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Such Freedom, If Only MusicalUnofficial Soviet Music during the Thaw$

Peter J Schmelz

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195341935

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195341935.001.0001

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Such Freedom, If Only Musical
Oxford University Press

The below has been transcribed, with permission, from Glenn Gould in Russia, 1957. The lecture took place on 12 May 1957.

[Gould plays Berg, Sonata, Op. 1]

As you can see, with Alban Berg the possibilities of writing with a key signature are just about exhausted. Within a year Alban Berg and his teacher Arnold Schoenberg were writing music absolutely without relation to any one tonality. The earliest works of Schoenberg and Berg without tonality were also to a certain extent without form. They were much too fluid without any real control over the material. Within a decade, within ten years, Schoenberg had begun to formulate, to work on a principle, whereby all the melodic units could be combined into what he called a “supertheme.” To combine all the thematic ideas of the music into one complex of themes which would be used again and again in every conceivable position and variation of itself.

Now it's a long way from the Alban Berg sonata to the music that I'm going to play next. This is music by another pupil of Schoenberg—Anton von Webern. Webern as a composer was much less interested than was Berg in great masses of color, much less interested in the effect of an instrumental sound. His very first work for orchestra already shows this, and it is a passacaglia for orchestra, a passacaglia for orchestra, in which the theme is already a typical Webern motive [Gould plays the theme of the passacaglia]. Passacaglia for orchestra [He continues playing]. Now Webern develops this principle of using a very short group of motives, often the same one. The work which I want to play for you was written in 1936, thirty years after this piece. It is his only work for piano, a set of variations in three, very brief movements. It also shows something that is typically Webern: there is throughout this piece no crescendo, no diminuendo, everything is entirely in terms of absolute piano‐forte. I would also like to apologize because I haven't practiced it for two years [excited audience response].

[Gould plays Webern, Piano Variations, Op. 27]

Now finally from this school I would like to play a piece which in some way sums up a little bit of the attributes of both these men. It is a composition by the Czechoslovakian (p.340) composer Ernst Krenek [audience disturbance]. I would like to play the first and last movements of his Third Piano Sonata [continued disruption in audience]. This I think is music which has the…[The translator shouts out “Krenek, Krenek!”; Gould also repeats the name].

This I think is music which has both the melodic agility of Webern and also the tremendous harmonic strength of Berg. In my opinion it's one of the best piano compositions of the century. The first and last movements of the sonata.

[Gould plays Krenek, Piano Sonata, No. 3, Op. 62, No. 4, movements I and IV]

Thank you very much; I only hope I haven't bored you with too much of this music, but it is very dear to me, and I really wanted to play it for you. [“No!” (“Nyet!”) a woman audibly yells over the enthusiastic audience applause that follows the translation.]

I think the highest compliment that I can pay it is to say that the principles which one finds here are not new, but are at least 500 years old. They are principles which reached their heights with the Flemish school, with Josquin des Prez and many other people in the mid and late 15th century. So finally I would like to play for you some music which is very much of the end of something also: some music by Johann Sebastian Bach from the Art of the Fugue [sic], three fugues.

[Gould plays Bach, in Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080, Contrapuncti 1, 4, 2 and as an encore: Bach, Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, Variations Nos. 3, 18, 9, 24, 10, 30]