by Geoffrey Payzant
Published in Musical Canada: Words and Music Honouring Helmut Kallmann, edited by John Beckwith and F.A. Hall.
My book on Glenn Gould came out in the spring of 1978, the first (and in 1986 still the only) monograph on its subject.1 A year later it had sold almost 5 000 copies, the magic number in Canada to qualify as a "best seller"; I believe it was the first Canadian title on a musical topic to achieve this status. Subsequently it was published in Japanese by Tappan in Tokyo and in French by Fayard in Paris, so there are now more than 20 000 copies in print in three languages. I do not know the exact number because ownership of the copyright changed hands four times in the first five years as one publisher after another went out of business; this is surely another record. That twenty-five or more publishers declined my offer to show them the manuscript, or accepted the offer but rejected the book, may be yet another. As Glenn Gould wrote at the beginning of his own review of it, "Geoffrey Payzant has written a book like no other about a performing musician."2 He echoed the first sentence of the book's preface: "This book is not like other books about pianists." These statements were true in many ways, some of which neither of us could have predicted at the time we wrote them. One way or another, and whatever its merits, Glenn Gould, Music and Mind made history.
Eventually came two offers to publish the manuscript, one from an American university press and one from the Toronto subsidiary of an American trade house. I accepted the latter, mainly because proximity had obvious advantages, but also because I met the editor, Garry Lovatt, and liked him. But it meant that I had to rework some of the manuscript to make it less philosophical and psychological than it might have been if it had gone to a university press.
I was happy with the result, and remain so. There is nothing in the book that I would do differently if I were to start all over again, barring a few minor details. However, some of my favourite bits ended up on the cutting-room floor, not because I was dissatisfied with them, but because Garry persuaded me that they would not do in a trade book. In part they read like the earnest efforts of an aging academic philosopher to gain a belated promotion, which in fact they were. But they also contain some useful material.
The following are the opening paragraphs of my original introduction to Glenn Gould, Music and Mind. For reasons which may be obvious to the reader, I did not show this version to any trade publisher. But this is the clearest of the many statements I wrote of the purpose of the book.
The Original Introduction
This book is not a biography of Glenn Gould. It is a study of his musical aesthetics. He and I live in the same city, and we are acquaintances of more than twenty years' standing, but I have made a point of not seeking inside information for this book from him or from anyone close to him. My sources are public and open to anyone, although some of them take a little digging.
The primary sources for this study are Gould's own recordings and his writings. My use of the word "writings" needs explanation. Gould is the author of more than twenty-five articles about music, and of perhaps as many liner notes to his own recordings. These have been published in the ordinary way and are known to readers world-wide. But together they are only a relatively small part of his writings. His many radio broadcasts and television and film appearances must be considered writings because most of them are carefully worked up from scripts, even the seemingly most spontaneous and informal ones. They are little known outside Canada.
This book examines Gould's musical thought as put forward in his writings and exemplified in his recordings. It is only incidentally concerned with his life and times. Unavoidably the first chapter is a brief account of the emergence and early development of his musical abilities and interests. But there are no such cloying vignettes as are to be found in some accounts of the early lives of "Sepperl" Haydn and "Wolferl" Mozart and other famous musicians in their childhood. The reader will have to look elsewhere for stories about clever little Glenn in short pants.
In his writings Gould has developed, a philosophical position on matters relating to the nature of music; the role of performer, composer, and listener; art and morality; and most particularly the interaction of music and technology. Some of his discussions of these matters are in the form of philosophical arguments; most are not arguments but confessions of his personal likes and dislikes as a working artist. I attempt to separate arguments from confessions, to evaluate the arguments and to suggest causes for the preferences.
