Glenn Gould and the Goldbergs – a new edition


There’s an interesting article in the NY Times about a new edition of the Goldberg Variations.
The edition is a transcription of Gould’s famous 1981 recording of that piece complete with his fingerings and pedalings.

Evidently the 1981 performance wasn’t just recorded but it was also captured on video. That made it possible for the editor of this new edition time to include Glenn Gould’s fingerings and pedalings.

Actually, I saw the edition, the one discussed in the NY Times article, several days ago. It was in a music shop in London. So how could I not purchase it? I mean, how many TRANSCRIBED performances exist of classical artists?


On the jazz side of the aisle, transcribing a solo of some artist or another is common practice as is learning to play a transcribed solo along with a recording, note for notej and articulation by articulation. Charlie Parker’s known to have played along with Lester Young recordings in just that way.

I wrote a blog post about the process not that long ago.

Transcription in jazz is so commonly part of the learning process in that genre that it’s just not a big deal. At the same time, there are jazz musicians who feel through transcribing a learner may lose whatever personal style might otherwise emerge.

So, definitely, there’s a feeling among some that Thoman Mann’s Dr. Faustus is a parable applicable to those who transcribe. But one thing is certain: there’s no research to prove that although there is a lot of strongly help opinion.


I’m certain of one thing about negative opinions of the transcribing process: Those who swear it’ll irreparably harm a learner in his or her development have no basis on which to make that claim.

Because those who advocate against transcribing are not among those who received benefits from it and that’s often because they haven’t transcribed. And, really, it’s only those who’ve benefited from the process who advocate for it.

But, I may not be covering all cases and all reasons and arguments. I’m definitely not advocating that everyone must transcribe. And there’s also a strong argument made by many that even better than transcribing is learning to sing an improvised solo. Really learning to sing it: note for note, articulation by articulation with every possible nuance. In this case the idea would be to sing and learn the solo so thoroughly that playing it on an instrument or writing it down or both because almost trivial.


The NYT critic who wrote the article about the new edition of the Goldbergs seems puzzled as why anyone would want to transcribe a recording of Glenn Gould. What’s interesting is he he seems to have no knowledge of transcribing transcription as it exists in jazz.

Or maybe he just such a huge punctuation mark betweenjazz and classical music that what’s applicable on one side has, for him, nothing to do with the other. Who knows?


It’s understandable: there’s a fundamental fear about losing oneself to someone or something else when we copy something. That fear has been documented across many cultures and arts. The fear goes back to a very real question, which is what’s the difference between a copy and the original?

But, then again, Charlie Parker is known to have down exact copying of Lester Young’s solos and J.S. Bach is known to have secretly copied musical scores for his learning process. What’s good enough for them is good enough for us? Or no?


My own experience, and perhaps it’s just that–my own experience–is the classical side of the aisle is more copy-averse than the jazz side. Something about not developing an individual interpretation of a piece if first you copy an interpretation from someone else.

Well, I have idea heard that voiced many times. I also know some fabulous pianists who listened A LOT to specific recordings of repertoire to absorb as much interpretive detail and information as possible.

I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer to be had but I’m very sure many of us hold strong opinions


All the above to say it’s puzzling to see a NY Times critic who appears to be less than fully aware of the pros can cons of “to copy or not to copy.”

And it interesting, or maybe ironic is the more precise word, to see the very same critic is fascinated by hip-hop versions of Gould recordings–see and listen to the YouTube vid at the beginning of this post.

Copying is OK if not performed literally but if done with a modicum of remix? Or it’s ok is the remix simply brings what’s been copied far afield from from original context?


I purchased my copy of the new edition of the Goldberg’s complete with all of the information it contains about Gould, his interpretive process, and the recording session. And I’m glad to see Gould’s been hip-hop-ised. There no word for that process. But we need one, other than blasphemy.

Maybe it should just be called fun?