THE BLOG
01/04/2013 11:14 am ET | Updated Mar 06, 2013

Glenn Gould, Petula Clark, The Beatles and 'the noise you make while breaking rules'

In what may be an act of complete idiocy (and, I suppose, optimism), I find myself writing fiction about a family of pianists, though I know almost nothing about music. To deepen my knowledge, I've been reading books about music and listening to a wide array of classical music. I don't feel capable yet of writing about the music itself (though, really, if you're curious, listen to the Leo Janacek piano pieces called "On an Overgrown Path" or Schubert's String Quartet in C, Opus 163 -- Trust me here!) As for the books, in What to Listen For in Music, the great American composer Aaron Copland is kind and careful, a bit dry and surprisingly capable of using language to explain how musical compositions work. Much less well-organized and fastidious, Jonathan Cott's collection of interviews, Conversations With Glenn Gould, follows Gould as he spins off in every direction. I'm gasping and wheezing just trying to follow the pianist's thoughts, but he's brilliant and magnetic (yes, even on the page) and everything he says is fascinating, except maybe his ruminations on the latest technological advances in sound recording, circa 1974. Here, Gould postulates a theory of art to explain why Petula Clark is superior to the Beatles:

[There's] a misunderstanding -- and this wouldn't apply just to composers -- that has always muddied the waters for artists who assume that invention has something to do with the noise you make while breaking rules. Needless to say, I don't think it does. I think it has to do with the subtlety with which you adhere to premises somewhat different from those that may be expected of you. I cannot bear assaults of any kind, and it seems to me that the Beatles essentially were out to affront and to assault.

Which music do you consider superior? The Beatles or Petula Clark? And, along these same lines, do you have an opinion on the "polarity," as Gould would have it, between Mendelssohn and Mussorgsky?

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