Thirty years after the death of a piano genius, we ask: can any other pianist match him?

I f you type “Goldberg Variations” into Google, the first search result that will come up is a Wikipedia article on JS Bach’s keyboard work; the second is another Wikipedia article devoted to Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of it; the third is a display of “videos for Goldberg Variations” – all being extracts of Gould’s second recording of the Goldbergsin 1981.

Gould, Gould, Gould. It’s not too much of a stretch to conclude that in the public eye, Goldberg Variations= Gould. The Canadian pianist’s Goldbergshave inspired several transcriptions of the piece for other instruments, as well as original compositions such as Christos Hatzis’s Gouldberg Variationsand a short story by Richard Powers ( The Gold Bug Variations). Heck, even Hannibal Lecter requested Gould’s, and specifically Gould’s, Goldbergs in The Silence of the Lambs– if the tastes of fictional psychopaths are  a measure of cultural currency.  

While few would contest Gould’s popular link to the work, many would disagree that Gould “owns” the Goldbergs; indeed, many musicians believe his Goldbergsdon’t deserve to be ranked...

This article is available to Limelight subscribers.

Log in to continue reading.

Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism.

Subscribe now