Several months after I had prepared this selection of "outtakes" I received notification from the present copyright owners that they had sold rights to yet another publisher, the book's fifth, to reissue Glenn Gould, Music and Mind in, of all things, a biography series! This reissue contains an additional preface written by me explaining that, while the book is not a biography in the accepted sense, Glenn Gould's life was a life of the mind, and this is what I examine in the book.3
Idealism, Materialism, Empiricism
According to Artur Schnabel, music exists mentally not physically, ideally not materially. "The music itself" consists of auditory mental images; Schnabel calls them "tonal ideas." These tonal ideas precede and determine their materialization in visible notation and audible sounds. Schnabel regards this materialization as a secondary function. We can think in tones, just as we can think in words without uttering them or writing them down.4
To think in music is to combine and arrange musical ideas into coherent structures, or to recollect such structures, in the imagination. It can be done without singing or humming, and without touching a musical instrument. Examples of these structures are: melodies or parts of melodies; intervals; scales or parts of scales; chordal progressions or chords or parts of chords; rhythmic configurations; combinations of any or all of these. A musician could "think" a melody either by inventing it or by recollecting it. Having thought it, he could then play it, sing it, or notate it, and it would be the same melody in each case, "the melody itself," no matter in which way it was materialized. All this is implicit in the way both Gould and Schnabel talk theoretically about musical thinking. Theirs is an idealistic theory of music.
By "idealistic" I mean "of ideas," or "of the mind," as opposed to the material or the physical. The idealistic theory of music denies that music consists primarily of audible sounds and that music depends for its existence upon audible sounds. To make music, and to hear it as music and not as mere noise, depends upon a certain prior mental activity: the activity of thinking music, or, as Schnabel says, thinking in music; it does not depend upon any kind of performance, whether sung or played. In musical thinking, auditory mental images are combined systematically, deliberately, and according to musical principles.
In philosophy the word "idealism" has two opposites. One of these opposites derives from metaphysics and the other from epistemology. In metaphysics the opposite of idealism is materialism, and the metaphysical question is whether ultimate reality is constituted of minds and thoughts, or of matter and its various determinations. In epistemology the opposite of idealism is empiricism, and the epistemological question is: Do our minds come into being equipped with ideas or with direct access to knowledge of the real world, or do our minds come into being empty but ready to be filled with ideas and knowledge obtained through the senses? Idealism stands opposite to materialism from one point of view and to empiricism from another, but it is the same idealism in both.
The word "materialism" is not used here in the everyday sense of preferring material goods to spiritual goods; nor is it used in the metaphysical sense of affirming that the universe is constructed entirely of material particles: atoms, for example.
In our present sense of the word, "material" is that out of which a work of art is made; it is that upon which the artist works to produce, by means of his skills and tools, the completed work of art. It is the Aristotelian "material cause." And "materialism" is the name of a theoretical position which is opposed to "idealism" in musical philosophy. This opposition presents itself when we consider the relation between the artist and his materials.
According to the idealist position, the artist forms "in his mind" an image of what he proposes to do with the material; to make the work of art is to impose that image upon the material, or to reproduce the form of the image in the material. Thus a painter might have in his mind an image of a leaping animal, or of an abstract pattern. To make his painting he will manipulate his pigments in such fashion that the completed work can be seen as having the one form or the other. The material, coloured pigments forming a surface, is passive and receptive, and in an important sense the work of art may be said to exist ideally, as mental image, prior to the artist's taking up his material.
According to the materialist position, the artist takes up his material with no finally or fully formed mental image and solicits from his material its collaboration, allowing it to suggest the direction his work will take, to impose its own characteristic form upon the work. Thus a sculptor in wood will allow the grain and its changes of direction to lead him; thus Michelangelo did not hack his shapes out of the stone but "found" them in it. The artist enjoys and respects his material, accepts its suggestions, gives it an active role in the creative process. The work does not exist until this active collaboration between the artist and his material has ceased.
Martin Heidegger says that thinking is a kind of "craft," indeed a kind of handicraft:
The hand is a peculiar thing. In the common view, the hand is part of our bodily organism. But the hand's essence can never be determined, or explained, by its being an organ which can grasp. Apes, too, have organs that can grasp, but they do not have hands. The hand is infinitely different from all grasping organs paws, claws, or fangs – different by an abyss of essence. Only a being who can speak, that is, think, can have hands and can be handy in achieving works of handicraft.
