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Action vs. Tone (Glenn Gould)

Posted By: OddTemperament

Action vs. Tone (Glenn Gould) - 08/25/09 06:59 PM

My searching abilities are rudimentary, so please forgive me if this has been mentioned before.
In the interview CD included with the box of both of Gould's Goldberg Variations recordings ("A State of Wonder") GG mentions that he feels that piano technicians and pianists should focus exclusively on the action. Once the action is right, he says, the tone quality more or less takes care of itself.
Piano tone quality has been the subject of many lengthy discussions, several disputes and one truly memorable and moving book (Grand Obsession, of course), so it was interesting to me to come across Gould's characteristically iconoclastic idea.
The more I think about it, the more sense it makes, since so much of tone seems to derive from the balance of notes in a chord and the precise gradation of volume and variation legato and detached touch in passagework; it might just be that the action is the crucial determinant after all.
Or any way after tuning.
Posted By: pianoloverus

Re: Action vs. Tone (Glenn Gould) - 08/25/09 08:00 PM

The implication that if the action is right the tone quality will take care of itself might be OK for someone with virtually perfect technique like Gould but certainly not for most pianists. That's why most pianists spend years learning how to produce a beutiful tone. If only the action was important, then why do the best makers go to a lot of trouble tying to make all the other parts of the piano so excellent?

I think Gould meant something more like if the action is adjusted to his liking on a specific piano whose tone he likes then everything will be fine.

I think both the pianist and the non-action parts of a piano have a big say in terms of tonal quality.

Posted By: Rickster

Re: Action vs. Tone (Glenn Gould) - 08/25/09 08:04 PM

Hi Don,
I try to be careful what I say on these forums, especially amongst so many experts… however, based on my experiences, I’d say that the action regulation is only part of the equation in tonal results/quality.

Many other factors have to be considered, including humidity, barometric pressure and ambient temperature; all of which can slightly alter tone in a relatively short period of time. That is what makes acoustic pianos so intriguing… they live and breathe and develop personalities and moods. grin

And, of course my opinion is worth about what it cost!

Rick
Posted By: AryReisin

Re: Action vs. Tone (Glenn Gould) - 08/25/09 08:09 PM

I say technique is more important than the piano itself. Look at Emil Gilels, Rosalyn Tureck, William Kapell, Alicia De Larrocha, Horowitz, Zimerman. They have a tone that is IMO superior to Gould's and most pianists, and I prefer it. In the same piano different pianists get different sounds out of it. Competitions are a good example.
Still, he may have meant about struggling with the piano or the amount of effort required to get the intended sound. One must also consider the amount of practice behind a wonderful performance. The great pianists look effortless but they have put a considerable amount of effort to get there. Zimerman and Sokolov are living examples of that, Marc-Andre Hamelin as well, though he is more into technical dense stuff.
Regards,
Ary
Posted By: Hop

Re: Action vs. Tone (Glenn Gould) - 08/25/09 10:19 PM

Originally Posted by OddTemperament
GG mentions that he feels that piano technicians and pianists should focus exclusively on the action. Once the action is right, he says, the tone quality more or less takes care of itself.



Interesting. FWIW, I did exactly the opposite. When comparing a Hailun HG 178 to an RX-2, I thought the action on the former was very good, and excellent on the latter. Yet the tone on the former was better, significantly in the treble, somewhat in the bass. I've totally acclimated to the very good action, and really appreciate the tone. Of course, if the action was not good enough, then I'm with GG.


Who knows?

Hop
Posted By: OddTemperament

Re: Action vs. Tone (Glenn Gould) - 08/25/09 11:30 PM

Originally Posted by pianoloverus

I think Gould meant something more like if the action is adjusted to his liking on a specific piano whose tone he likes then everything will be fine.



I think you are right that Gould was assuming a very good piano to start with. He was probably being deliberately controversial in an attempt to concentrate attention on the action and away from mysteries of voicing - though what he included in his idea of "action" is anybody's guess at this point. My transcription of what he actually said (and wrote if he was following his usual "scripted interview" technique) is:
"I've always believed, you see, Tim, that one should start by worrying about the action of the instrument, not the sound. If you regulate an action with enormous care, make it so even and responsive and articulate that it just sort of sits there and looks at you and says 'You want to play this in E-flat, right chief?' -- that it virtually plays itself in other words, then the tone will just take care of itself. Because The tone -the sound that one produces really ought to be part of the interpretive concept of the piece. and if you are dealing with an action that's total responsive, you know, you are then free to concentrate on the concept in all of it's facets."
Which is more or less your point:
Originally Posted by pianoloverus

I think both the pianist and the non-action parts of a piano have a big say in terms of tonal quality.

It has been remarked before in the forum that one can hear a number of people sounding bad on a mediocre piano and then a true musician sits down and the piano sounds good - this can only be the result of a really refined technique. Gould's point, I think, is that the better the action, the better the musician can express the music.
Posted By: apple*

Re: Action vs. Tone (Glenn Gould) - 08/26/09 12:20 AM

If you've by chance read Gould's 'Glenn Gould Variations - By Himself and his Friends' you'd recognize his on the fly, indulgent proclamations.. (not that this one is). Great, funny book, btw... pretty much a conversation with himself.

Gould was a unique pianist.. very good at the linear expression of music.. unparalelled perhaps if you like his technique. I had a recording of a the famous Beethoven sonatas. I don't know if it was his obsessively regulated recording piano or his technique.. the 'tone' is excellent.

I have more recordings by Gould than anyone else.. I'll have to think about this while listening.
Posted By: Marty in Minnesota

Re: Action vs. Tone (Glenn Gould) - 08/26/09 12:39 AM

Gould was an odd duck. As noted in previous posts, he would discuss what was his current line of thought.

I really don't think that a spectacular action in a Lester spinet would have suited him. The technique might have been flawless, but, it would be less than gratifying for the listener. Or even, for the recording engineer.
Posted By: jnod

Re: Action vs. Tone (Glenn Gould) - 08/26/09 02:22 AM

agreed - but neither would a perfectly in tune Steinway concert grand where the A above middle C sticks.

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