Glenn Gould and Leonard Bernstein: A Reevaluation of Their Public Interaction and Private Admiration

Gould and Bernstein.

                 The New York Philharmonic´s April 6, 1962, concert is widely regarded as one of the most controversial in the orchestra’s history. It featured Glenn Gould performing Johannes Brahms’s First Piano Concerto. The philharmonic´s music director Leonard Bernstein led the orchestra. The criticism offered by New York Times journalist Harold C. Schoenberg, drew attention to a conductor who appeared to blame the soloist for performance problems.  In Schoenberg’s view Bernstein abdicated personal responsibility and attacked Gould. By contrast, Jonathan Cott argued for Bernstein’s “admiration of Gould.” The goal of this paper is to explore the nuanced relationship between Gould and Bernstein. I will consider Bernstein as a collaborator, and the reason why he shared Gould´s points of view. Moreover, Gould’s role as a guest on Bernstein’s television documentary called “Bernstein Discusses the Creative Performer” (1960), their recordings together, their similarities and differences in personalities, and the reason why Bernstein felt attracted to Gould’s ideas. Finally, I will analyze Bernstein’s and Gould’s reputation as educators and their philosophy in using the media to approach the people. Both of them were pioneers in the use of television for music educational purposes. 

Bernstein and Gould Working Together.

                There was something about Gould that attracted Bernstein. This was probably when Gould released his recording of the Goldberg Variations for Columbia Records (1955), when he first earned Bernstein’s attention. Soon after, Gould’s career as an internationally famous concert pianist bloomed. This happened during the time when Bernstein’s wife Felicia was pregnant with his son. The couple listened over and over again to the recording, enjoying Gould’s new approach to the instrument and compositions, as a heat wave rolled into New York.

                 Later, in 1957 working together for the first time with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra and recording Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto in Bb Major, Bernstein realized that there was something in Gould’s performance to which he was attracted. Serving as something of an inspiration, Gould’s interpretation probably may have motivated Bernstein to show more strength in his musical ideas. He was already attempting innovative changes in his tenure as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. But perhaps Bernstein’s most personal experience came during the recording of Beethoven’s C Minor Piano Concerto with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra in 1959.  There was something in Gould’s performance that enchanted Bernstein, “He is the best thing that has happened in my music years.” Later Bernstein argued that Gould helped to build new perceptions in music: “There is nobody like him … he gives me a whole new interest in music.” Bernstein both recognized Gould’s performance as a synthesis of musical knowledge and sought to do the same as a conductor and composer. Gould was a figure that could be his new teacher –they shared the same points of view towards the music and culture-, or at least a model for the composer/conductor, which is the way Bernstein described this aspect of their relationship when speaking with the interviewer with Jonathan Cott, [Gould was] “one of his musical heroes as well as close and adored friend.”  

                 Working together, they produced a great recording with strong sales for Columbia Company with their album including Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto. Owing to the success of the recordings, Bernstein told Gould “I am as proud as you are,” moreover, the project received strong, positive critical acclaim. This initial success inspired them to plan more concerts together. The ideas and new conceptions that both agreed upon grew intense and publically evident until the now infamous Brahms performance mentioned above and to which I will return. 

                 What Bernstein appreciated in Gould playing was his new angle, his new argument in favor of revealing truths from the score. This ontology appealed to Bernstein’s sensibilities and his interest in Philosophy. After all, his Second Symphony “The Age of Anxiety,” (1948) and Serenade (1954) were composed around the time of collaboration with Gould, and they demonstrate Bernstein’s interest in seeking truth by way of the Socratic Method. From this point of view, we can begin to understand Bernstein’s interest in education, composition, conducting, and in the case of Gould, the artistic use of the media.