But the craft of the hand is richer than we commonly imagine. The hand does not only grasp and catch, or push and pull. The hand reaches and extends, receives and welcomes – and not just things: the hand extends itself, and receives its own welcome in the hands of others. The hand holds. The hand carries. The hand designs and signs, presumably because man is a sign. Two hands fold into one, a gesture meant to carry man into the great oneness. The hand is in all this, and this is the true handicraft. Everything is rooted here that is commonly known as handicraft, and commonly we go no further. But the hand's gestures run everywhere through language, in their most perfect purity precisely when man speaks by being silent. And only when man speaks, does he think – not the other way around, as metaphysics still believes. Every motion of the hand in every one of its works carries itself through the element of thinking, every bearing of the hand bears itself in that element. All the work of the hand is rooted in thinking. Therefore, thinking itself is man's simplest, and for that reason hardest, handiwork.5
Etienne Gilson is either more cautious or less figurative (I am not sure which) than Heidegger in some of his remarks about the relation between the artists thinking and his hand:
Man does not think with his hands, but the intellect of a painter certainly thinks in his hands, so much so that, in moments of manual inspiration, an artist can sometimes let his hand do its job without bothering too much about what it does... it cannot be doubted that the art of a painter resides in his hands, in his fingers, and probably still more in his wrist, at the same time as it resides in his intellect. The art of the painter is the art of the whole man.
If ... creative work is at stake, many other factors than intellectual knowledge become involved in the process. The hand is one of them, and the hand of a painter is for him full of surprises. But even when his hand does exactly what he wanted it to do, the knowledge that an artist has of his own art is not an abstract notion of lines, surfaces, and colors to be seen on a piece of canvas; it is the concrete cognition of the very acts and motions whereby a certain pattern of lines, surfaces, and colors can actually be produced. In painting, it is impossible to distinguish between art itself and execution, as if art were wholly in the mind, and execution wholly in the hand.6
Victor Zuckerkandl discusses both Heidegger and Gilson in a chapter entitled "The Musician's Hand." But Zuckerkandl claims that musical thinking is unlike the thinking of which Heidegger speaks, and that the creative work of the musician is unlike the creative work of the painter as described by Gilson. Unlike them he makes a distinction between "outer hand" and "inner hand." It is of the "outer hand" that Gilson speaks in the above quotations; Zuckerkandl agrees with what Gilson says about the painter's hand and thinking. But he says: "The painter or sculptor needs two organs, a perceiving one and a working one, the eye and the hand: the eye sees what the hand does. The musician can, as it were, dispense with the eye. His work is done inside, not outside himself. In his case, external perception, actual hearing, at best serves to confirm the correctness of what he has done inwardly or to verify it for the purpose of subsequent adjustments."7
Zuckerkandl says that the "thinking hand" alone, unaided by the "physical hand," creates music, and that the "thinking hand" is not a mental image of the "physical hand."8 He goes so far as to say that a musician does not need a physical hand: "The handless painter is a musician."9 He goes still further to say that the thinking hand is guided, not by remembered and imagined contact with musical instruments, but by musical tones themselves, which for him have a purely mental form of existence: "We have come to recognize the musician's hand as a purely intellectual organ, and its formative activity as purely intellectual in character."10 Thus Zuckerkandl denies that there is any analogy or similarity between painting and music, at least so far as hand and thinking are concerned. Music for him is a wholly abstract art – abstract in the sense that it owes nothing to auditory or tactile experience.
Some people seem to be capable of regularly making responses in one sensory mode to stimuli in another sensory mode: they "see" certain audible tones, or "feel" certain odours. This is called "synaesthesia." There is disagreement among psychologists as to whether this is a genuine kind of perception or merely a strong imaginative association. Glenn Gould's friend, the psychiatrist Peter E. Ostwald (who studied harmony with Arnold Schoenberg) has encountered synaesthesia as a form of psychological disturbance.
