Glenn Gould Playing the Goldberg Variations (Video)


I've grown up hearing Glenn Gould's two performances of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Gould's first landmark performance was released in 1955, and it was passionate, fast, and popular -- with a runtime of just over 38 minutes, Gould's first performance left out many of the repeats within the variations, plus he kept the tempo up. That 1955 recording was a blockbuster hit (as classical recordings go), and helped to put the Goldberg Variations on the cultural map; prior to that performance the Variations were not particularly well-known among non-classical-music nerds. Gould made a second recording in 1981, and he changed things quite a bit. In addition to a much cleaner stereo recording, the new performance was slower, clocking in at over 51 minutes long, though that's still considered fast for a Variations performance (others pianists can take upwards of 75 minutes for the same material). Gould also included various repeats in the latter recording.

What I didn't realize about any of this, while listening to the recordings for thirty years, was that Gould was filmed at various times performing these pieces, most notably during the 1981 recording sessions. This adds a whole new level of interest to the work, as you can finally see Gould moving his mouth -- he hums, sings, and mutters while playing -- and this makes a lot more sense when you can see it. Below, I've collected a series of videos showing Gould at work.

1981 Performance

Note Gould's piano chair (rather than a bench). This is a selection from "Glenn Gould Plays Bach," shown in its entirety at the end of this post. This video cuts out the closing Aria.

1964 Performance

Apparently the original 1955 sessions were not filmed, but here's some concert film from 1964. Looks like he's had that chair for quite a while.

1955 Performance

While the original performance wasn't filmed, it was beautifully photographed by LIFE Magazine. Here's a video showing some of those photographs:

The Entire 1981 Performance (With Interviews)

Here's the entire "Glenn Gould Plays Bach" documentary, directed by Bruno Monsaingeon. I suspect this video will be pulled from YouTube at some point, as this doesn't appear to be an official release.

Further Viewing

32 Short Films about Glenn Gould must be mentioned, if not necessarily understood. Here's a selection:

You may also be interested in this recital from French television. Finally, if you want to own Gould's Goldberg Variations recordings, I urge you to check out A State of Wonder: The Complete Goldberg Variations (1955 & 1981).