Glenn Gould: The Complete Original Jacket Collection

Just a warning; When you tell people that you have just purchased an 80 CD box set of piano music performed by a single individual, they will likely look at you with a combination of pity, disbelief, and disgust. Of course, to be perfectly honest I had some of those same feelings with myself after buying this. I’m certainly a sucker for a nice box set, and in the midst of what I’m now calling my “classical reawakening” (spurned on by The Rest Is Noise, no doubt), this massive set by one of the great all-time performers (along with Richter and Horowitz and probably some others I’m currently forgetting) on the piano is quite simply one of those things that seems like it would appeal to a person with some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder.

Except, it’s also just about perfect for a casual listener as well. Bear with me…

Glenn Gould: The Complete Jacket Collection

I’ll admit that the first thing that caught my attention with the set was a simple factor of economics. When I first surfed onto the site, Amazon.com had Glenn Gould: The Complete Original Jacket Collection listed for only $220 dollars (only $2.75 per CD). I added it to my watch list and checked it often (as I do in order to try to find fleeting bargains) and one day the set was dropped to only $170, making it just over $2 per disc and simply impossible to resist (especially on the heels of a couple lucrative ebay sales).

So, having heard only Gould’s Goldberg Variations, I anxiously awaited the 8-plus pound set and upon receiving it immediately felt overwhelmed again. After all, I have other stacks of CDs on my desk (both purchased items and things that have arrived for review) and often find it hard to even fit enough room into my schedule to listen to those (and of course doesn’t even include the rest of the collection). Thus, I made myself a very modest goal; I would take two Gould CDs to work with me at a time and listen to them as I had a chance, rotating them out with the next in line once I had finished hearing them a few times. In just over two months time, I made it through just about thirty discs, which is probably a slow absorption rate for most, but was perfect for me to try to appreciate the nuances of the work as well as the styles of the composers and performances themselves (plus, I still have over half the set to still work through).

Fortunately, Glenn Gould: The Complete Original Jacket Collection is remarkably varied, despite being entirely piano-based (or accompanied). There’s solo piano work, small chamber pieces, full symphonies, and even a couple CDs worth of interviews. Composers include Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, Schoenberg, Strauss, Prokofiev, Wagner, Sibelius, Schumann, and Gould himself.

As someone who has always enjoyed classical music, but hadn’t taken the leap to try to fully explore large sections of different work, I have to say that one of the biggest joys of this set is not only hearing a performer who was obviously a master artist, but simply listening to a great deal of different compositions and performances that I had never heard before. In going through the set, there were moments that did sort of seep into the background, but there were also a great deal of joyous discoveries that I simply would have probably never discovered otherwise.

Of course, one of the biggest problems with a set this size is simply remembering what I’ve enjoyed and what I haven’t. I have a fairly good photographic memory, so I can link up aural memories with cover art well (so I know that I’ll have to seek out more Brahms and Strauss while holding my cards a bit on Schoenberg), but I also know that by the time I actually make it through the entire set, my memory will probably have fuzzed-out a bit and I’ll likely only remember the creme de la creme of the set.

I don’t really view that as a big issue, though, because I view the Glenn Gould: The Complete Original Jacket Collection as one of those box sets that’s like a little mini-investment for the future as well as an immediate collection of music to pore over in the present tense. Even if my tastes shift over the course of the next several years, I know that there will be lots of CDs in the set that I’ll come back to, and compositions that I didn’t quite appreciate the first time that will completely make sense on a second or third listen.

There’s a famous (and prominent on the set) quote from Gould that states, “My idea of happiness is two hundred and fifty days a year in a recording studio.” Based on his prodigious output (as is evidence by this box set alone), the notoriously eccentric (and that’s probably putting it nicely) Gould hopefully had to at least find himself at least a little joy during periods where day-after-day recording turned into weeks of finding the “perfect” performance. I simply can’t name many artists off the top of my head who have 60-plus hours of studio recordings released into the world.

Essentially, this is the sort of set that seems a bit crazy to even think about buying as a casual listener. In a world jammed with MP3 blogs doing their best to outdo one another with the latest song and free music shoved all over the web trying to demand attention, it almost seems a bit antiquated to devote so much time to the performances of one musician. Viewing the purchase over a longer time period, though, it doesn’t seems so challenging, nor single-minded. As mentioned above it can be the sort of large window that opens up into an even more panoramic view of one of the largest and most-daunting genres to explore. Dazzling in both individual performance and staggering in scope, it’s a set that’s easily surpassed my expectations.

(buy this box set at amazon.com)

This entry was posted on Monday, November 10th, 2008 at 6:34 pm and is filed under music. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Glenn Gould: The Complete Original Jacket Collection”

  1. John Says:

    Just came across your interesting bit on the “Gould Box.” I have it too and adore it. And the same exact thought occurred to me, about having 80 CDs of *one* musician. More specifically, a Pianist! Normally it would make no sense at all to have *80 CD’s* from a Pianist. In fact, it would grate on my nerves (and I’m a life-long musician). But quite simply…. Gould was different. Miraculous talent aside, what makes these discs a pleasure to listen to are the SOUNDS he coaxed out of his instrument. IMO, the tone of his playing was beautifully “warm”. Best way I can describe it. A lot of listeners (probably the ones that are not trained in Music) don’t realize how hypnotizing his meter was. He never, ever faltered. He was like a rock when it came to keeping a certain tempo. And that’s another wonderful element that I only find in his playing. But this is turning into a dissection!

    I digress. The Original Jacket Collection is well worth it for anyone who is a Glenn Gould fan, or for somebody that simply appreciates certain periods of Classical Music (Gould sticks to a handful of composers, mainly from the Baroque/Classical period – and a few Contemporary “Atonal Maestros” like A. Schönberg) played by the best there will probably ever be. He left far too soon. But then again things here were far too mediocre for him. Unfortunate case, really. RIP Glenn Gould.