Cases of crossed reactions to sensory stimuli, seeing colors that correspond to particular sounds, for example, are reported from time to time, and some authorities think the experience is not uncommon. Dr. Peter E. Ostwald of the University of California Department of Psychiatry in San Francisco estimates that as many as 14 percent of men and 31 percent of women experience some kind of double sensation, usually color hearing, and he notes that medical papers describing the phenomenon date back at least 200 years.
Usually there is a pitch relationship: low sounds are associated with dark colors. Vowels and pure tones come through as more defined in hue than consonants or noise...
Whether such associations represent true crossties that are present in the brain at birth, or occur as a result of accidental or mental illness, is hard to say. They may simply represent early conditioning experiences."11
"Early conditioning experiences" might include the acquisition of the highly specialized skills and perceptions required to be a musician, either composer or performer. Learning to play a musical instrument, or to write music, is not a matter merely of learning to translate between notation (visual), fingering (tactile), and sound (auditory). It is a matter of abolishing the ordinary distinctions among all three. The musician does not translate; he hears with his eyes, sees with his ears, touches with his eyes and ears. The mind has its eye, its ear, its hand; but the eye has a mind, and so do the ear and the hand, and in advanced levels of musical skill these several faculties of mind and sense merge into one.
Synaesthesia, or something very like it, is what Gould has in mind in the anecdote of the vacuum cleaner where he says "in the softer passages, I couldn't hear any sound that I was making at all. I could feel, of course – I could sense the tactile relations with the keyboard which is replete with its own kind of acoustical associations."12 He could hear his fingers when he could not hear the piano.
He talks about recordings made by pianists who were dead or in retirement before he was born, but whose "supplementary choreography of movement and gesture" was apparently audible to him. He could "see" their gestures by listening to their recordings.13
In his experiment to discover whether or not people could accurately locate splices in recordings, Gould noticed that "tactile associations" produced a noticeable effect upon the judgments of those of his subjects who were instrumentalists; he would like to explore this further in subsequent experiments.14
Arnold Schultz describes the role of bodily movements in our thinking, and particularly in the way in which certain bodily movements cause certain mental images to "erupt," or (as we might say) to emerge into awareness:
If by good chance the reader is a pianist even of slight attainment, he can observe these finer movements to especially good advantage. If he is asked to think the appearance of a C-chord, the finger adjustments necessary to play the chord are practically certain to precede the image (he may use eye-movements alone, but this is much more difficult). If he is asked to tell the number of keys, black and white, between C and the B-flat above, he will probably play or touch all the intervening keys imaginatively, having each erupt as an image as he goes along, and counting them one by one. If he is skillful enough to think piano music away from the instrument, he will find that he "thinks with his fingers," that the images of the keys which produce the music appear only after he has made appropriate imaginative movements towards them. If he is skillful enough to think in terms of printed note-imagery, he will find that he is putting his fingers on the printed characters (a procedure not easily explained to the non-pianist) and that the appropriate notes erupt only after the appropriate movements have been stimulated in the imaginations.15
One is tempted to dismiss all this by saying that in the imagination we are free to associate anything with anything: sights with sounds, touch with abstract concept, and so forth. An external stimulus to the eye can produce only a visual response; an external stimulus to the ear can produce only an auditory response. But this would be too simple and mechanical an account of perception, whether or not one accepts the notion that a stimulus in one sensory mode can produce a genuine response in another.
