The Manic Experimentation and Amazing Results of the Young Glenn Gould

Picture via Bonhams of New York

Picture via Bonhams of New York

Glenn Gould was most famous for his 1955 recordings of Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations which he recorded when he was 22 years old. The tapes were remarkable partly for the amazing ability of the young musician, but also his manner of recording.

Before Gould’s recordings, the majority of artists would work through their interpretation of a piece before heading to the studio. The session was often reasonably straightforward with minimal takes.

Gould had a completely different take on recording. Per a recently released box set of the complete recordings of the 1955 sessions, Gould recorded each piece dozens of times, working through ideas, trying alternate takes, and measuring variations and happy accidents. His wasn’t sure of his interpretation and allowed the recording process to be part of the final piece. Per Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times, “Over his career, Gould increasingly embraced recording’s potential to foster experimentation.”

In post-production, Gould would mix and match the recordings together into a final record that captured what he felt was the essence of “the Goldbergs.”

Additionally, his method of working through pieces is still evident when he did a re-recording of the Variations in 1981, shortly before his death. He took meticulous notes, scribbling ideas or circling areas that required careful consideration.

“I would call this the equivalent of a shooting script of a movie,” said the critic Tim Page, a professor of music and journalism at the University of Southern California and the editor of The Glenn Gould Reader. “He keeps track of which takes he likes, and how long they are.” (per Michael Cooper).

What is fascinating to see is how his private, illegible notes were indeed only for him to understand. But, his work ethic and attention to detail are apparent and undeniable. Gould had put in enumerable hours before entering the studio and then used recording period to take chances and improvise to find the best solution.

Ultimately, regardless of talent, you need to use a combination of hard work and creative thinking to get the best results.