Consort of Musicke by William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
This disc represents perhaps the only recording on piano you will find of this music (Tudor English and Dutch counterpoint), traditionally the provenance of harpsichordist and virginalists. Gould is at his most relaxed and seems to be enjoying every moment of the process, opting for muted, even keeled interpretations that are exceedingly elegant and charming. His ornamentation is exquisite, and he is permitted here to show off some of the sweet wonders of this music (e.g. trills on a single note) that died out with the advent of Baroque idioms. This is a favorite recording, culminating in one of the great treasures of the Gould legacy: a rendering of Jan Sweelinck's contemplative and pyrotechnic Fantasia in D that is just breathtaking beautiful. A pity Gould never returned to this territory again.
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"The End Of An Era"
"I can't think of anybody who represents the end of an era better than Orlando Gibbons does, and Gibbons is my favorite composer -always has been. [...] There is a spiritual attachment that I began to feel for his music when I was about fourteen or fifteen and first heard some of the Anthems; I fell in love with them, and consequently all my life I've wanted to make a Gibbons album of some kind."
Gould's admission that Orlando Gibbons was his "favorite composer" - an allegiance to which he admitted not only in his 1974 interview with Jonathan Cott but on other occasions too - has often been quoted as welcome proof of Gould's eccentricity. In fact, his concert repertory included only one work by the English virginalist, the "Lord of Salisbury" Pavan and Gal Hard, which he first played at a recital in Montreal on November 6, 1952 - scarcely enough to lend factual weight to his verbal enthusiasm, even if the piece also figured in his USA debut programme in January 1955 and in the first part of Bruno Monsaingeon's television trilogy, Les Chemins de la musique, in 1974. Even the "Columbia" album, of which he had dreamed all his life and which was finally made between 1967 and 1971, ultimately contained only three works by Gibbons, while William Byrd - Gibbons' senior by forty years - contributed no fewer than five pieces to Gould's Consort of Musicke.
Was Gould being inconsistent? Certainly not. In his accompanying notes to the recording, Gould - no doubt with a heavy heart -conceded that, unlike Byrd (whom he equated with Scarlatti, Chopin and Scriabin as "one of the 'naturals'" of keyboard music), Gibbons re- garded vocal music as his "prime outlet": "de- : spite the requisite quota of scales and shakes in such half-hearted virtuoso vehicles as the 'Salisbury' Galliard, one is never quite able to counter the impression of a music of supreme beauty that somehow lacks its ideal means of reproduction. Like Beethoven in the last quartets, or Webern at almost any time, Gibbons is an artist of such intractable commitment that, in the keyboard field at least, his works work better in one's memory, or on paper, than they ever can through the intercession of a sounding board." In adopting this line, Gould was of course also taking the wind out of the sails of all those critics who wasted no opportunity to reproach him for performing this music on a modern concert grand, instead of the virginal for which it had been written, a change which they claimed was stylistically inconsistent if not downright sacrilegious.
Quite apart from any instrumental considerations, it was, of course, their contrapuntal writing that attracted Gould to Byrd and Gibbons, even though, in the case of Gibbons, he had to admit that he could not "make a case for him being a better contrapuntist than Bach -obviously he wasn't, and obviously he wasn't as gifted a word-colorist as Wagner". But, as he told an American admirer in a letter of May 13,1971, "in my view at least, the ideal preparation for the contrapuntal pursuits to be found in Bach's music is offered by the music of the English Tudor composers - particularly William Byrd,. [...] Quite apart from my own inordinate enthusiasm for the music, I do believe you will find that the keyboard attitude, so to speak, of the Tudor masters is, although directed at a very different kind of keyboard, admittedly, not unlike that of Bach, and that their music, as a whole, makes a very worthwhile complement to a study of JSB."
Although Gould recorded three works by Gibbons and three by Byrd as early as 1967/68, this material was placed in the "Ice-Box" by "Columbia", together with a number of other items which, not released until 1980 as part of Gould's "Silver Jubilee Album", included one of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Wurttemberg Sonatas, a number of Scarlatti Sonatas and the opening movement of Liszt's transcription of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (Glenn Gould Edition SMK 52636). A total playing-time of under thirty minutes was plainly not enough for two LP sides. At the end of 1970 Gould's producer, Andrew Kazdin, cautiously raised the subject of these unpublished recordings: the Byrd and Gibbons tapes in particular were so fantastic, he argued, that the project should be continued and completed as a matter of urgency. Gould was ready with a solution: "In the early spring of 1971 I will be recording a broadcast for the European Broadcasting Union and including on it two sets of variations - Grounds, more accurately - by William Byrd, both of which are at once of a length appropriate to fill out the disc and of sufficient virtuosic impulse to give it a necessary piece d'resistance [sic]. It would be simple matter to re-record the Byrd variations during one of our Toronto sessions and we would then be in possession, I think, of a rather remarkable and altogether off-beat disc" The two pieces mentioned by Gould were Byrd's Hughe Ashton's Ground and Sellinger's Round, but it appears that for both these works (for which Kazdin was the producer responsible) he used the same tapes for the "Columbia" recording as those made for his EBU recital, in which case the studio sessions listed on the "Artist Contract Cards" for April 18 and 19, 1971 must effectively have been mixing sessions.
A further example of complex counterpoint is the Organ Fantasia by the early baroque Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, which Gould first played,in Toronto on February 10, 1952. Eight months later it reappeared on the programme of a recital for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and was to remain a regular feature of Gould's piano recitals until his retirement from the concert platform in 1964. It was heard, for example, at his two debut concerts in the USA-on January 2, 1955 in Washington and nine days later in New York, when "Columbia's" manager, David Op-penheim, described Gould's interpretation of this piece in particular as an absolute revelation: "The Sweelinck, in anyone else's hands, would have been just a crushing bore. And he set such a religious atmosphere that it was just mesmerizing. And it didn't take more than five or six notes to establish that atmosphere, by some magic of precise rhythm and control of the inner voices... And I was thrilled." Although Gould never recorded the work in the studio, there are several accounts of his interpretation in existence. The version released here -palpably faster than the one broadcast live from Salzburg on August 25,1959 and due for release at a later date as part of the Glenn Gould Edition - was made for CBC on April 23 and 24,1964, only two weeks after Gould had bid his final farewell to the public concert platform in Los Angeles on April 10,1964.
- Michael Stegemann