Actual visual perception and (by derivation) imagined visual perception do not spring solely from the activation of optical receptors and their associated neural circuitry. Visual perception relies partly on this, but also, as Michael Polanyi reminds us, on "the intricate pattern of internal stimuli arising from the adjustment of the lenses in our eyeballs, from the muscles controlling the convergence of the eyeballs, from the inner ear, etc."16 What it means to be aware of something visually, whether actually or in the imagination, includes all of that, and much more, not just the contribution of the light-sensitive retinal cells and the parts of the brain with which they communicate by way of the optic nerves. The same is true also of perception in the auditory and the other sensory modes: they are inextricably bound up with actions and bodily dispositions of which we may not be explicitly aware, but without which we could not be aware of anything whatever, either in direct sensory experience or in the imagination. Etienne Gilson said that the art of the painter is the art of the whole man. But we can go further and say that the whole man is involved in every perceptual act. Ernst Bacon says much the same thing in these wise and moderate words:
Music seems the most nearly abstract of the arts, by very nature, but perhaps that is because we habitually think of only our five senses, forgetting a kind of sixth sense of interior feeling, the sense of tension and release, muscular movement, the visceral feeling (all connected in a way with the sense of touch, but never quite the same). So we may say that music springs as much from the sixth sense, as from that of hearing, but in part too from the sense of touch and sight, for we are affected not only by musical sounds, but by their analogies of experience. Who has not at some time translated the forms of trees, of clouds, of hills, inadvertently into melodies? But, being the least palpable, music begins, if not belongs, closest to abstraction.17
In Bacon's "sixth sense," if we understood it correctly, we might hope to discover how to reconcile music as abstract ("the music itself") and music as appearance (including its "tactilia"), and hence also how to reconcile Gould the idealist and Gould the empiricist.
R.G. Collingwood's The Principles of Art was published in 1938 and is a major classic in philosophical aesthetics. The opposition between Gould and Collingwood in the matters here under discussion is almost total, but by juxtaposing them I clarified for myself Gould's utterances regarding the relation between performers and audiences.
Performer and Audience
Does the performer need an audience?
The sense of "audience" used here is that of the physical presence of a number of people who have come for the purpose of listening to a performance.
Glenn Gould prefers not to have an audience at his performances, and can point out that this preference has not, in the long run, damaged his career as a performer. He believes that audiences do not go to concerts for reasons having to do with the music, so according to him there is no musically significant way in which audiences can participate. R.G. Collingwood took the opposite view: "The position of the audience is very far from being that of a licensed eavesdropper, overhearing something that would be complete without him. Performers know it already. They know that their audience is not passively receptive of what they give it, but is determining by its reception of them how their performance is to be carried on."18
Four ways in which the audience can "determine" how the performance is carried on are mentioned by Collingwood:
The artist may take his audience's limitations into account when composing his work; in which case they will appear to him not as limitations on the extent to which his work will prove comprehensible, but as conditions determining the subject-matter or meaning of the work itself.19
The artist, like anyone else who comes before an audience, must put a bold face on it; he must do the best he can, and pretend that he knows it is good. But probably no artist has been so conceited as to be wholly taken in by his own pretence. Unless he sees his own proclamation, "This is good," echoed on the faces of his audience – "Yes, that is good" – he wonders whether he was speaking the truth or not.20
The aesthetic activity is the activity of speaking. Speech is speech only so far as it is both spoken and heard.21
What happens at the dress rehearsal...can be described by saying that every line, every gesture, falls dead in the empty house. The company is not acting a play at all; it is performing certain actions which will become a play when there is an audience present to act as a sounding-board.22
We shall look at these items in sequence.
Item 1 seems at first reading to suggest that the artist must "play clown" to his audience. But this is not what Collingwood means or, for that matter, what Gould does. Collingwood continues the quotation: "In so far as the artist feels himself at one with his audience, this will involve no condescension on his part; it will mean that he takes it as his business to express not his own private emotions, irrespectively of whether any one else feels them or not, but the emotions he shares with his audience."23 Gould works from a different set of principles. For him the task of the artist is to create structures, or to reveal structures, which are intelligible in and for themselves. His is not an expression theory of art. But Gould would agree with Collingwood's view that the role of the artist is to share his specialized understanding with an audience, and that he must be capable of being understood. In items 2 and 3 Collingwood says that the artist needs to be able to see evidence that he is being understood while actually performing; Gould denies this. And far from patronizing or playing clown to his solitary, thoughtful listener, Gould pays the listener a high compliment by expecting a high degree of understanding from him.
But since the listener does his listening at some other time and place than those in which Gould does his performing, there is no possibility that the listener's degree of understanding can be reflected directly. (It can be reflected indirectly in royalty payments, of course.)
