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“Glenn Gould – The Alchemist” is another fine DVD released in
2002 by the Classic Archive branch of EMI Classics. Although
billed as “directed by François-Louis Ribadeau,” it is another
Bruno Monsaingeon film. In my book, the knowledge that it’s
a Monsaingeon film just about guarantees a quality product;
I’ve had such good luck watching his various other musician
profiles, and am aware of his knack for finding and showcasing
the main “essence” of whomever he’s filming.

This 157-minute DVD about Canadian pianist Glenn Gould
(1932-1982) is no exception. It’s actually four separate films
made for French national television in 1974. As Monsaingeon
mentions in the accompanying booklet, at the time of filming,
Glenn Gould had not performed publicly for 10 years, and his
popularity had faded. In addition, during his nine years of
public concerts, Gould never performed in France.

At any rate, the release of these films helped change Gould’s
reputation in a major way, and he has remained in the public
eye ever since, albeit largely posthumously. These four films
are entitled “The Retreat,” “The Alchemist,” “Glenn Gould 1974,”
and “”Johann Sebastian Bach.” However, these titles really
aren’t that important, because there is overlapping information
and footage between each of the sections, particularly where
Bach is concerned.

I was most interested in the interviews of Gould conducted by
Monsaingeon, revealing that Glenn Gould possessed a keen,
if somewhat eccentric intellect, with interesting thoughts and
viewpoints of performance practices and various composers.
In the first film, Gould explained his reasons for ceasing public
performances, and in the second film, “The Alchemist,” he
literally “conducts” the recording engineer at the console while
manipulating the microphone controls used in his performances
of music by Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). Gould could be a
real “control freak” during the recording process.

I was also fascinated by Gould’s discussions of the music of
Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951), Alban Berg (1885-1935) and
Anton Webern (1883-1945), as well as his wonderful
performances of Berg’s “Sonata for Piano, Op. 1,” and
Webern’s “Variations for Piano, Op. 27.” Who would have
imagined that Glenn Gould’s favorite composer was
Orlando Gibbons (1528-1625)?

The fourth film consisted of a Gould performance of Bach’s
“Partita No. 6 in E Minor.” I think it’s safe to say that no one
has ever performed this music with such a sense of clarity of
line, and independence of voicing. Other featured
performances include music by William Byrd (1540-1623),
Gibbons, Schönberg, and a portion of Gould’s own
arrangement of Richard Wagner’s (1813-1883) overture
from Die Meistersinger.

This footage was shot in black and white, and the sound
was in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, remastered for DVD. I highly
recommend this disc which provides a balanced portrait of
a unique and fascinating musician.