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Archive for September, 2012

Glenn Gould

Posted on: September 27th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

Well, music lover, this week marks the 80th anniversary of Glenn Gould’s birth (September 25, 1932), and next month will be the 30th anniversary of his death (October 4, 1982), so I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect back on the man, his music and his career. The question is: Where do we begin?

Despite dying at a mere 50 years of age, Gould was nonetheless recognized internationally as one of the 20th century’s great musicians, one of the era’s most well-known and celebrated pianists, and a renowned composer, conductor, broadcaster and writer.

We might as well start at the beginning, way back in September of 1932, when Gould was born to Russell and Florence Gold (they changed their name to “Gould” in 1939), right here in Toronto. He grew up in the city’s east end (32 Southwood Drive, to be exact, which is now recognized by the City of Toronto as an official historical site), and his musical talents were clear from the beginning. It was reported that as a baby he hummed instead of crying and wiggled his fingers as if he was playing chords.

By age three Gould’s perfect pitch had already been noticed, and he could read music before he could read words. Of course, both his parents were musical – especially his mother, who had planned to become a professional musician and helped establish Gould’s early musical habits, including that of “singing” everything he played, which manifested throughout his career as subconscious humming (much to the bane of his sound engineers). Still, the young Gould’s talents seemed almost preternatural. For example, by the age of six he was already performing his own compositions at the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church, and by age 10 he was attending the Royal Conservatory of Music. He would pass his final conservatory examination in piano two years later, receiving the highest marks of any candidate.

Gould went on to perform with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, making his first appearance with them in 1946. They played the first movement of Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 4.” His first solo recital was the following year. Ten years later, in 1957, he embarked on his tour of the Soviet Union, the first North American to play there since the Second World War.

In spite of these early successes as a performer, Gould eventually came to see the public concert as “a force of evil,” and later stopped performing them completely, arguing that they devolved into a competition with a non-empathetic audience primarily attendant to the possibility that the performer would err or fail meeting critical expectation. Gould also had a pronounced aversion to what he termed the “hedonistic” approach to music: superficial theatricality, the cult of showmanship and gratuitous virtuosity. The institution of the public concert, he felt, encapsulated all of this, thereby degenerating art into a “blood sport.”

Thus it was that on April 10, 1964, Gould gave his last public performance, playing in Los Angeles at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. He’d performed fewer than 200 concerts over the course of his career – which, to put that in perspective, is about the equivalent of two years of touring for one of his contemporaries, like Harvey Van Cliburn. In addition to the aforementioned reasons, Gould said he abandoned live performance because he simply preferred the control of the recording studio, where every aspect of the final musical product could be tweaked to his specifications. He subsequently chose to spend the rest of his life focused on the recording, writing and broadcasting of music, as well as writing and lecturing on musical critique.

After years of prolific output, Gould suffered a stroke on September 27, 1982, that paralyzed the left side of his body. He was admitted to the Toronto General Hospital, where his condition deteriorated quickly; by October 4 there was evidence of brain damage. Gould’s father decided that his son should be taken off life support. He now lies next to his parents in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the first few measures of the “Goldberg Variations” carved onto his marker.

Extract from �The Art of Piano� � Glenn Gould playing Bach�s Partita No. 2

This Week in Music History: September 24 to 30

Posted on: September 25th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By David Ball

Classical pianist par excellence, master of performance and modern composition, foremost interpreter of Bach, media visionary, perfectionist, genius, icon – yes, David Hasselhoff is indeed all of these things. But these characteristics also apply to the late, great Glenn Gould.

I’m a pop, blues and rock guy at heart, so I won’t attempt to wax philosophic on the intricacies of Mr. Gould’s legacy, lest I offend any classical-loving folk with a few misplaced, but well-meaning notes. But I do know this truism: Glenn Gould is one of the most influential and important musicians of the 20th century.

A young Glenn Gould.