                  Moreover, Bernstein admired Gould’s great sense of inquiry which made him suddenly understand the style of Schoenberg and Liszt in the same category, or Purcell and Brahms. It was a whole new conception where Gould’s musical mind expanded all of the areas, even political, economic, spiritual, and social, which this paper will explain later. The way they approached the audience with the use of media and their particular way of speaking was another feature that they addressed at the same time. They worked well together, but as I will describe below, this was not a model found in other Bernstein’s collaborations. The musical ideas that Gould and Bernstein shared were similar, however, their lives seemed to be very different from each other. Ultimately their shared vision but contrasting personalities and lifestyles, benefited their collaboration. 

The April 6, 1962 Concert.

                 The controversial and extraordinary performance of the April 6 concert should be understood as part of Gould’s discovery of a new mental process, a new deep research in music that made him announce his excitement to Bernstein. The reason why Gould chose Brahms, is because he disliked the virtuosic, competitive elements of the Romantic piano concertos.  However, he knew that Brahms conceived his piano concerto as a symphony with piano and orchestra, removing “inequalities” that contribute to an organic performance of the composition.

                 His conception was to reduce the gender elements of the music, –“masculine and feminine,” to a sense of unity having a steady quarter note throughout the whole concerto, more flow to the music instead of contrasting elements, and more introspective view of the music instead of flashy contrapuntal texture. In Gould’s words, an “unspectacular approach of the concerto.” This approach to the music was in 6/4 instead of 6/8, with the purpose of building the tension

                 The result was something very slow, concerned with the abstract musical organism, but in any sense it was arbitrary. Bernstein described his performance as filled with “new insights into the music,” but added, “I never loved [Gould] too much”

                 One of the things that Bernstein admired about Gould, was his capacity to be convincing in his explanations of music. Gould was a Romantic performer who used the melodic rubato, brought out inner voices, and casually broke vertical sonorities. The extremes of tempo and expression in many Gould performances were characteristic of Romantic elements. Kevin Bazzana explains the free use of the tempo stated in Wagner’s essay About Conducting.” Gould was aware that in the Romantic era the roles of the performer were not the same, even before, “We exaggerate the protagonist role in concertos.”

                The reasons why Bernstein chose Gould are explained in the next paragraph. Even with all of these surprises in the interpretation, Bernstein agreed to conduct and prepared the orchestra for a special rehearsal, saying that “he is adventurous as I am.”  The decision taken was probably because Brahms influenced his first symphony with piano.

Analysis of Bernsteins Speech about Gould.

                 After the concert, the criticism in the New York papers was varied but predictably merciless. The critics talked about technical aspects of the slow tempo and the loss of the dramatic flow of the music. There were claims that Bernstein violated obligations of professional conduct, and blame cast on Gould for an irresponsible performance and having hallucinations of how the music should go. The most powerful criticism came from Harold Schoenberg, in the form of a letter to “Ossip” (referring to the pianist Ossip Gavrilovich) that chided Gould for playing slowly because of his poor technique, and scorned Bernstein for throwing blame onto the soloist.

               There was a problem in this concert that stimulated the offensive reviews more than anything else. This is due to the fact that the concert on Friday, April 6, was the one selected for recording and broadcast, and the one that newspaper critics attended. In this concert Bernstein gave the same speech from Thursday but surprisingly Gould changed his mind and played faster without providing advance notice to the conductor. As Bernstein states later, “The concert of Thursday April 5 lasted one hour and a half, probably Gould learned a little something on Thursday night” 

                 However, there is evidence that Gould and Bernstein decided together to give the speech in front of the audience at the Thursday and Friday night concerts. The speech sounds more like a compliment than throwing blame onto the soloist. Bernstein called him a “thinking performer”, and he describes, “moments that come with astonishing, freshness and conviction,” and adds the otherwise stinking line it will be a rather –shall we say- unorthodox performance,” As something of a preface to his complementary commentary. Taken as a whole, this speech could be taken as part of his interest in education found in the era of Young People’s Concerts (1958) and Omnibus (1954) (see Example 1. For the complete text). The speech conveys what Bernstein was looking for in music, as well as the type of lessons he wanted to teach. For further analysis in this paper, here is the complete speech made by Bernstein.

