Saturday, January 22, 2011

Conflict in Concert: Leonard Bernstein & Glenn Gould: "Bach Piano Concerto in D Minor"

Two great musicians. Gould plays and Bernstein conducts from the first movement of J S Bach "Concerto for Keyboard in D Minor."

from the CBC Archives: "On April 25, 1962 there is a highly publicized incident between Glenn Gould and conductor Leonard Bernstein at Carnegie Hall in New York. In later years, this night would be cited as one of the reasons the very private Gould would stop giving public performances.
In this clip, Bernstein disassociates himself and the New York Philharmonic from Gould's unorthodox interpretation of Brahms's First Piano Concert in D minor.

"Bernstein prefaces the concert with the famous phrase, "Don't be frightened, Mr. Gould is here..." Bernstein tells the audience that while he respects Gould, he strongly disagrees with his interpretation of Brahms piece. Following the introduction, Gould plays the first and last movement of the concerto at an extraordinarily slow tempo."

This tape I gather is from an earlier broadcast that same month for the Canadian Broadcasting Company.


  1. Here is a link to what Mr. Bernstein said that evening at Carnegie Hall. :

  2. "In later years, this night would be cited as one of the reasons the very private Gould would stop giving public performances." That's sad.

    I've often thought Leonard Bernstein to be a bit too "bombastic" for my taste, as well as perhaps a bit too full of himself? I sort of think he should have recused himself, or said nothing at all.

  3. I saw the film "22 Short Movies About Glenn Gould" a few years back. He was a very eccentric fellow, incredibly bright, but also quite a difficult personality.

    The Bernstein remarks are indeed unusual, Lucija. I'm guessing he was trying to get a bit of public revenge on Gould for being so difficult. Both men had great talents, but those traits, at least with men, often comes with great egos.

    Probably better to save his comments on Gould for a later time. Still, its an interesting commentary to me by Bernstein about art from a "behind-the-scenes" incident.

    It is a shame that Gould didn't perform in public for so long. I imagine he was leaning in that direction already before this conflict.

  4. I'm certain you're right, about the egos, too.

    Yes, it is " interesting commentary to me by Bernstein about art from a "behind-the-scenes" incident."

  5. Mmmmm, these two people should never have come together. Bernstein knows exactly whet he wants from his orchestra and players and won't tolerate doing your own thing. Gould is very relaxed and often hums along while he is playing, which starts off well, but can become annoying after a while. Both men had volatile tempers so coming together and trying to make it work, must have been like waiting for a ticking bomb to go off! I have to say, both were excellent musicians in their own right.

  6. I didn't know about this clash of the maestros back in 1962 Doug, but the performance here is wonderful.

    Without knowing the history I get the feeling that this conflict is being literally played out in notes so that it would take a musicologist with a background in psychotherapy to truly appreciate the level of hurt they are intended to inflict on the respective egos.

    Mutilation by metranome, I love the gladiatorial drama of this clash of sensibilities..I think international disputes should be resolved in the same way and the UN building should be replaced by Carnegie Hall for that purpose.

    Interesting stuff thanks for the clip and story Doug

  7. Thank you for the video, Doug. What magnetism these two men had. I can see just by the film that Gould must be incredibly difficult to conduct with an orchestra and this must have been out of Bernstein comfort zone, as he was very controlling and Gould wasn't the only musician to be in conflict with him

    Judging by the performance, that conflict certainly didn't affect the wonderful playing and conducting. Bringing an orchestra together is a difficult thing at the best of times, but with a personalities such as Gould and Bernstien, it must have been an amazing achievement. Gosh I wish I had been at the rehearsal.

  8. Yes, Cassandra, I've noticed Gould's habit of humming in a recent television documentary. One could just imagine Bernstein at his wit's end after a while, knowing this star pianist couldn't or wouldn't bend!

    It reminds me of the sad story of how Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman came together to appear on a series of concerts in the early 1950's. Goodman had an absolute mania about rehearsals--he had to practice note for note until he got everybody in the band on board and just right. (And you'd better tow the line.) "Satchmo" on the other hand was more relaxed and hardly could be bothered at that point in his career--his musicians were used to this and they were all top-notch enough to stay up with each other. (Warning: Icebergs Ahead!)

