Well, it is that time of year. . . . the Halloweeny, falling leaves, year-almost-over part of 2013. And, earlier this month it was more than 30 years since Glenn Gould suffered a stroke and died. But we still remember his playing, the tender, perfectly rendered notes, and the hums he made as the music took him out of himself. It's all art, isn't it?
Bill Holm also played the piano, it seems to have been an important part of his persona. One of his books is called Playing the Black Piano. This selection from that book is reprinted in The Chain Letter of the Soul, Milkweed Editions, 2009, page 169.
Glenn Gould 1932-1982
A man who played the piano with as much genius as it is possible
to contain in a human being said he trusted machines and elec-
tricity more than he trusted humans in a room. Henceforth, he
would play only for steel wire and thin tape, genius saved from
coughing, wheezing, and all possibility of disagreeable whispers
He took his first machine, the piano, and chiseled, filed, and
muffled it until it suited his music and was like no other such
machine on earth--a name brand of one. He sat on his second
machine, an old chair that squeaked and rocked and comforted
He waited until the middle of the night to have perfect silence
for his music, then moved his two peculiar machines into a sealed,
sound-locked room where not even the vibration of a human foot
could ever be felt. There he played, safe at last from the rest of us,
and even, he thought, from himself.
But when Bach or Haydn came on him, he started singing
in a low and ugly hum, out of tune with everything his hands
were doing. No machine could take this noise away or clear it
out without losing the music, too, so he was left with an awful
choice. Give up principle or give up beauty.
He chose the music, hums and all, a glad hypocrite like us.
Only failed ideals and wrong turning will ever get you anywhere
on earth or make anything with beauty or energy inside it. In the
Bach F# Minor Fugue, or the slow C major tune in the Haydn
sonata, the awful humming overwhelms the perfect technology
and everyone with ears tuned right is glad of it.
That hum is his ghost, still alive, but also it is the invisible
audience sneezing and hacking; it is the ignorant applause after
the wrong movement; it is pigeons in the rafters of the hall,
cooing for bread; it is me blowing my nose and wiping my tears
of joy in this music---in this odd, grand failure of a man.
This totally knocks me out! And now that Bill Holm, too, is gone, I like to think that the little bug he drew when he signed the copy I have now of Boxelder Bug Variations is a tiny bit of his spirit left behind. Sleep well tonight.