Two Iconoclasts

Canada became a country July 1st 1867: one hundred forty-five years ago.  July 1st is a day to count one’s blessings, to celebrate a compassionate and gentle country, a haven for so many wonderful people, among them great artists.

I’m thinking of such things as I ponder two extraordinary Canadians: one from the last century, the other from our own.

I grew up hearing about the brilliance of Glenn Gould.  In fact I found that while some of his performances were excellent, others were quirky and even disturbing.  What I admired was his refusal to sound like anyone else, to behave like anyone else, or to really care very much about everyone else.  He is truly an iconoclast, unfettered by the usual procedures or conventions of his instrument.  And as a result he went far outside the usual limits & boundaries of the piano, becoming a kind of larger-than-life spokesperson for music and for the arts in Canada.  Because he’s so well known –and well documented—I leave it to you to confirm this for yourself rather than waste space on someone so firmly established in the Canadian musical imagination.

The other Canadian is Stewart Goodyear.  To be honest I’ve been obsessing about him.  He’s been coming into conversations that have little to do with Beethoven or pianism, because again, Goodyear is not following the usual rulebook.

Last month I heard a portion of Goodyear’s Beethoven Marathon, a performance of all 32 sonatas in a day, an undertaking denigrated as an attempt to attract attention.  While the concerts did deserve attention –especially considering the pianist’s remarkable approach—they fit nicely into the tradition of piano virtuosity.   But the Marathon was a happening, going far beyond what I’d expected.  Accompanying the performances were a series of poetic commentaries every bit as unique & witty as the writing we came to expect from Gould.  You can see Goodyear’s liner notes here.

I believe Goodyear deserves the kind of worldwide attention that Gould received half a century before, as much of an original thinker, as daring in his interpretations, and yes, at least as fine a pianist. Gould attracted the spotlight with his daring reading of Bach’s Goldberg Variations more than half a century ago, in 1955.  I don’t know whether Goodyear can have the same impact when part of Gould’s impact was upon a public who by and large didn’t know those variations that put Gould on the map, and came to be smitten with the composition as much as with the playing.  At least some of Beethoven’s sonatas are among the best known compositions for the piano.

complete setYet from what I’ve heard so far, the young pianist is every bit as original as the one who came before.

I’ve obtained Goodyear’s new release of all 32 piano sonatas on the Marquis label, available online as well as in record stores.  I will be writing about them in more detail in coming weeks.  Based on what I heard in the live concert, where the young pianist had every note in his head, and a clear interpretive vision unlike anyone out there, and what I’ve heard of the CDs, Goodyear could change the way we hear Beethoven.

I’ll have a lot more to say in coming days.


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