October 10, 2005 23:16 | Culture

1955, Glenn Gould remixes live, on piano

I came across an outtake track of Glenn Gould's historic 1955 Goldberg Variations recording session. On it you hear various studio chatter and joke cracking and mumbling and false starts and cursing.

Near the end of the track, Gould springs a heck of a musical gem, and political commentary by essentially "remixing" "The Star Spangled Banner" and "God Save the King" in real time on the piano.

His explanation is as interesting as the performance of it:

"I figured out that by leaving out the repeats in The Star Spangled Banner and starting your entry at the 13th bar of God Save The King, and then playing God Save The King over again and altering the harmony of the second half of The King to modulate to the supertonic region, it has the most marvelous effect. Listen to this..."

The intellectual complexity of achieving this is pretty stunning.

One of the things Gould's 1955 Goldberg variations recording is famous for is the fact that Gould mumbles and hums his way though it, and he *insisted* on leaving them in the final product. These could be interpreted as personal scribbles or what not. Or subvocalization; something we do when we need to glue several layers of complex data together.


And the Gould number is quite well known in the Jazz architecture.

Great clip! Where'd you get it?

Polyphonic improv is not so unusual even with student performers. I remember sitting in with an older graduate student before a recital and listening to him improv a wonderfully polytonal version of "Sheep May Safely Graze." And my piano teacher would often sit down fresh with some of the recent, relatively chromatic melodies I had written and improvise canons at various intervals. This of course doesn't diminish what Gould does, it just puts it in the context of what any well-trained musician can do and not as something unique with Gould.

Also, you can hear humming and moans from many performers--some better known for it than others. IIRC, Barbara Nissman gets particularly noisy in some of the fiercer sections from her recordings of Prokofiev's Piano Sonatas.

Finally, there are probably many more out there, but I just came across these other Gould recordings on UbuWeb. They may (or may not) be of some interest.

> Gould mumbles and hums his way though it, and he *insisted*
> on leaving them in the final product.

Bud Powell did this, too!