Item 2 reminds us that artists, like the rest of us, suffer anxiety and uncertainty. Gould has never found relief from these afflictions in the faces of his audiences at concerts, although he is aware that some musicians do find relief there. On external evidence alone we form the impression that Glenn Gould possesses a healthy ego, that he sets a supremely high artistic standard for himself and knows when he has approached that standard and when he has not. He claims to be indifferent to criticism,24 but such claims are always open to question. Many of his published remarks appear to be justifications of certain of his wilder flights of recording to which critics have objected.25
Item 3 is the one with which Gould would disagree most particularly: "The aesthetic activity is the activity of speaking." Although Gould frequently speaks of musical "statements," he does not mean the word in its linguistic sense. Somewhere he talks about J.S. Bach's "incredibly complicated statements." He speaks of a studio take as a particular "statement" of the piece. This is the sense of the locution, "an architectural statement," and not the sense in which we ordinarily define a statement as a verbal affirmation or denial. Collingwood's expression theory of art maintains that all art is language, but for Gould art is primarily structure, and if art says anything it is not the sort of thing that is said in verbal languages, whether literally or figuratively. Structures are intelligible as structures, and not as communications. This, at any rate, is what I take to be Gould's position in aesthetic theory.
Item 4 compares a dress rehearsal of a stage play with a performance of the same play before an audience. In the absence of an audience as "sounding-board," the dress rehearsal is a dead affair. Collingwood intends that this example should cover all similar instances, including the instance of a soloist or a group of musicians rehearsing in an empty auditorium compared with those same musicians performing the same music before an audience. Gould would admit that there is a kind of excitement in the performance before an audience that is lacking in the rehearsal in an empty hall. His objection to that excitement is that it is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Since recording makes it possible to avoid much that is unpredictable and uncontrollable, he thinks recording is to be preferred. We might ask: can anything replace the excitement that is lost in recordings but is (sometimes) present in live performance? I suggest for Gould an answer which he might not want to put forward himself: yes, something can and in his case does replace that excitement, and this is Gould's own astonishing mental concentration on the music and his ecstatic disposition as a music-maker. But we will not go into his notion of "ecstasy" here.
Collingwood refers to the recording industry as "a recent one which has the outspokenness of an enfant terrible."26 And he says that art and technology are incompatible. Gould would say that the technological apparatus provides a link between the artist and his audience, a link effective across gaps in space and time. Collingwood says that the technological apparatus constitutes a barrier between the artist and his audience, and speaks of this barrier as an "evil":
It is intensified by every new mechanization of art. The reason why gramophone music is so unsatisfactory to one accustomed to real music is not because the mechanical reproduction of the sounds is bad – that could be easily compensated by the hearer's imagination – but because the performers and the audience are out of touch. The audience is not collaborating, it is only overhearing. The same thing happens in the cinema, where collaboration between author and producer is intense, but as between this unit and the audience nonexistent.27
Does the audience need the artist?
This question is seriously intended. Gould's theory in its mildest version asserts that the distinction between artists and audiences is in process of dissolution; in its wildest version it asserts that everyone is, or must become, an artist. The performer as member of a separate and exalted caste has been made superfluous by modern technology.
We are asking the question in the familiar sense of an artist performing for an audience, both being in the same place at the same time. Gould notwithstanding, this remains a familiar way of using the words "artist" and "audience." We could ask it in another way: Do we sacrifice anything of aesthetic significance when we listen to a recording, which would not be lacking if we had listened to the same performance as "audience" in the above sense?
Setting aside the social and ritual aspects of attending a live performance (these aspects have never been shown to be of no aesthetic significance), and applying ourselves to the purely perceptual aspects of the situation, we reformulate the question once more: Does the audience need to see the artist?
Two assumptions. The first is that when we compare a live performance with a recorded performance of the same piece, each is good, or at any rate unobjectionable, in its own way. The second is that we are speaking of people who have normal or corrected vision.
Glenn Gould, of course, would say that the audience does not need to see the artist because the real musical experience is purely auditory. Let us hear from a representative of the opposite view, Ernst Bacon.
