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Glenn Gould Hereafter

Ideale Audience DVD9DM20

This DVD does what it says on the box; presents a major film retrospective of Glenn Gould, narrated in his own words, often by an actor speaking in the first person as if he were Gould giving the viewer a tour of his own life.

Made entirely in black and white, so as to conform the better to the many scenes of archive footage, the film also has an elegiac, nostalgic feel. Along the way, we are shown many endearing scenes – Gould in concert and recording, Gould and his beloved setter dog, Nick, tributes from his admirers and fans, including one of them receiving a reply to her letter only after Gould had already died!

The director, Bruno Monsaigneon, a long-standing admirer of Gould, is already an iconic figure within musical film-making; Ideale Audience is the French production company which has produced Montsaigneon's material. There is an underlying theme, that Gould's playing gave his listeners an apprehension of the hereafter, a sense that the other world might really exist.

At the end, we hear Gould play the unfinished fugue from Art of Fugue, Bach's last composition; we hear Gould pronounce on the subject himself; we hear him say he believes the ‘hereafter' to be much more likely than ‘the other possibility – oblivion'. And we are left in no doubt that Gould's own work and talent are powerful advocates for the spiritual dimension of the human condition. In memorialising Gould, therefore, we are opening ourselves also to the possibility of that hereafter.

What you make of this film is likely to be pre-determined by your existing attitude to Gould. If you are a fan, you will find his eccentricities endearing, his control over the recording process exemplary and his art overarchingly magnificent. You will think his combination of traditional artistic commitment and militant modernity (he says he would not have liked to have lived before the era of mechanical reproduction of music, even as a listener, let alone a recording artist) a fascinating conundrum.

If not, you may find him - or rather, his persona - vain, self-absorbed to a fault, his manner too contrived to be entirely convincing; his person not to be an ornament for his art, but an awkwardness, an impediment even. With any reaction to his film, the Amadeus­like questions about the relation of genius to personality are asked.

In this way too, the project fits with Monsaigneon's wider artistic purpose, not merely to depict his subjects, but to explore music's connection with the infinite. Gould, indeed, makes his strongest argument simply when he plays – the longest and best extract is the fugue from the Beethoven Eroica Variations, immensely difficult technically, made to sound effortless and clear, in Gould's preternaturally clean fingerwork.

A deliberate counter-example, the perverse tempi he adopts for Mozart's first movement of the too-familiar sonata K331, may be read either as the imaginative artist desperately trying to break the bonds of convention, or as an instance where Gould's questing talent was irritating, not illuminating. For someone like Alfred Brendel, an artist should should try and discern 'the character' within a work. For others, this sense of freshness (which has a certain convincing quality in K331) is exactly what made Gould so special.

From a purely musicological point of view, some archive footage from recording sessions has great interest, again showing his iron-willed control and precision over the editing process.

All who love Glenn Gould will love this film; for others, it is a deeply interesting meditation on that old question, the relationship between life and art.

© Ying Chang

There is a substantial video excerpt to be seen at http://www.ideale-audience.com/glenngould/ [Editor]