restricted access 3. Schnabel’s Rationalism, Gould’s Pragmatism
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3. Schnabel’s Rationalism, Gould’s Pragmatism To judge from their recordings, Artur Schnabel and Glenn Gould were extraordinarily different musicians. Their most obvious points of contrast concern keyboard address. Gould is commonly faulted for emphasizing pianism over service to the composer: “Gould had total command of his instrument ,” reads one review, “through which he projected his studiously considered and entirely personal view of Bach’s musical firmament. One must, I think, be primarily interested in masterly pianism to want this . . . disc, one that shines more light on the performer than on the composer.”1 At the same time, Schnabel is criticized for attending more to abstract notions of musicality than to realities of musical execution: “Schnabel sounds as though he had not prepared this demanding sonata sufficiently,” says one critique, “this brusquely insensitive performance [of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier”] . . . is an unqualified failure.”2 Comparisons of Schnabel and Gould soon come to touch upon much deeper textual and historiographical differences: it becomes clear that Schnabel oriented himself, if I may borrow a literary duality developed by Umberto Eco, to the intention of the author, while Gould was concerned with the intention of the work. The second, Eco-Gouldian notion is not equivalent to the common textual-performative idea of Werktreue, which in the literal sense simply stipulates a faithfulness “to the work.” According to Alfred Brendel, Werktreue is a vague notion that has served only to aggrandize , politicize, and confuse ideas of Texttreue, or fidelity “to the text.”3 But with his idea of the intention of the work, Eco didn’t refer to the musical piece as an idealized and Platonistic entity, as a regulative principle, but rather as something that negotiates the readerly strategies by which it is to be approached and understood. The intentio auctoris involves old-fashioned exegesis of markings on paper that are read according to a 91 reasonably hypothesized sense of the author, while the intentio operis floats free of any single author’s intention. The first is a hermeneutic act, and the second is hypothesized on notions of consistency and genre.4 This divides musical-interpretive authenticities between the past—what did the composer want when she wrote this?—and up-front immediacies of the present—what does the work want here and now? Schnabel and his fans subscribe to the Platonist belief that composer and work reign eternal as central, guiding principles, while Gould aficionados can become so mesmerized by his performance mechanism that the work seems contingent on the performance rather than the other way around. If Schnabel was very much the intentionalist—believing Beethoven the man specifically meant such-and-such with score indication X and had this-and-that in mind when he wrote indication Y—Gould was no deconstructionist but justified his performance decisions according to specific aspects of the work as he saw it. Paul Myers, producer for many of Gould’s later recordings, recalled an interview in which the pianist declared his own fidelity to the intentio operis: “I’m interested in Beethoven because I’m interested in the structure of composers,” Gould confided in the dialogue remembered by Myers, “but if you want to hear Beethoven Sonatas played as they should be, listen to Schnabel, don’t listen to me.”5 So Schnabel recordings and Gould recordings diverge not only in manner of interpretation, but even in their apparent purpose—the particular use they make of the recording’s literal and unchanging repeatability. The Schnabel recording represents a kind of sounding Urtext, one painstaking attempt at the best real-world approximation of a work inhabiting what this pianist himself called “an irrational reality beyond and above natural occurrence.”6 In this sense, Schnabel took the unchanging aspect of the recording and—in spite of himself, for he professed to hating records—gave it high-cultural cachet. Gould was much less concerned with ideas of faithfulness and authenticity, rarely criticizing performances other than his own—and when he did, for instance when he complained about what he called Horowitz’s showy “faked” octaves, the grounds for condemnation were pianistic rather than stylistic or textual. As we pursue our comparison, the question arises: Can a Schnabel fan straddle this divide and listen with any empathy to Gould, or the Gould aficionado attend sympathetically to Schnabel? These pianists’ performance aesthetics are distinct enough to suggest not only specific musical domains—which cannot be mutually exclusive, according to definitions...