An artist should be seen as well as heard. A record may reinforce our impressions of him, but it will never establish him as a personality. A record does less for the musician than did the silent pictures for an actor. Not to be seen is an even greater handicap than not to be heard. If the actor must overact or remake his gesture to compensate for the absence of speech, so must the musician remake his performance to compensate for not being seen. But the musical remake reduces, rather than expands his declamatory powers. Accuracy becomes his main concern. He must level off his extremes and if he does not, they will be levelled off for him by the "dial maestro" anyway, all at the cost of a spontaneity impossible (or else rehearsed – a self-defeating thing) before that grim little gustograph, the microphone, that remorseless stenographer, who records sounds without the smile or frown of the occasion.28
He continues: "The way a man puts his hand on the piano affects a musician as a brushstroke would affect a painter. The first gesture, like the first sound, reveals the player's sensibility. One knows the artist the moment he begins."29 Bacon is here saying that the visible gesture is an aesthetically significant aspect of a musical performance, and that it is entirely sacrificed in a recording. Without it we cannot "know" the artist as we can when we see his gestures: of hand, of face (the smile or frown), and, we may add, of the whole body.
A middle position is possible, one which asserts that in a certain sense the visual component is present in a musical recording. Gould unconsciously hints at it where he speaks about the "visual connection...the supplemental choreography of movement and gesture" of the older generation of recording musicians, who unavoidably brought concert hall mannerisms into the recording studio.
In my chapter "Burnished Singing Tone" I reviewed the evidence concerning the relation of touch to tone quality in piano-playing, and then formulated this question: Can a pianist by altering his manner of pressing down a key, produce two or more notes of equal loudness but different tone quality? Among scientific investigators of this problem the question is unanimously answered in the negative, and that is the answer I gave. Glenn Gould vigorously rejected it. "Of course, that's all nonsense!" he told me on the telephone, and in his own review of my book he wrote that this was the sort of thing that could only be said by an organist (which I was). My wife, Mary Lou, rejected it with equal vigour, saying "Now I know why you get such lousy tone out of the piano." Though still unrepentant a decade later, I sometimes wish I had insisted upon leaving the next passage in my text; it might have averted some of their wrath.
Touch and Tone
I am far from saying that Gould plays the piano without control of tone colour; indeed I believe that he and every other master pianist must ignore almost all that has been scientifically established concerning the problem of relation of touch to tone. It is not a centipedal problem but an apiarian one: it has been proved scientifically that bees cannot fly, given their power-to-weight ratio, their wing-loading, and, the physical properties of air. But bees don't know this, so they fly anyway.
Despite the scientists, pianists know that they control tone quality by the exercise of skills at the keyboard; they are not concerned that physical measurements of the sounds will refute the notion that touch controls tone quality. There are at least two reasons.
The first is that small differences in tone quality are much more readily noticed by humans than are small differences in loudness, hence an imperceptible difference in weight or velocity of touch might have a clearly audible difference in tone as its correlative.
The second leads to a fundamental problem in aesthetic perception. It can be illustrated by an example from visual art. When we talk about warm and cold colours in a painting, we are not talking about qualities which can be measured on a thermometer; but neither are we talking nonsense or talking figuratively. These are qualities which exist aesthetically, as appearances only. How these appearances are related to their physical correlates is not well understood, and it is the subject of ongoing study by aestheticians. When we talk about a pianists tonal palette we are really talking about aesthetic properties like warmth and coldness in colour, and not about patterns on an oscilloscope.
