Sunday, September 23, 2012

Glenn Gould and Journalism

In the Globe and Mail this weekend is an article titled "The meaning of Glenn Gould". Though a 'national' newspaper the Globe and Mail is based in Toronto, Glenn Gould's home, so one might expect, on the occasion of what would have been the 80th birthday of one of Canada's greatest musicians, an article of some weight. But journalism is not what it once was and the sheer conventional stupor of this treatment shows that. It would be expected that many of the readers would not be familiar with many details of who Gould was and what he did. So does the article try and provide some of this? No, it really doesn't. We can tell he was a piano player from the photo, but we get only scattered, oblique hints of what kind of player. It says he was a 'partisan' of Bach, without letting us know that Gould was probably the most influential performer of Bach on keyboard in the 20th century. Instead of that kind of solid sense of who he was and what he did, we get frothy speculation like, would he have done podcasts, would he have blogged? Did he indeed predict today's "mash-up" culture? And what does that even mean? By the end of the article we have learned almost no solid information about one of Canada's great artists. The article sums itself up in this way:
The paradox of Gould was that behind the musical brilliance and technological precision was always the fragile human element, the lonely man who spent hours on the phone with a few close friends who describe him as generous and funny. He is not easy to box in. “He offers so many ideas to take off from. He’s this protean figure,” Egoyan says.
In those meticulous recordings, above Gould’s analytical piano music, you can sometimes hear the lyrical sound of a man humming as he plays.
It is rather sad, isn't it, that the dumbing-down of today's mass media means that you have to reduce a great creative artist and national figure like Glenn Gould to a kind of soap-opera stereotype. Let's listen to some of what he did:

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