Glenn Gould was not only a great pianist, he was also well-versed in the art and technology of audio recording. He was the final arbiter of what appeared on his released recordings. Any retrospective look at his 1955 and 1981 recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations will mention the countless alternate versions of individual variations that Gould discarded in favor of the performances that ultimately were released.
I’m sure I’m not the only one to wonder what those outtakes were like. The difference between his 1955 and 1981 recordings of the Variations is stunning. What alterations were occurring in 1955 that we didn’t get the chance to hear? Some outtakes were made available in the retrospective A State of Wonder recording that included both the earlier and later renditions. But it was only a small sample.
Finally, it is possible to hear them all. Sony has released a box set containing all of the alternate versions that were recorded in the 1955 sessions. There are five CDs of outtakes. The box set also includes a coffee table book that includes audio engineering notes and the score, the 1955 and 1981 recordings on CD, the 1955 recording on vinyl, and a poster. You can see the box set here.
Or should we perhaps trust Gould’s meticulous selection of variations, seamlessly spliced together, as representing his vision of what the Goldberg Variations should be, as he saw it in 1955? I will leave it to you to decide.
- Siegel, Robert and Huizenga, Tom, “The Gould That Didn’t Glitter: New Box Set of ‘Goldberg Variations’ Outtakes” Deceptive Cadence from NPR Classical, October 25, 2017. http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/10/25/559611543/the-gould-that-didnt-glitter-new-box-set-of-goldberg-variations-outtakes?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=classical&utm_term=music&utm_content=2052
- Clements, Andrew, “Goldberg Variations, Complete Sessions CD Review—Glenn Gould’s Obsession, Meticulously Assembled” The Guardian online version, September 13, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/sep/13/goldberg-variations-complete-sessions-cd-review-glenn-gould
Image attribution: Photograph of Glenn Gould by Don Hunstein / Glenn Gould Foundation [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Glenn_Gould_1.jpg