The first Beethoven sonata I learned as a young pianist was the dramatic “Pathétique.” When I started working on it, I tried to copy the way the great Rudolf Serkin played it on a recording I loved. There is a place for learning by emulating masters, but it can easily become inhibiting. Fairly early on, aspiring musicians must develop their own voices.
So when a score that meticulously transcribes every detail of Glenn Gould’s famed 1981 recording of Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations was published recently, while I was impressed with the painstaking effort involved, I questioned what it was for.
What’s its purpose? For whom is it intended? From what we know of Gould, he would have been baffled, even horrified, at the idea that a student learning the “Goldberg” Variations would precisely mimic his performance. He was too restless a thinker to consider any recording of his at all definitive. And imitating a pianist as idiosyncratic as Gould may not be a good idea for impressionable young musicians.