Example 1

Bernstein’s Pre-concerto Comments

                 “Don’t be frightened. Mr. Gould is here. He will appear in a moment. I’m not, um, as you know, in the habit of speaking at any concert except the Thursday night previews, but a curious situation has arisen, which merits, I think, a word or two. You are about to hear a rather, shall we say, unorthodox performance of the Brahms D Minor Concerto, a performance distinctly different from any I’ve ever heard, or even dreamt of for that matter, in its remarkably broad tempi and its frequent departures from Brahms’ dynamic indications. I cannot say I am in total agreement with Mr. Gould’s conception and this raises the interesting question: “What am I doing conducting it?” I’m conducting it because Mr. Gould is so valid and serious an artist that I must take seriously anything he conceives in good faith and his conception is interesting enough so that I feel you should hear it, too.

                 “But the age-old question still remains: “In a concerto, who is the boss; the soloist or the conductor?” The answer is, of course, sometimes one, sometimes the other, depending on the people involved. But almost always, the two manage to get together by persuasion or charm or even threats to achieve a unified performance. I have only once before in my life had to submit to a soloist’s wholly new and incompatible concept and that was the last time I accompanied Mr. Gould. (The audience roared with laughter at this.) But, this time the discrepancies between our views are so great that I feel I must make this small disclaimer. Then why, to repeat the question, am I conducting it? Why do I not make a minor scandal — get a substitute soloist, or let an assistant conduct? Because I am fascinated, glad to have the chance for a new look at this much-played work; Because, what’s more, there are moments in Mr. Gould’s performance that emerge with astonishing freshness and conviction. Thirdly, because we can all learn something from this extraordinary artist, who is a thinking performer, and finally because there is in music what Dimitri Mitropoulos used to call “the sportive element”, that factor of curiosity, adventure, experiment, and I can assure you that it has been an adventure this week collaborating with Mr. Gould on this Brahms concerto and it’s in this spirit of adventure that we now present it to you.”

                 Bernstein included phrases that demonstrates the desire to educate: In his words, “I cannot say I am in total agreement with Mr. Gould’s conception and this raises the interesting question: “What am I doing conducting it?” Bernstein continues, “I’m conducting it because Mr. Gould is so valid and serious an artist that I must take seriously anything he conceives in good faith and his conception is interesting enough so that I feel you should hear it, too.” If not for its pedagogical benefit, Bernstein leaves us to question. 

                 Why was he adventurous in this performance? Why was he unwilling to experiment in this same way with other artists? Was this only the excitement of the sportive element? For a conductor who protected his prerogative –as he points out in his comments- granting such room for Gould was more than a mere last-minute mistake.

                 Finding new paths for expression, Bernstein aimed at bringing fresh experiences to increasingly larger audiences. Perhaps he did so by using the most varied musical examples to present the music from alternate points of view. In Bernstein’s assessment, “Gould hated if everything came out sounding like everybody else,” And as I will discuss below, Gould´s regularly strove to do something different, rather than merely what he thought the composer would have wanted. 

                 Gould never resented the speech by Bernstein; he took it with a good sense of humor. And Bernstein was not attempting to embarrass Gould. Members of the audience found the comments to be very beautiful. Bernstein was joking, the same way that Gould used to do on his radio programs, “very playful, very pleasing, and very scherzando. In later years, this famous disagreement was denied by Bernstein who considered Gould as one of his true friends. The speech was but a single statement in time and despite Schoenberg’s frustration, Gould agreed and found it charming. They planned the disagreement together as part of highlighting their differences.  Bernstein usually spoke from the piano during the Thursday night concerts, in order to explain the music, but on that evening they simply tag-teamed the conductor’s introduction to the performance: Bernstein commented, then Gould played the piano part, in a way that only he could.  

