Friday, June 20, 2014

Montage # 161 – This Day in Music History, 21 June 1954

Podcast # 161 is available for about a month on Pod-O-Maric (Player embedded on the Right Margin of this page) and using the below player. It can always be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at

Before starting today’s musing, I wanted to extend a pair of shout-outs (which I get into in more detail on my French post this week) – my daughter graduates High School today, and my brother turns 60 tomorrow. All the best to both!

My brother shares tomorrow’s “Day in History” – June 21st 1954 with a particular radio broadcast that we’d discussed on one of my firstTuesday Blogs three years ago.

Indeed, on the evening of 21 June 1954, the CBC broadcast an installment of its ongoing performance series Distinguished Artists, one that Toronto-based pianist Glenn Gould featured in well-over 20 times on the CBC between 1950 and 1955, performing Bach, Beethoven and works of the Renaissance and Second Viennese Schools. In fact, as an "inside joke", he would sign letters “Glenn Gould, D.A.”, claiming the tile of “Distinguished Artist”…

Through the early 1950s, Gould appeared often in solo recitals, chamber music and concertos on CBC Radio (a program on 21 December 1953 included the Canadian premiere of Schoenberg's Piano Concerto). He was also a featured performer in the first television program ever broadcast in English Canada on 8 September 1952. 

The broadcast premiere of Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg variations is noteworthy mainly because of the strong association music lovers have made between work and artist. It was with Bach's Goldberg Variations that Glenn Gould burst onto the world's musical stage in January 1955 making his United States recital début in Washington D.C. with this work. The day after his New York début, he signed a contract with Columbia records and recorded with that label for the rest of his life.
Bach wrote his Goldberg Variations in 1741 and published them as a culmination to his Clavier-Übung , a collection that included his major works for solo keyboard including the six Partitas . Bach was nearly sixty years old when he wrote this work and the only great keyboard work to follow the composition of the Goldberg Variations was the Art of Fugue.
The title may have evolved from Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, a highly talented pupil of Bach who no doubt would have been familiar with the composition. It is believed that Bach wrote the work for Goldberg to play to his insomniac master Count von Keyserlingk and fashioned its technical style specifically with Goldberg's virtuoso capabilities in mind. These variations are notable for Bach's use of virtuosic keyboard writing, canon, and intricate form whilst the virtuoso writing style of some of the variations may have been influenced by the keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti.
The Aria (a Sarabande from Anna Magdalena Bach's Notebook of 1725) forms the harmonic rather than melodic structure on which the work is based. The fascinating form has the thirty variations grouped into three sets of ten with a canon at every third variation (each time rising by one step of an interval) these canons culminating in the quodlibet (Variation 30, which incorporates two popular song melodies), before the serenity of the original Aria is repeated to close this masterpiece of keyboard-writing and, in effect, begin it again, as the work has come full circle and reached the place where it began.
Most of Gould's radio broadcasts were made in his home town of Toronto , but the performance of the Partita No. 5 in G major BWV 829 from 4 October 1954, was recorded in Montreal for the International Service of Radio Canada. It was a favourite work of his early years when touring Canada , and he played it at his United States début in Washington with the Goldberg Variations .
In addition to the Partita and the Variations, I included as filler the complete set of 15 two-part ionventions. Note the distinctive order that Gould chooses – he will use the same order in recitakl in Moscow a few years later (reissued by Sony with the Salzburg “live” performance of the Goldbergs).

I think you will love this music too.

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