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`Glenn Gould Reader' -- as surprising as the maverick pianist himself

By David SterrittStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 12, 1985



New York

The music world remembers Glenn Gould as a maverick, an innovator, an impassioned artist, and a spunky wit. Now the book world can remember him the same way. ``The Glenn Gould Reader,'' edited by Tim Page (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, $20), brings together more than 400 pages of essays, reviews, musings, and interviews by the late pianist. It's a varied book, packing as many surprises as a hefty pile of Gould recordings. At the typewriter as at the keyboard, Gould loved to be provocative, and there's something here to raise every eyebrow. Some samples:

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Beethoven's reputation is ``based entirely on gossip,'' and such popular works as the Fifth Symphony and the ``Emperor'' Concerto lack ``almost every criterion'' that Gould looks for in good music.

Mozart's mediocrity would have been less profound if his brief life had been even briefer, says Gould, who wondered as early as his student days how ``presumably sane adults'' could rate some Mozart piano works as musical treasures.

In a more positive vein, Gould writes that Richard Strauss will ``gather a greater admiration than he ever knew'' through future recordings of his music, and that Arnold Schoenberg will someday be lauded as ``one of the greatest composers who ever lived.''

And lest he sound like an elitist, Gould confesses himself ``a Streisand freak'' and spends pages analyzing a Petula Clark ditty he heard on his car radio.

However one feels about all this, ``The Glenn Gould Reader'' is a lively book, full of pungent opinions backed up with sassy wordplay as well as technical jargon. The very titles of Gould's articles make heady reading, whether he's musing on ``The Dodecaphonist's Dilemma,'' probing a ``Data Bank on the Upward-Scuttling Mahler,'' or discussing music and TV under the heading ``Oh, for heaven's sake, Cynthia, there must be something else on!''

And throughout the book one finds touchstones of Gould's own musical personality. One is his humility before figures as different as Bach, a universal giant, and Stokowski, a personal hero. Another is his preference for the ``creative cheating'' of phonograph records over the ``vaudevillian'' atmosphere of concert halls. His passion for technology is expressed often. So is his contempt for all manifestations of competitive thinking, including concertos (soloist vs. orchestra in a show-off contest) and even the interplay of themes in sonata-allegro compositions.

Since they were written for a variety of magazines, radio programs, and other channels, how did Gould's essays find a handsomely printed ``reader'' as a home? The credit goes to Tim Page, a music critic for the New York Times and classical disc jockey for New York's leading public-radio station, WNYC-FM.

A man of words and music alike, Mr. Page discussed the idea of a compilation more than once with Gould during his lifetime, finding him receptive but cautious. Shortly after Gould's death in 1982, Page approached his estate and obtained access to cartons of written Gouldiana, which he sorted through carefully.

Reading many unpublished pieces, he decided most of them ``should remain that way.'' He then cast a choosy eye on the ones that had seen print, picking an assortment that wouldn't hit the same themes too often -- a delicate task, since Gould ``was not above recycling a paragraph or two'' from one article to another.