                  However, later in his life Gould remembered this experience as the most unpleasant of his career, not because of Bernstein, but for the speculation given by the critics, which made him withdraw from the concert hall in Chicago 1964. Later Gould told Tim Page that he was charmed by Bernstein’s speech, and upset by the humiliation of Schoenberg. 

Bernstein as a Collaborator. 

             Bernstein’s collaboration with Gould raises a related question. Why did this leading conductor of his time not collaborate with the other greatest pianists of the twentieth century, such as Rubinstein or Horowitz? A simple view of Bernstein and the cult of personality that seemed to follow him could lead one to argue that he was too dominant a figure to desire to share the stage with other larger-than-life individuals. Gould, while lacking the fashion and flair of his conductor friend, was assuredly not a wallflower. Why did Bernstein want to collaborate with an artist as forceful as Gould? Why did he find him so interesting? As cited above, Bernstein was drawn to the very valuable and fresh elements of Gould’s performance. 

                 The conductor sought something meaningful in each of his performances. If the pianist was going to have the same goal as Bernstein, the rivalry between personalities would be evident. Both performer and conductor are seeking to agree and to match in different ways of interpretation, but in Gould there was an honesty of experimentation that went far beyond the sound of what the composer wanted. In the words of Gould: “I am interested in Beethoven, but if you want a reference of how to play Beethoven, listen to Schnabel.” In the words of Bernstein, “I am playing because God told me this is how it should be.” However, Bernstein’s immersion in the music paralleled Gould’s. And this interaction was a complement of creative forces rather than a conflict between them.

                 Moreover, the approach of Gould was to play the concerto by giving importance to accompaniment figures. This approach favored the role of the orchestra as not merely accompaniment. Gould’s view allowed less virtuosic elements, where the pianist was not the central focus, the gain new prominence. There was a complement of extroversive and introversive personalities between Gould and Bernstein, and there was no problem that Bernstein had needed to address. Gould was not challenging him on the grounds of authority, rather they encouraged each other’s artistic sensibilities. 

                 The pianists who were eccentric in their manners and looking for their own personal performance rejected Bernstein as a conductor. Vladimir Horowitz, for example, commented, “You cannot accompany,” and he elaborated, “The more important the player, the more you steal the show. Lenny, don´t play the stud with me, don’t dominate me, please,” 

                  While it was troubling for Bernstein to follow someone else’s ideas, with Gould there was not a rivalry, only a fresh complementary in his own conception of music.


Gould and Bernstein, Pioneers of TV for Educational Purposes.

                 One of Bernstein´s speeches about philosophy in education was given during a New York City conference in 1977. Here he talked about artists and their place in society. Despite the support of the arts by the Congress in the surrounding years, America remained, in Bernstein’s view, an “uncultured nation,” and not only because of the money and funding for the artists, but because the population regarded the arts as a light diversion and superficial entertainment. Bernstein found the need to prepare not only art-producing people, but art-consuming people who would seek artistic products.  “Only a society prepared by education can ever be a truly cultured society,” he said. He proposed that the White House not only encourage arts with financial aid but also to take hold of the intuitive curiosity and capacity of the children who were eager to learn. Bernstein saw music as something that could not be learned in the same way as reading or dancing. In his eyes, music needed more preparation. So Bernstein’s educational purposes were focused on the youngest generations, and by the way of the nation’s massive use of television.  He was searching for music education that moved all the rubrics of the country in a political and economic sense 

              Bernstein’s projects appealed to big, broader audiences. In his broadcast projects Omnibus (1954) and The Young People’s Concerts (1958), he covered a wide range of music, to a broadest audience, including children. On the other hand, Gould’s television programs had no precedent in Canada and were not guaranteed for a big audience. In those programs, Gould intended to serve as more of a specialist and to examine the music in a very scientific way. Moreover, Gould tended to have an introversive manner of speaking rather than the extroversive and joyful personality of Bernstein. According to Bazzana, Gould had difficulty in speaking clearly, and was often very technical. He lacked Bernstein’s ease and charm on the camera, he was more nervous, and appeared to not know quite what to do with his arms and legs.

