' When that I was but a little tiny boy,' as the song goes, my parents did their best to turn me into a pianist. While the experience taught me much about music, the keyboard turned out not to be my instrument, but the oboe. Regardless, the music of those often-frustrating years remains dear to me, and some of that was Bach's French Suites.
In my day one was taught that playing Bach was all about precision and tempo, two things that I never seemed to excel at. I'm typical of oboe players, lost in the melody, sometimes forgetting that there are other parts to pay attention to. Somehow I think that Glenn Gould and I are brothers under the skin. Although he was a far better musician than I became, and new darn well exactly what was important in a piece.
He sets you up with the Allemande from Suite No. 1 and then hares off for parts unexpected, squeezing each bit for all it is worth and then some. He mutates tempi, invents the ornamentation and proves, once and for all, that musicality frequently has little to do with what is printed on the sheet. In my youth, Gould was the essence of controversial, now I fiont he is like a fine wine, fill of unexpected flavors and unique harmonies.
If melody is God, Glenn Gould is it's prophet. The French Suites aren't meant to be rattled through, but to be mulled over for there finer points. Gould has a vision like few others and this untraditional approach brings you close to the music and its real beauty. He makes you wonder how Bach played this work, in the days before everyone made up the rules.
[Dedicated to Bob Zeidler, whose little finger knew more about music than I could ever hope to]