Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago. Here, Katharine Kilalea revisits Glenn Gould playing Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-Flat Major.
Driving home from the swimming pool one day, I listened to famous people on the radio describing themselves as either happy or unhappy. They preferred, on the whole, to say, “I choose to be happy,” which irritated me, so I switched to another station, which was playing Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-Flat Major. The partita’s gigue—meaning jig—had a kinetic energy about it. I danced with my head. It seemed, while listening to it, that everything was dancing. A cricket match was on in the local park and the Bach infected the game with its rhythm, giving the throwing and catching of the ball, the umpire’s gestures, and the batting an elegance and coordination.
My fingers drummed along on the steering wheel, or tried to, because Gould was playing, and Gould is always on fast-forward, his hands skipping so quickly over each other it was hard to say which was which. The outlines of the sounds were unclear, also, because despite having poured olive oil into my ears for several days, I had swimmer’s ear, which gave even the smallest noise an unrefined booming quality. Perhaps I could play this myself, I thought. Perhaps I could order the sheet music off Amazon. The piano would appreciate the company. It hadn’t been touched since New Year’s Eve when a friend’s new boyfriend—who would commit suicide shortly after—subjected us to a performance of Rachmaninoff. It was odd, most people play Rachmaninoff with feeling—because Rachmaninoff is full of feelings—but he just played it very loud and very fast. Impressively fast, really, but hard on the ear. Read More