Friday 20 March 2009

The Perversity of Genius

Talking of vinyl, one of the most treasured and played-to-death items in my juvenile record collection was a 12in LP of Sviatoslav Richter playing Beethoven's Pathétique and Appassionata sonatas (a concert recording). Today is his birthday - he would be 94 if he were still with us. Here is a bizarre but rather wonderful clip in which Glenn Gould - mysteriously subtitled and voiced-over - recounts how seeing Richter play persuaded him that perhaps, after all, Schubert wasn't entirely 'boring'. Oh the perversity of genius...


  1. Richter himself gives the clue in this fascinating clip. He was a man who valued his privacy to perhaps a manic degree, at least in his middle and late years, and this created a mystique around him, an aura. He was later labelled, unfairly in my view, as an enigma, and when he started to admit that he played 'only for himself', the less charitable suggested a certain selfishness.
    Who cares when faced with an ability to communicate such as this film shows. He looks to be playing for himself, and it is our good fortune to be sitting alongside

  2. Gould delighted in being a contrarian. He famously said that "Mozart was a bad composer who died too late rather than too early".

    The Gould cult has always left me cold. A few years back it seemed that every other guest on Radio 3's Private Passions would choose Gould playing Bach, usually the "classic" Goldberg recording. For me his Bach was unbearable: full of stilted phrasing and exaggerated tempos. What a relief to the ears to go back to Murray Perahia's Bach recordings.

    I think Brendel was spot on when he described Gould as an eccentric doing everything possible to counteract the wishes or the character of the composer.

  3. Know what you mean about Gould, Uncle T - he did say some ridiculous things, and make some inexcusable recordings of composers he didn't approve of. But I do find his Goldberg very beautiful - nothing like anything Bach envisaged of course, but a quite extraordinary 'second creation' which gives a rare feeling of the music being discovered afresh, rather than, as with so many performances, 'rattled off' without much thought. Love Perahia's Bach too - and his Schubert (and, come to that, Brendel's Schubert)...

  4. But why does he have to hum like that?

  5. Because Brit, he is playing for himself, oblivious to the world outside his bubble (see above)