Glenn Gould: The Alchemist

COMPOSERS: Bach,Berg etc,Scriabin,Webern
LABELS: EMI Classic Archive
ALBUM TITLE: A film by Bruno Monsaingeon


In the early Seventies, Bruno Monsaingeon made a four-part film presenting Glenn Gould in performance and conversation, released here on DVD for the first time. Part 1, ‘The Retreat’, is essentially Gould on Gould as he defends his withdrawal from public performing, cites the musical, aesthetic and moral superiority of the studio to the concert hall, and finds a kindred spirit in Orlando Gibbons, allegedly his favourite composer.

Part 2 shows Gould recording Bach and Scriabin, and attempting to mix different microphone settings as a film director manipulates close-ups and long shots. In Part 3, ‘Glenn Gould 1974’, the pianist shows off his original composition So You Want to Write a Fugue, then links his concepts of contrapuntal radio (two or more spoken voices in tandem) to Webern’s tone-row technique.

As a speaker, Gould is exceedingly articulate. He never lacks humorous asides or the occasional bad pun, yet always shows up with his own agenda. What matters most is when Gould simply sits down on his infamous, dilapidated, low-seated chair and plays the piano. He takes Berg’s Piano Sonata and Bach’s E minor Partita in a more ruminative, freer and concentrated manner than in his earlier recordings.


An ecstatic force seems to govern his body language to the point where you don’t mind Gould’s humming along or his conducting with whichever hand is free. While the later Gould/ Monsaingeon Bach films are conceptually and musically tighter (especially the 1981 Goldberg Variations), there’s enough here to satisfy casual Gouldians and hardened acolytes alike. Jed Distler