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From the Baroque to … well, the Baroque: marking the birthdays of Rameau and Gould

From the Baroque to … well, the Baroque: marking the birthdays of Rameau and Gould featured image

Glenn Gould pictured listening and conducting 

Canada takes pride in celebrating the birthday of Glenn Gould, the pianist heralded for his interpretations of JS Bach. Today also marks the anniversary of the birth of French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. He was a direct contemporary of JS Bach’s, and was his French counterpart, but for some reason, didn’t achieve the same level of long-lasting fame. In recent decades, efforts were made to expose his music to wider audiences. He changed the way music was written, tinkered with harmonies, which some folks declared brilliant and innovative, while other said his music sounded discordant and “anti-French”. It was such a big deal at the time, people who were “pro-Lully” (the most famous traditional French composer before Rameau), and those who were “pro-Rameau” argued for years. If social media were around in Rameau’s day, the debate would continue there.

Check out the “Overture to Zais”, the first cut on this extended selection of Rameau’s works. It sounds like someone is banging the door down with very urgent and upsetting news. After the initial chaos, keep listening; it all comes together quite nicely.

Jean-Philippe Rameau, born September 25, 1683, Dijon; died September 12, 1764, Paris.

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Pianist Glenn Gould was one of the most brilliant, strange, and mysterious musicians ever. He was as famous for his interpretations of Bach as he was infamous for his eccentricities. And we tend to think of him solely as an odd performer-turned-reclusive recording artist. What we often forget was he was a composer, too. In fact, most of his works were completed by his early 20’s. Some of his best known pieces are the String Quartet Op. 1, a richly complex work, and the humorous “So You Want to Write a Fugue”, a reference to his own extraordinary skill at playing fugues (his ability to highlight every voice with crystalline clarity is legendary). “So You Want to Write a Fugue” requires your undivided attention; I wasn’t able to continue writing this as I listened to it.

“So You Want to Write a Fugue”? for four solo voices with string quartet or piano accompaniment. The performers are listed in the opening credits. Normally, I’m not a fan of videos that follow the score, but in case you wanted to read along, I used this link.

Glenn Gould was born on September 25, 1932, in Toronto and died October 4, 1982, in Toronto.

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