Composer Glenn Gould is known as many things—technician, talking head, genius, madman. This course from the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research explores Gould’s recordings, his roles as composer, polemicist, and impresario, and his wide-ranging engagement with composers both canonical and obscure. Together, we’ll ask how he negotiated the conflicting demands of art and celebrity, as well as what Gould’s music and career reveal about the tensions—between elite art and mass culture, archaism and modernity—that have defined classical music both during his era, and in our own.
Within a decade of his death, the pianist Glenn Gould had assumed an almost mythic status, fêted by Edward Said, lionized in experimental films, and fictionalized by the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard. While other musicians might rival him in album sales, Gould came to symbolize his art form as a whole: classical music was a traditional field in an age of modern technology and mass media, and in Gould—recluse and celebrity, ascetic and showman, musical antiquarian turned high-tech revolutionary—it found a figure whose contradictions mirrored its own. He seemed to embody the promise of modernity, abandoning the stage for the control of the recording studio and comparing his interpretations to “an x-ray of the work.” The metaphor captured more than he intended: beneath his avowed impersonality, Gould imbued everything he played with his own fanatical lucidity. To Edward Said, he was “the virtuoso as intellectual,” remaking the Romantic genius for the modern age. But behind Gould’s up-to-date urbanity listeners sensed a distinctly old-fashioned madness, reflected not just in the eccentricity and hypochondria that deepened as he aged, but in the compulsive force of his playing itself. So what was Gould—technician, talking head, genius, madman? And what does this many-faced musician reveal about the art form he came to represent?
When: 09/14-10/04/21, Tuesdays, 6:30-9:30pm EDT
Location: 30 Irving Place, 10003 New York