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Alexander  Carpenter


(Assoc. Prof.,  U. of Alberta, Music, Augustana Campus)




On Gould, Gulda and Becoming a Cultural Icon

This paper explores the many significant and intriguing parallels between Canadian pianist, broadcaster and composer Glenn Gould and Austrian pianist and composer Friedrich Gulda, and the extent to which both men are connected to the cultural history and identity of their respective nations.  Gould, despite his many idiosyncrasies and outright neurotic behavior, is proudly heralded as a musical genius and a Canadian icon; Gulda, on the other hand, despite the many shared attitudes and traits between himself and Gould, and despite a large body of work and professional recognition as a classical pianist, is a somewhat marginal—if not openly disdained—figure in Austria’s cultural history.
     Gould and Gulda were nearly exact contemporaries, and both are counted among the most important pianists of the 20th century for their interpretations of the great works of the classical canon.  Both were also regularly labeled “eccentric” due to their unusual opinions and behaviors, especially the shunning of public performance and the adoption of unorthodox modes of dress (and, in Gulda’s case, for faking his own death).  Gould, however, is now a much lauded if not sacrosanct figure in Canada’s cultural history, three decades after his death; the same cannot be said for the more recently deceased Gulda, who died in 2000 and who is sometimes regarded by the Austrian media and classical music community as a kind of novelty act. 
     The unevenness of their reputations is the focus of this paper, and I argue that it may be attributed to a number of factors, including: their sharply contrasting approaches to recording music; Gould’s explicit engagement with Canadian identity, especially in his role as a documentarian and public broadcaster; and Gulda’s penchant for gimmickry and his problematic forays into jazz, third stream and popular music.   This paper considers the writings of Gould and Gulda along with interviews and the assessments of key critics and commentators—from the music critic Harold Schonberg to the literary theorist and critic Edward Said—towards an clearer picture of these two men and their relationship to cultural and national identity, and of the growing reception history that shapes our understanding of their import.


Alexander Carpenter is a musicologist and music critic. He has been a faculty member at Augustana since 2006.
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