Sunday, September 25, 2016

Glenn Gould: Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 (1962)



Glann Gould plays the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, opus 15, with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by  Leonard Bernstein on April 6, 1962.

If it seems in the opening comments, a rare event, to be sure, that Bernstein is distancing himself from Gould, in a sort of betrayal, it is not so Bernstein said, who considered Gould a close friend. In this excerpt from “Glenn Gould Variations–By Himself and His Friends” (1983), edited with an introduction by John McGreevy, Bernstein gives his explanation, which is also found on the Leonard Bernstein site (“The Truth About a Legend”):
So I went out, read these few notes, and said, “This is gonna be different, folks. And it's going to be very special. This is the Glenn Gould Brahms concerto.” Out he came, and indeed he played it exactly the way he had rehearsed it, and wonderfully too. The great miracle was that nobody left, because of course it had become such a thing to listen to. The house came down, although, if I remember correctly, it took well over an hour to play. It was very exciting. I never loved him more.
The result in the papers, especially the New York Times, was that I had betrayed my colleague. Little did they know—though I believe I did say so to the audience—that I had done this with Glenn's encouragement. They just assumed that I had sold him down the river by coming out first to disclaim his interpretation. It was, on the contrary, a way of educating the audience as part of Thursday night's procedure. All this was not only misunderstood, but repeated and repeated and multiplied exponentially by every other newspaper that wrote about it.

Then Harold Schonberg, the ex-chief critic of the Times who wrote the infamous review, wrote a Sunday piece in the form of a letter to “Dear Ossip”— Gabrilovitch, I assume. “Dear Ossip, you vill nyever guess vat last night in Carnyegie Hall hhappent!” sort of thing. The piece was based on this notion of betrayal. He has never let that notion die, and because it’s so juicy it has undergone a kind of propagation all over the world. However, the “juicy” part is what did not happen. (For me, the juicy part is what did happen.) Of course, a defense is very weak, once a legend is born. It’s rather like the Radical Chic Black Panther legend, which I can never seem to set straight. I have the feeling, even now, that trying to make this story about Glenn clear by telling the truth can’t really erase the now legendary, but false, version.
We can always try to set the record straight, never an easy task when legends of the mind take hold.