    Goodman blew his stack one night and through a glass of something against the wall! Armstrong referred to Goodman in strong language. By the time the tour was finished, neither man could be in the same room together.

    It must have seemed like a great idea to pair them up at the time. It wasn't.

  9. I think its likely a lot of conflict is "between the notes" so to speak, AA.

    I like the idea of international conflicts resolved by art. I imagine since the French seem to take artistic movements the most seriously, they would be a great superpower in the New World Order ;-)

  10. Sounds like you know a good deal of the backstory of both Leonard Bernstein and Glenn Gould, Cassandra.
    I recall from articles and radio stories on the the 100th Anniversary of the conductor's birth where musicians who worked under the great man recalled how proficient he was at describing the story behind whatever musical piece he was conducting with his orchestras during rehearsal time.

    What a great treat to have seen those exacting rehearsals, especially for those who understand how hard it is to create music. You're welcome.

  11. Not that much, Doug, I do have a few of Glenn Gould's recordings where he is humming along. Actually I really wish he wouldn't.:-))

    I also watched a few Master classes of Bernstein's and remember the tears of the artists he was knocking into shape. Quite frankly I couldn't see what was wrong with their performance, but they had to go over a passage time and time again. Even I, who was watching was getting annoyed on their behalf. It must be so wearing being a perfectionist.

    Yes, I can just imagine Bernstein going over a musical plot in fine detail. Hahaha, those listening wouldn't have dared drop off to sleep

  12. Hahaha, they were two difficult characters with strong personalities.

    I can understand the feeling when one person is passionate about something and another is so laid back it's almost as though they don't care, but of course they often do deep down.

    What a shame these two great stars couldn't meet halfway. I hope Armstrong was good at dodging when the glass was thrown.

  13. Wow, I didn't know Bernstein what that far and so hard on his musicians regularly!

    There's a line between being a strict leader and being a bully that is easily crossed, especially, as you say, if you're a perfectionist. Makes what wonder what his mentors expected of him as a young man.

    I remember reading seeing a documentary where the famous dance choreographer and director (Jerome Robbins) was so hard on his company at rehearsals that, when he accidently fell off the stage, nobody on stage moved down stage to see if he was all right!

  14. That's just it-- Cassandra--deep down both men cared greatly, but Goodman was still studying with a classicist in his middle years and Armstrong was more of a showman (as well as a genius) and his style was just different. It's a shame they couldn't mesh, but even more sad that they couldn't ever make up with one another.

    The 1953 Benny and Louis's All-Stars "disaster tour" didn't include any mention of actual attempted mayhem, so I'm hoping Mr. Goodman's glass was at least directed strictly at some inanimate wall.

  15. There were many tears and walkout's from the series I watched. Of course, to my expectations the singers where just perfect. Bernstein had a certain magnetism and when he praised the artists, they literally glowed.

    Oh gosh, a bit like crying wolf, eh? I do feel any teacher has to be at least approachable.

  16. They are many artists perfect in their own right, but bring them together and there will be fireworks.
    Also there can be quite a bit of underlying jealousy.

    Teehee, always aim for the wall, it doesn't sue!

  17. Yes, there's that amazing flip side about certain great artists---they can tear into a performer to get what they want, but also use thier charisma to make them go beyond what they could perform with anyone else. Orson Welles had a similar anger and encouragment "technique" to Leonard Bernstein.

    On the other hand Laurence Olivier, as I understand from a memior by the actress Bilie Whitelaw , could even fire an actor in his office during his tenure at the Royal Shakespeare Company and do it in such a way that made them feel enocuraged from the experience! (Again, that gift of charisma in action.)

    I'll have to look for the series if its available. It sounds tough to watch in parts, but informative.

  18. Without doubt, Cassandra. The strengths it takes to make a singular artist won't always translate to collaboration with someone equally reknown.

    Benny Goodman had a way of glaring at some musician going "off the one true path" in his band at rehearsals--- and that would be enough of a scolding.

    The band members called that look it "Benny's Ray". He lost some superb musicians in part because of that ominous glare.

    LOL...and yes, in our Common Law systems, smudged wallpaper is the better option to giving some your fellow performer a black eye.