              Despite the awkward appearance, Gould loved the new developments and techniques available for television, radio, and recording. Similar to Bernstein, he believed in them for educational purposes. Gould’s goal was to reach the people by way of technology and innovations. He wanted to talk, and the music was the compliment for his rhetoric, as in his “Anatomy of Fugue.” Gould was teaching all of the time, and after leaving his concert life, still did it as his most creative effort and stimulating work.

              In the development of new music, sought a musical product that could shake political, spiritual, and psychological positions. Bernstein’s interest in Gould built on their work in the same areas: in experimentation, education, and music’s role in daily life. In the words by Dutton, “Gould cannot be ignored by anyone interested in the future of music”, something understood as, “musical speculation of contemporary music to a musical and educational future in music.” Both men knew that the future of music was in the systemic spread of the music product itself. 

              Bernstein and Gould’s shared goals provided room for disagreement. For example, it is well known that they differed in regard to their interest in tonality. Bernstein created Omnibus series programs as an “introduction to modern music.” However, Bernstein’s often tonal modernity was less appealing to Gould. Bernstein in these programs took on the task of explaining that twentieth century music was no less beautiful than music written in the past. He was a champion for saving tonality. By contrast Gould was more interested in the twelve-tone procedures.

              The time that they collaborated on a television program, Bernstein shared the ideas that were the common denominator for the two of them. In his television program The Creative Performer, (1960) Bernstein concluded that a “musician cannot do exactly what the score wants or even as he wants, he must perform as he feels the composer wanted.” On this program Igor Stravinsky and Eileen Farrell were invited guests, and Gould played Bach’s D minor Concerto. This is the only television program that appears to have matched the men’s ideals. It features an interesting and artistic use of the camera, and presents as equals Gould and the orchestra.

               The two shared an admiration of the other’s use of media. While differing in their tone and techniques in front of the camera, they appreciated each other’s goals. Gould captured their similarities and differences in critiquing Bernstein’s work. 

“Bernstein is content to use television as a means to an entirely worthy end –the musical enlightenment of the American public. And consequently the typical Bernstein television effort is a straightforward… with all the sound liabilities thereunto pertaining and with coy cutaways to some cute little kids in the balcony specially imported for the occasion from the Westchestif Home for Insufferable Prodigies. The camera work isn’t very elaborate, and will be holding up a banner reading ´10 seconds to countdown for second theme. Bernstein´s purpose is entirely didactic, and he simply isn’t willing, or isn’t asked, to compromise his podium-and lecture- stance to accommodate the demands of the camera. Yet, for all that such is the force of his personality, the intensity of his performing style, and the constant insight of his analytic comment that Bernstein´s innumerable television appearances have unquestionably, in the best and strictest sense of the phrase, “done a great deal of good.” 


                 In this paper I intended to look for the nuanced relationship between Bernstein and Gould, whose points of view were at times similar, and other times different. Along with their status as innovative performers of the twentieth century, they shared a desire to educate big audiences through the use of media. 

                 Gould’s influence complemented Bernstein’s personality. Both of them liked to experiment with new ways of music making. Both of them had the commitment to convey their knowledge and didactically teach music.

             Their admiration was reciprocal, despite the most controversial coverage afforded by Bernstein’s pre-concert comments about Gould’s performance. The musical legacies of each man has helped to construct a foundation for subsequent generations, with a solid basis in media experimentation, a noble expansion of the education of the audience, and a future for a new comprehension in music.

By Ernesto Tonatiuh,

Director of Academia de Formación Artística Música Proyecta.