Joseph Hofmann "maintained that the piano was a 'monochromatic' instrument capable only of light and dark shading."30 Sometimes Gould displays a similar view of the piano, or rather, he seeks pianos and piano actions which seem to make monochromatic sounds: "Once, to the despair of the audio engineers at Columbia, who applied the latest high-fidelity techniques to the recording of the sonatas, Gould said that he wished his rich-toned record had, instead, the constricted sound quality he hears in the low-fidelity Schnabel records made nearly thirty years ago. To this the recording director retorted, "All you have to do is listen to the record on a long-distance telephone."31
The old acoustical recording process excluded the extreme upper and lower ranges of sound-frequencies which give characteristic tone-colour to musical sounds; in a modern recording these ranges give the illusion of the actual presence of the instrument or instruments in the room in which we hear the recording. But just as in a concert hall the personality or identity of the virtuoso intrudes upon our awareness of the music and steals from its glory, so a particularly opulent sound calls attention to its own glory; or a technological device by which the full frequency range of musical sound is transmitted to us calls attention to its noteworthiness as a technological achievement. Gould seems to think that this gets in the way of "the music itself." Pre-electric discs by Artur Schnabel are mentioned in the above quotation. What Gould learned from them was not how to produce tone-colour, but how to let the music "give," and how to "take" from it, as Schnabel would say.
Erwin Stein wrote: "Beauty of tone is a fine thing, but it is not the only quality to which the attribute of musical beauty applies. Musical sound is shaped, and beauty lies as much in the proportions of the shapes as in the physical phenomena of sounds."32
Gould might ask about a piece of music as we might ask about a house: Of what, and how well, is it constructed? While he probably would not claim that tone-colour is merely ornamental, he is more interested in structure than in paint. Yet there is another side to this. When we talk about colour in musical sounds, or about the piano being monochromatic, we borrow from visual art. And as Clive Bell says of painting, colour is not entirely distinct from form: "The distinction between form and colour is an unreal one; you cannot conceive a colourless line or a colourless space; neither can you conceive a formless relation of colours. In a black and white drawing the spaces are all white and all are bounded by black lines; in most oil paintings the spaces are multi-coloured and so are the boundaries; you cannot imagine a boundary line without any content, or a content without a boundary line."33 This does not deny that in one painting there might be a greater emphasis upon colour than upon form, and in another the reverse. (We are here using "form" and "structure" synonymously.) And one person looking at a painting might attend more to the colour than to the form, while another person looking at the same painting might attend more to the form than to the colour; or the same person might attend more to the one on one occasion and more to the other on another. A musician might be more aware that two flutes are playing than that they are playing a canon, or the reverse.
Gould's expression "instrumental indifference" implies an interest more in form or structure than in colour. "Colour" in our present sense of the word is mainly a matter of what we might call by contrast "instrumental interest," since colour is determined by the specific physical characteristics of musical instruments and their varieties and modifications.
But no musical instrument is truly one-coloured. Every instrument has different colours at different registers of its compass, hence any two notes of different pitch will also have a different colour. And even if it were possible to produce musical sounds monochromatically, the ear itself adds and subtracts colours in everything we hear. Furthermore it is impossible to write an absolutely unspecified or instrumentally indifferent score; we cannot legislate that a score must be read colourlessly. Horn-fifths will sound like horns no matter what instruments play them. Certain arpeggiated figures on the tonic triad in D major will sound like ceremonial trumpets whether played on piano or violin or any other instrument. Indeed to an orchestrator the horn-fifths on the page of score "look" like horns, and the D-major arpeggios "look" like baroque trumpets.
Those are some of the philosophical outtakes from my manuscript. The psychological ones are more extensive and varied, because I had been working towards a long chapter with the title "Music of the Hemispheres" in which I speculate upon the details of Glenn Gould's musical aptitudes. Perhaps they can be salvaged for another such occasion.
24. "Some of my best friends are critics, although I'm not sure I'd want my piano to be played by one." Glenn Gould, "Glenn Gould Interviews Glenn Gould about Glenn Gould," High Fidelity Magazine, 24/2 (February 1974), p. 75
Source: Musical Canada : words and music honouring Helmut Kallmann
edited by John Beckwith and Frederick A. Hall. --Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c1988. -- xiii, 369 p. : ill., music, ports. ; 24 cm. -- ISBN 0802057594
© University of Toronto Press. Reproduced with the permission of the University of Toronto Press, the Estate of Glenn Gould and Glenn Gould Limited.