair andwealth of anecdotes encourage us listen tothis message, even though his ideas for itsapplication may be provocative. We may notlong for the days when a multi-movementwork would rarely be performed all the wayWWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COMthrough, when a performance would be interruptedby clapping not just between movementsbut in the middle of a piece, and whenaudiences rarely paid full attention to theperformance - but we can value the traditionthat emerged.Next fall, Marc-Andre Hamelin plays a recitalfor Music Toronto at the St. LawrenceCentre on November 11, when he will performtwo of his own compositions as well asa work by golden age virtuoso Leopold Godowsky.Rostopovich: The Musical Life of the GreatCellist, Teacher and Legendby Elizabeth Wilson ---·-·-----··--- ____ ..Ivan R. Dee408 pages, photos;.00 usROSTROPOVICHfi'. .lli · •'This biographicalmemoir by Britishcellist and writerElizabeth Wilsonserves as a fittingtribute to the greatestcellist of his time,who died last year.Wilson studied withRostropovich in Moscow during the 1960's,and interviewed him extensively later whenhe was living in the west. So she knew himwell. She understands his musical milieu andthe political situation of those times. Sherecounts her own experiences, along withthose of fellow students like Jaqueline du Pre,Mischa Maisky and Natalya Gutman, whorecalls Rostropovich asking her during alesson, 'Why are you playing like a policemansitting in his booth?'Rostropovich was prodigiously gifted as acellist, conductor, pianist and teacher. Hesingle-handedly shaped the modern cellorepertoire, premiering nearly two hundredworks. Wilson includes glimpses of composersclose to him like Shostakovich, Prokofievand Britten. He stood as a beacon of integrity,even in his most trying times with theSoviets. He emerges from these pages as awarm, funny, passionate, generous, ebullient,engaging and utterly brilliant character.He was clearly far more than a teacher forWilson and her fellow students. 'He hadgiven us food for thought that lasted a lifetime',she writes. Wilson is not uncritical,just grateful.One of the many wonderful stories hetold his class was how he blackmailed BenjaminBritten into writing the three suites forsolo cello. He threatened to do an embarrassinglyelaborate curtsy when meeting the BritishPrincess Royal if Britten wouldn't agree.The contract was drawn up on a restaurantmenu. Wilson points out that while Rostropovichrecorded the first two suites, hewouldn't record the third. 'He felt that thismusic had its own mystical existence, insome dimension beyond time', she writes inthis exquisite memoir.J UNE 1 - J ULY 7 2008

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