Lifetime Achievement Award: Glenn Gould

Lang Lang pays tribute to an amazing personality and groundbreaking musician
  • Photo: Keystone/Getty Images
    Glenn Gould
  • Photo: Dominik Bindl/Getty Images
    Lang Lang
February 09, 2013 -- 4:34 pm PST
By Lang Lang / GRAMMY.com

(In addition to the GRAMMY Awards, The Recording Academy presents Special Merit Awards recognizing contributions of significance to the recording field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical GRAMMY Award. In the days leading up to the 55th GRAMMY Awards, GRAMMY.com will present the tributes to the 2013 Special Merit Awards recipients.)

Glenn Gould was an amazing personality. Every note he played was so individual, from his groundbreaking first recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations (at the age of 23) to his recorded surveys of huge sections of the piano literature. He was perhaps one of the most unusual musicians ever to have performed (he retired from public performance completely at a young age, spending the rest of his performing life in the recording studio), but such was his wonderful musicianship that he is only more beloved by his audience. He performed very little in comparison with the other great soloists, yet his connection with his audience was so incredible that the music-loving public was (and is) devoted to him through the great strength of his musical communication.

Think of Glenn and one word springs to mind: Bach. Glenn had a connection with Bach's music perhaps above all other composers. It was completely suited to his very intelligent approach to music (he always tried to approach a score as a fellow composer, aiming for a freedom and understanding as if he might have written it himself) and he recorded nearly all of Bach's output for the keyboard across his career. The clarity and beauty of sound he brings to this composer is unparalleled. Bach said he wrote his music for the glory of heaven, and Glenn's performances elevate his works to a spirituality that I have never heard equaled. The Goldberg Variations recordings that he did at the beginning and end of his career are two thoroughly different, and equally beautiful, interpretations of one of the most magnificent works in the piano literature and every pianist (including myself) that has ever opened the score lives in the shadow of Glenn's performance.

But Glenn was an artist far above and beyond one composer. He recorded music from the classics through Scriabin and Schoenberg to his own works — and was not afraid to be controversial in his delivery (a stated distaste for the music of Mozart, for example, of whom he held the opinion that he died too late, led to some sometimes shocking and invariably brilliant performances). His famous performance of Brahms' D minor concerto led to his collaborator Leonard Bernstein issuing a disclaimer to the audience at Carnegie Hall beforehand, and is a very personal but amazing interpretation. His favorite composer was the early master Orlando Gibbons, whose work he passionately performed both on record and in the concert hall. His artistic heroes ranged from Leopold Stokowski to Barbra Streisand.

Although Glenn Gould died tragically young at only 50, he committed an enormous amount to disc (and film), and it is through his recorded legacy that we can remember him.

Glenn, you were the most amazing musician. We are so lucky to have had you among us. Thank you for leaving behind these wonderful recordings that move and inspire me and countless others. Glenn, we miss you.

(Lang Lang is arguably the most renowned Chinese pianist in history and enjoys superstar status in the classical music world. He was nominated for a GRAMMY in 2007 for his recording of Beethoven's piano concertos Nos. 1 & 4, and serves as the GRAMMY Cultural Ambassador to China.)

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