So much has been written about the sensation caused by Gould’s first studio recording of the Goldberg Variations in June 1955 that it is hardly necessary to repeat the story of this “birth of a legend” here. But even though it was this recording that laid the foundations for Gould’s international reputation as a Bach interpreter, its roots lie much further back. From the very outset his Bach had been as unconventional as it was distinctive – and so it remains, in spite of regular attempts to enthrone a “new Glenn Gould”. (Conversely, this has meant that every new recording of Bach’s keyboard works is judged by Gould’s standards.) His habit of slouching over the piano, the expansive gestures of his hands and arms, his stabbing nonlegato (almost always without the use of the sustaining pedal), his breathtaking polyphony and his often extreme tempi all result in a kind of pianism that seems to come from another planet, reminding us of Stefan George’s poem in Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, “Entrückung” (Rapt Otherworldliness): “I breathe air from another planet.”
by Michael Stegemann