Adding as subtraction

Glenn Gould on his process of recording the Goldberg Variations in 1955: "When I recorded Bach's Goldberg Variations, I by-passed the theme -- the very simple aria upon which the variations are constructed -- and left it for recording until all the variations had been satisfactorily put down on tape. I then turned to that ingenious little sarabande, and found that it took me twenty takes in order to locate a character for it which would be sufficiently neutral as not to prejudge the depth of involvement that comes later in the work. It was a question of utilizing the first twenty takes to erase all superfluous expression from my reading of it, and there is nothing more difficult to do. The natural instinct of the performer is to add, not to subtract. In any case, the theme, as represented on my recording of the Goldberg Variations, is Take 21."

Glenn Gould on the music of the twentieth century

"No matter how little interest there may be in the more significant developments of music in our time, I think there is little doubt that there are some areas in which the vocabulary of atonality—using this term now in a collective sense—has made quite an unobjectionable contribution to contemporary life. It has done this particularly in media in which music furnishes but a part—operas, to a degree (if you can consider styling Alban Berg's Wozzeck a "hit"), but most particularly in that curious specialty of the twentieth century known as background music for cinema or television. If you really stop to listen to the music accompanying most of the grade-B horror movies that are coming out of Hollywood these days, or perhaps a TV show on space travel for children, you will be absolutely amazed at the amount of integration which the various idioms of atonality have undergone in these media. When this background music creeps up on us subliminally, as it were, we seem to accept the devices of a dissonant vocabulary as being perfectly comprehensible. It is rather frightening, though, to realize that the integration of dissonance, from which all of this new music of our day has emanated, has assumed a character in the minds of many people which is satisfactory only for displaying the fundamental beastliness of the human animal and which tends to be dismissed when it attempts to lead a life of its own, a life which is capable of as wide a variety of emotional impact as that of any other musical style.

However, composers are on the whole an incredibly persuasive lot, and one can be reasonably confident that, in the end, good relations between composer and audience can be restored. It may even be that these various forms of integration in which the references of atonality have so far achieved some success—the horror movie, the science fiction space travel epic, may provide to a degree the necessary common bond. Not that I would wish to perpetuate horror movies, and not that space travel may have much to do with Serialism, but I suspect that the cliché nature of these devices in the public character of this atonal vocabulary, and that it will, for our own strange, twisted times, provide something of the same sort of public reference that the Lutheran chorale provided in the church services of Northern Europe in the late sixteenth century. There is no question that the Lutheran choral acquainted many hostile parishioners with the strange new organization which was to become known as tonality, and I have a suspicion that the Adventures of Captain Stratosphere and all other such lunacies that hold us, and particularly our young, captive these days will have some significant part in making a rapprochement between a hostile public and the music of our time."

— Glenn Gould in "Arnold Schoenberg: A Perspective"

"Unity through intuitive perception, unity born of craft and scrutiny, mellowed by mastery achieved..."

Glenn Gould on the Goldberg Variations: “It is, in short, music which observes neither end nor beginning, music with neither real climax nor real resolution, music which, like Baudelaire’s lovers, ‘rests lightly on the wings of the unchecked wind.’ It has, then, unity through intuitive perception, unity born of craft and scrutiny, mellowed by mastery achieved, and revealed to us here, as so rarely in art, in the vision of subconscious design exulting upon a pinnacle of potency.”

Glenn Gould on Bach, God, and man

When Bach died it was not him but his sons who were considered to be the masters of music — masters of a music so very different from that which their father had known. It was famed composers like the teenager Joseph Haydn who were soon to lay the groundwork for a new musical style in which all of this scientific optimism, all of this naively logical philosophic thought of their generation would find a counterpart in an art in which the aim would be not the communication of man with God, but rather of man with man — in which those traits of Sebastian Bach which parallel in music the realization of the incredible richness and indefinable complexity of the human estate could find no place. It had become an age in which the focus of musical activity had moved from the church to the theatre — in which the new art would rationally reflect a rational world, in which it would be required to deal with probabilities, and not to participate in mysteries.

Glenn Gould