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Volume 20 Issue 8 - May 2015

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RememberingGlenn GouldDAVID JAEGERThe announcement of Phillip Glass as the 11th recipient theGlenn Gould Prize this past April 14 gives us an opportunity toremember that Glenn Gould was himself an artist who walkedamongst us. Although he was someone who changed the world ofmusic in a number of significant ways, the fact remains that he wasa person who lived in Toronto, who had friends and colleagues here,myself included, and who was always just a phone call away. He wasan indisputably extraordinary individual, but to those of us who wereclose to him he was just “Glenn.”The circumstances of our first meeting are typically Gouldian.There was no introduction, no “Hello, I’m David” or corresponding,“Hello, I’m Glenn.” Rather, it came through one of Glenn’s patenteddevices for getting to know and sizing up another person, namely TheGuessing Game.I was the junior producer of the CBC Radio Music Department,having joined the team in January of 1973. It was now early 1974, andalthough Glenn was never seen in the office during the working day,there were hearsay reports of his nocturnal visits via conversationswith veterans of the department. Naturally, as the low man of theRadio Music team, I was keeping late hours, learning the job and justgetting work finished.On that particular February evening, a man suddenly appearedat the entrance to the cubical where I worked. He resembled GlennGould, but scruffy — not the shined-up PR photo version I mighthave expected. His first words were, pretty much exactly, “Excuseme, but if I were to ask you about a certain work, a concerto choréographiquefor piano with an ensemble consisting of a woodwind octet,brass trio, tympani, string sextet but without any violins, and whichwas composed for a private occasion in a stately home in 1929, whatwork would you guess that it was?” Given that I had only recentlyprogrammed a recording of the Francis Poulenc Aubade in one ofthe daily shows I produced, (Sounds Classical with host de B. Holly),I immediately answered that it sounded like that was precisely thework in question. Having passed the test, I was accepted into thefraternity. Our friendship, too, was kindled in that moment.The conversation went on, and covered such topics as his viewson French piano music and why he tended to avoid it. He explainedthat the Poulenc work in question was chiefly driven by melody andrhythm, which he liked, and unlike the Impressionists whose musiche felt was narcissistic in its obsession with sonority. He explainedwhy he had recently recorded two works by Bizet, calling him “Themost Wagnerian of the French Romantics.” He preferred music thatembraced counterpoint, pointing out that, as long as the voices andrhythms were clear, the message of the music was not beholden tothe sonic circumstances through which it would be played, recordedand heard. In a following conversation soon after he revealed that hiscompositional avatars (his word) were J.S. Bach, Richard Strauss andArnold Schoenberg. It was their respective achievements in the artof counterpoint that had earned them this ultimate standing in thepantheon of Glenn’s heroes.Not long after that initial conversation I received further confirmationthat I had passed the test embedded in Glenn’s guessing game.He asked me if I would be willing to work with him as his producerfor a series of 10 radio programs in honour of the approaching centennialof the birth of Arnold Schoenberg. No sooner had I agreed, itwas revealed that the series had already been granted the stamp ofapproval from Radio Music’s senior management. This was to be aseries of weekly one-hour radio programs in which Glenn wouldsurvey the music of Schoenberg in “conversation” with KennethHaslam, a CBC Radio staff announcer. The quotation marks are therebecause this would be an entirely scripted conversation, written byGlenn, even the alleged opinions and interjections of Mr. Haslam. Andmost of Glenn’s recordings of Schoenberg’s piano music would beincluded, such as the Suite, Op.25; the Piano Concerto; the Phantasyfor Violin with Piano Accompaniment, Op.47; the Ode to Napoleon,Op.41 as well as the major orchestral, chamber and choral works.It was a fascinating and engaging production, laden with tightlypacked information about Schoenberg’s music and insights intoGlenn’s understanding of it. And there were interviews with exceptionalindividuals whom Glenn persuaded to share their knowledgeof Schoenberg, including conductor Erich Leinsdorf, choral scholarDr. Denis Stevens, biographer and musicologist, Henry-Louis de LaGrange (the founder of the Bibliothèque Gustav Mahler) and composerJohn Cage who was once Schoenberg’s pupil.These interviews were fascinating not only because of their eruditeparticipants, but also because they were not staged in the least.Glenn’s interview with John Cage, for example, included some of thewell-known stories of Cage’s own relationship with Schoenberg, suchas his admission that he had “…no feeling for harmony,” to whichSchoenberg responded that without a feeling for harmony Cage wouldcome to a wall and not be able to get through it. Cage responded:“…well I’ll simply bang my head against that wall.” The interview alsocontained references to several composers other than Schoenberg.Cage mentions Anton Webern, Henry Cowell, Morton Feldman andeven Erik Satie in ways that relate to Schoenberg and his approachto composition. At the end of the Cage interview, Glenn resorts toanother of his trademark devices, which he called, “One of thosereally dumb, hopelessly hypothetical questions to which there is noanswer, namely, what would Schoenberg’s reaction be if he couldcome back and survey the musical scene of 1974.” Following peals ofuncontrollable laughter, Cage responded, “I’m afraid he’s stayed awaytoo long to come back now. I think he would be absolutely shocked.Had he come back a little sooner he might have corrected our evilways.” The other interviews were equally candid and revealed theirsubjects’ common willingness to open up and share their thoughtswith Glenn, an artist they respected, trusted and admired.Glenn was a person who was equally at ease with all of his variousmeans of communicating, from guessing games, to really dumb,hopelessly hypothetical questions, to broadcasting, documentarymaking and to performance and recording.To expand on just how this experience of working with Glenn atthe beginning of my 40-year CBC Radio career affected the experiencesand productions that came after, well, that’s, as they say,another story.DON HUNSTEIN AND SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT (SONY BMG)76 | May 1 - June 7, 2015

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