An artist reveals his own secrets as he unveils those of a musical giant

Between 1979 and 1981, pianist Glenn Gould made three video recordings devoted to Johann Sebastian Bach's keyboard music. Whether in conversation with his host, acclaimed French director of musical films Bruno Monsaingeon, or plumbing the depths of Bach's music in performance, Gould offers us, in each and every moment of this trilogy, the fascinating case study of a genius.


Glenn Gould (1932-1982) was a great musician and one of the most controversial pianists of the 20th century. He was able to find new depths in overly familiar masterpieces. He knew no technical difficulties. And he was able to make a profound and inexplicable personal connection with the people who listened to him. Gould was also entertaining. A born showman who vividly reflected what he was feeling about the work he was performing.


This element of showmanship takes on particular prominence in this trilogy, where Gould's relaxed relationship with Monsaingeon bathes the production in a warm yet invigorating and surprisingly humorous atmosphere: Gould's wordplays and unexpected formulations betray a love of language almost as great as his love of music. These three films encapsulate Gould's personal ideas on Bach and his keyboard music, and provide penetrating insights into the mind of an 18th-century master – and his 20th-century interpreter.


Part I is devoted to Bach's "Art of Fugue." Gould's performance is followed by a lively repartee with Monsaingeon, in which the pianist provides dazzling insights illustrated by music examples. He explains, for example, why he plays some pieces extremely slowly, and bemoans the "musicological overkill" of scholars who insist that Bach's keyboard music should only be played on a harpsichord.


In Part II, Gould concentrates on the fugal form in Bach's works, showing us how Bach uses keys like stops on an organ, and how they give him ideas and colors. He performs various fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier and reveals why he feels the "Art of Fugue" is the work that summed up Bach's life.


Part III spotlights Gould recording Bach's "Goldberg Variations" in a sound studio. In a brief introduction, he reminisces about his first recording of the pieces and explains why he wanted to record them again now, a quarter of a century later. It was to be his last recording of the "Goldberg Variations" and perhaps the last time he played the work: Glenn Gould died the year after the recording was made.

Bruno Monsaingeon
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