Just confirmed: I am a genius.

That is, if horrible handwriting is an indicator of genius, my brilliance far outshines my shadow.

“Ah but, if this is true, then every doctor must be a genius too”, you say (of course, no self-respecting M.D. would dare write a legible drug prescription. That frisson of potential medical malpractice suits is so addictive!).

Anyways, I got this important clue about my unacknowledged semi-godhood from a display at the new Glenn Gould exhibition at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa last week.

Here are pics of sheet music samples of the Goldberg Variations on display, covered – no, smeared! – with Gould’s prolix handwritten indications. A Glenn Gould coloring book, so to speak 😉

aria sheet music

variation 25

variation 25 - left page

What’s fascinating to me:

  • Not only are the notes themselves unintelligible (or Gould-only-intelligible), but there’s so much scribbling that the music itself is unreadable!
  • Lots of numbers and codes. Perhaps details about metre, finger positioning, track number. Dunno.
  • Use of red for highlighting information.

Possible interpretations:

  1. The note-making process is a key part of how Gould learns the mechanics of a piece (finger-placement, etc.).
  2. Score annotation is an essential part of the memorization process (what some music teachers call “cementing”). When viewing a video clip at the Ottawa exhibit, I saw Gould in interaction with a producer, who told him after a take that a note was inaudible in his performance. Gould asked him the measure, and promptly cut in the passage for studio editing. Seems he had a precise visual memory of the score, like an orchestra conductor.
  3. Obviously, since the scribbles cover the notes, the sheet music wasn’t used for performance. The music score in this case becomes a preparation document for musical interpretation. Gould really had structure and details all memorized, and used the approach of a conductor when playing music, often conducting himself with his hand, or even his body sway. In other words, his annotations are those of a conductor.

My conclusion? I got confirmation at this exhibit that Gould was truly breaking from of the “read-only” culture of concert appearances and making inroads into the “read-write” culture of studio manipulation, in his life-long pursuit of the philosophy of open-ended composition.

Chickering Piano

2 thoughts on “genius score scribblings for dummies

  1. Hello, I was at the expo too and just want to say i love your photos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *