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AMONG THE ATTRACTIONS of a traditional LP record album, and to some extent, even a CD jewel case, are the artwork and textural material accompanying the music. Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are several residing in my memory, every bit as much as the music they’re complementing.
Glenn Gould’s The Goldberg Variations. As I noted back in “On Bach, Von Keyseling, Goldberg—and Gould,” Glenn Gould’s 1956 album of The Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the first albums I ever bought.
“The album’s intrinsic value,” I said, “was enhanced by its being double-sleeved: The outer one showed 30 photo clips taken during Gould’s studio performance; the inner one had extensive notes on the variations written by Gould. It also had a fetching sketch of a fellow and his lady friend enjoying Bach and evidently each other…. I was 12, going on 13 at the time; Glenn Gould was 22.”
Gould’s Liner Notes: The variations, Glenn Gould wrote, include “such diverse contrapuntal structures as a canon upon every degree of the diatonic scale, two fughettas, and even a quodlibet (the superposition of street-songs popular in Bach’s times)…. Indeed, this noble bass [of the Aria] binds each variation with the inexorable assurance of its own inevitability.”
I’ve listened to The Goldberg Variations a great many times in various renderings, Gould’s, a string quartet’s, and others. A few years ago, I took Gould’s “binding noble bass” to heart and concentrated on what his left hand was doing, not just his right hand’s melodic variations. It’s almost like listening to a new piece and quite amazing.
Thanks, Glenn, for composing those most perceptive liner notes. And thanks to the album’s illustrator for giving this near-teen an aspirational image of music appreciation.
The Joy of Grownup Culture. On a not dissimilar note, perhaps a couple of years later I was in a record store which was playing Beethoven’s Ninth. Leafing through the record stacks nearby was a most attractive young lady who, just barely audibly, was following along with the Ninth’s moving Ode to Joy—in the original German. Today, eons later, I still recall her crisp light blue oxford shirt, dark skirt, Veronica Lake “Peek-a-Boo” hair style, and a most sophisticated image of evidently grownup culture.
Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach. A little more than a decade later, in the late 1960s, I was embedded in grad-school mathematics, with whatever free time I could spare in avant garde music and theater. In 1968, Columbia Records issued Switched-On Bach, ten of this composer’s works transposed for Moog synthesizer by, as initially released, an avant garde musical experimenter named Walter Carlos.
Robert Moog’s device was the first commercial assemblage of oscillators, amplifiers, filters, generators, modulators, and mixers that created and shaped sounds. Its sound was brought mainstream by Switched-On Bach, co-produced by Walter Carlos and Rachel Elkind, classical musician, record producer, and composer.
Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll learn more about Carlos, Elkind, Moog, and their musical innovations. Also, there’s an entire series of memorable album covers. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022
Hammond had some (perhaps fleeting) commercial success with their Novachord back in the ’30s and ’40s, so depending on one’s definition of a synthesizer, the Moog may not have been first. There’s background info and a fascinating account of restoring a Novachord at http://www.discretesynthesizers.com/nova/intro.htm.