Born in Toronto on September 25, 1932, the only child of middle-class parents, Gould showed extraordinary musical promise at a very early age. He enrolled in Toronto’s prestigious Royal Conservatory of Music in 1943, where he was taken under the wing of renowned instructor Alberto Guerrero, whose own style was partly the basis for Gould’s own sensitive touch. Gould once described Guerrero’s keyboard technique as not so much striking the keys as “pulling them down” (Mark Satola, All Music Guide). Gould was also influenced by the nuanced finger pressure methods used in playing the organ.

Gould made his first public appearance at age 16 in Toronto and toured Canada shortly afterward, all the while making frequent appearances on the CBC. He was a concert pianist phenomenon by the age of 22, and a legend before he was 30. His audacious 1955 debut of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” shot to the top of the charts as it turned the classical music world on its traditionalist head, and continues to be the best-selling classical instrumental album of all time.

Despite his profitable headlining concert career and the continuing notoriety stemming from his remarkable interpretation of the “Goldberg Variations,” Gould abandoned his public performances in 1964, in part to focus his creative energies toward discovering inventive new ways of communicating music through mass media (though other more simple reasons included that he disliked being looked at while on stage and was growing more reclusive).

Glenn Gould circa "Goldberg Variations," 1955.

Friends and colleagues thought his radical new path would ruin him, but Gould proved his naysayers wrong when he embarked on a fruitful recording career with CBS Records while continuing to collaborate with the CBC, performing recitals, creating television essays and producing documentaries for both TV and radio.

Perhaps because the stodgy classical elite perceived him as a polarizing figure – too avant-garde and afflicted with distracting highly publicized eccentricities – Gould won few international accolades during his lifetime, although he did receive several awards posthumously, including his induction into both the Grammy Hall of Fame and Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Suffering from hypertension, Gould suffered a stroke and died on October 4, 1982, just a week or so after celebrating his 50th birthday.

Ruth Abernethy's bronze statue of Glenn Gould in Toronto.

If you find yourself walking past the CBC headquarters on Front Street in downtown Toronto, be sure to quietly pay your respects to Glenn Gould. You can’t miss his bronze likeness lounging on a bench, at peace, as the ignorant and oblivious trudge on by. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Anne Murray’s “Snowbird,” from the 1969 album This Way Is My Way, couldn’t climb any higher than Billboard’s No. 8 on September 26, 1970, but for most of her fans – and there are millions of them worldwide – it’s easily No. 1 in their collective hearts. The Nova Scotia songstress has had plenty of tracks that went on to greater chart success in the United States, but “Snowbird” is her signature song and, more importantly, one of the most beloved singles ever produced from this country, hence its inaugural induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame when the shrine first opened its doors, figuratively speaking, in 2003. The appeal of “Snowbird,” written by Canuck songwriter Gene MacLellan, brought Murray international fame and officially kick-started her long career.

Although the tune cracked the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100, it placed higher in Canada, becoming RPM’s No. 1 country single and runner-up on its pop chart. Incidentally, “Snowbird” was a Top 10 Billboard country hit, topped the U.S. publication’s easy listening chart and was the first single ever to be certified gold in the U.S. by a Canadian female artist.

 

I know exactly where I was on September 30, 1989: in front of my old tube TV, enduring yet another punishingly unfunny “Saturday Night Live” episode, all in the name of witnessing what would be Neil Young’s historic musical guest slot. His jaw-dropping five-and-a-half minute rendition of “Rockin’ in the Free World” remains not only one of the best one-offs in the iconic NBC sketch comedy’s history, but it easily ranks up there in the greatest balls-to-the-wall live rock performances ever in the annals of the small screen. Others on this informal list include The Who’s epic “A Quick One, While He’s Away” from the made-for-TV “Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” special from 1968; Patti Smith’s “Gloria” on the first season of “Saturday Night Live” in 1976; My Morning Jacket’s “One Big Holiday” on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” in 2003; and Jimi Hendrix doing anything on any show ever.

Neil Young on "Saturday Night Live," September 30, 1989.

