Glenn Gould and the case for moral rights in sound recordings

Published on: Author: James Chalmers Leave a comment

On the IPKat blog, Mira T. Sundara Rajan writes about one of the most gifted musicians of our generation and an interesting issue in moral rights:

“[October 4] is the 33rd anniversary of the death of Glenn Gould – Canadian pianist and musician extraordinaire, who died in 1982, at the premature age of fifty. One month before he died, Gould completed re-recording the work that had first made him famous, the Goldberg Variations of J.S. Bach. But to say that he revisited an old work in that final recording seems curiously imprecise. The second recording was so utterly novel, so completely reimagined from his first, spectacular, and universally admired, 1955 version of the work that, in its own way, it qualified as a new undertaking. Amazingly, the second Goldberg managed to fascinate and captivate just as fully as the original recording did, but in a completely different way. It holds the work together with what Gould called “a sense of pulse,” and further bolsters Gould’s already stellar reputation as an artist of almost cosmic significance.

In the three decades that intervened between the two recordings, Gould developed what may have been the most remarkable career in the history of Western classical music. He hated live performance. At the age of 32, he decided to live life as he wanted to, and undertook the dramatic and unprecedented step of retiring permanently from the stage. He was warned against doing so by his manager, the legendary Walter Homburger, who told him that audiences were fickle and, once gone, he might never be able to come back. But Gould had a plan – to maintain his presence in the world of classical music through recordings – and proceeded to carry out this feat with extraordinary efficiency and effectiveness.

The secret of Gould’s success was arguably very simple: it lay in the quality of his recordings.  Gould approached recording as no artist had previously done. For him, the goal of recording was not to reproduce his own live performance; rather, it was to create a new, unique work, one that could only have been born in the studio.  Live performances were one-off affairs and, if something went wrong, if anything were different from what the artist truly desired, nothing could be done. The failure was complete – a fatality. He called it the “non-take-twoness” of performance. In contrast, the recording studio represented control – supreme, undeniable, artistic control – the ability not so much to excise and avert mistakes (not an issue for Gould) but to re-think and re-conceptualize every instant of a musical interpretation, to exercise creative control over nearly every dimension of the final musical form.”

Read the full post on the IPKat blog here.

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