Young was mired in a battle with his record company through most of the 1980s, which subsequently found him producing a series of poor-selling non-mainstream albums (some believe intentionally). But in 1989, freed from his crippling contract with Geffen, Young triumphantly returned to his late ’70s rock prime with the release of Freedom, and his guest appearance on the second episode of the sketch comedy’s 15th season was seen as his unofficial re-launch. Dressed in ragged jeans, an Elvis T-shirt and a black leather jacket, Young literally destroyed the SNL stage, sneering like he had something to prove. Perhaps he did. It really didn’t matter that he performed two more songs during the broadcast – a solo version of his classic “The Needle and the Damage Done” and another Freedom standout rocker, “No More,” – because Neil Young was back with a vengeance even before “Rockin’ in the Free World'”s final screaming guitar solo ended.

Next week: Alanis Morissette and the O’Keefe Centre

Bach’s “Partita No. 6 in E Minor” performed by Glenn Gould

Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen

Posted on: September 20th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

Well, music lover, it’s Leonard Cohen’s 78th birthday this week (he was born on September 21, 1934), so to celebrate the prolific, multi-JUNO Award-winning artist and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee, I thought we’d look back at some of the highlights of his life and career.

Leonard Cohen

Now, for any other artist these highlights would be events like record releases or big music award wins, but for a man like Cohen, who has had one of the longest and most varied careers of anyone in the music business, there’s a whole other realm of alternative experiences to draw from. So, without further ado, here are five things you may not have known about the famous Canadian troubadour.

1. He lived in quasi-seclusion on a small Grecian isle

Yes, back in the heady 1960s, when Cohen was a just a young McGill University grad launching his poetry career, he bought a house on the small (about 25 square miles) Greek island of Hydra. It was while living there that he published the poetry collection Flowers for Hitler (1964) as well as the novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966).

Hydra - Photograph. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Web. 10 Sep. 2012.

 

2. Phil Spector threatened him with a crossbow

Strange but apparently true. After his 1976 European tour, Cohen decided to change his style and arrangements, and subsequently enrolled Phil Spector, synonymous with the Wall of Sound production technique as well as the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson, who he was convicted of killing in his California mansion – to co-write and produce his 1977 album, Death of a Ladies Man. The recording of the album was fraught with difficulty. Spector barred Cohen from the studio before the vocal tracks were finished, then went ahead with the mixes using guide vocals. At one point he even held Cohen at crossbow-point, urging him to sing as though his life depended on it.

Phil Spector

 

3. “The Partisan” was the practical theme song of the Polish Solidarity movement

After Columbia declined to release Cohen’s 1984 album, Various Positions, in the United States, Cohen took things into his own hands and went out to promote it with his biggest tour to date. This included a series of highly emotional and politically controversial concerts in Poland, which at the time was still a Warsaw Pact country and under martial law. There, “The Partisan” came to be regarded as the hymn of the broad anti-bureaucratic social movement that was occurring, and during the ’80s almost all of Cohen’s songs were performed in Polish by Maciej Zembaty, a Polish artist, writer, journalist, singer, poet and comedian.


 

4. He is an ordained Buddhist monk

In 1994 Cohen retreated to the Mt. Baldy Zen Centre in the San Gabriel Mountains, forty miles east of Los Angeles. Thus began five years of seclusion at the center. He was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk in 1996, and took the Dharma name Jikan, which means silence. There was a subsequent impression that Cohen would not resume recording or publishing but he did, returning to Los Angeles in May of 1999.

Mt. Baldy Zen Center

 

5. Despite making millions of international record sales, he has almost gone broke (through no fault of his own)

In October 2005 Cohen alleged that his longtime former manager, Kelley Lynch, had misappropriated more than $5 million from his retirement fund. This left Leonard with a paltry $150,000. Though he won a 2006 civil suit awarding him $9 million, Lynch ignored the ruling and did not respond to a subpoena. It has been consequently questioned whether Cohen will ever be able to collect the awarded amount. Needless to say, he’s been under new management since then.

Happy birthday, Cohen!

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