*This article was written by de author during the seminar of Dr. Thomas Kernan about the life and work of Leonard Bernstein on April, 2015.  Chicago College of Performing Arts.

Foot Notes:

1. Otto, Glenn Gould, A Life and Variations, 105.  

2. Cott, Dinner with Lenny, 101.

3. Burton, H. Leonard Bernstein 297.

4. Otto, Glenn Gould, a Life and Variations, 71.

5. Otto, Glenn Gould, a Life and Variations, 70.

6.  Otto, Glenn Gould, a Life and Variations, 70.

7. Bazzana, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, 233.

8. Cott, Jonathan. Dinner with Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein, 101.

9. Columbia Symphony Orchestra; Glenn Gould, Piano 04/11/57: NYC, 30th Street Studio.

10. Otto, Glenn Gould, a Life and Variations, 72-73.

11. McGreevy and Bernstein Glenn Gould by Himself and His Friends, 17.

12. McGreevy and Bernstein Glenn Gould by Himself and His Friends, 20.

13. Otto, Glenn Gould, a Life and Variations, 101-02.

14. Otto, Glenn Gould, a Life and Variations, 102; Bazzana, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, 204-05; McGreevy and Bernstein, Glenn Gould by Himself and His Friends, 18.

15. Bazzana, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, 206.

16. Bazzana, Glenn Gould: The Performer in the Work: a Study in Performance Practice. 55.

17. Bazzana, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould. 124.

18. Otto, Glenn Gould, a Life and Variations, 103.

19. Otto, Glenn Gould, a Life and Variations, 105.

20. Otto, Glenn Gould, a Life and Variations, 105.

21. Cott, Dinner with Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein, 101; and Brahms, Johannes. Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 15 in D minor, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

22. Otto, Glenn Gould, a Life and Variations, 103.

23. Gottlieb, Working with Bernstein: A Memoir, 150.  

24. Otto, Glenn Gould, a Life and Variations 172.

25. Otto, Glenn Gould, a Life and Variations, 104.

26. Cott, Dinner with Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein, 105-06

27. McGreevy and Bernstein, Glenn Gould by Himself and His Friends,19

28. Bazzana, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, 207.

 29. Bazzana, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, 207.

30. Bazzana, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, 207.

31. Burton, W, Conversations about Bernstein, 65.

32. Burton, W, Conversations about Bernstein, 75.

33. Burton, H. Leonard Bernstein, 328.

34. Burton, H. Leonard Bernstein, 158; and Plaskin, Horowitz: A Biography of Vladimir Horowitz. 417.

35. Bernstein, In Findings, 331. (Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Select Education regarding a bill calling for a White House Conference on the Arts New York City, 17 December 1977)

36. Bernstein, In Findings, 331

37. Bazzana, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, 227.

38. Bazzana, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould 228.

39. Angilette, Philosopher at the Keyboard: Glenn Gould, 3.

40. Myers, Leonard Bernstein, 98.

41. Adroin, John. Bernstein Discusses Creative Performer

42. Adroin, John. Bernstein Discusses Creative Performer

43. Bach, Johann Sebastian. Harpsichord Concerto no. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

44. Burton, H. Leonard Bernstein, 328.

Bibliography (Gould and Bernstein).

Angilette, Elizabeth. Philosopher at the Keyboard: Glenn Gould. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1992. 

Adroin, John. Bernstein Discusses Creative Performer. Musical America 80, no. 3 (1960): 260

Bach, Johann Sebastian. Harpsichord Concerto no. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Columbia Symphony Orchestra; Glenn Gould, Piano 04/10/57: NYC, CBS Studio.

Brahms, Johannes. Piano Concerto No.1 Op. 15 in D minor, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. NYP, Glenn Gould, Piano; 4/6/1962: NYC, Carnegie Hall (live)

Bazzana, Kevin. Glenn Gould: The Performer in the Work: a Study in Performance Practice. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.

Bazzana, Kevin. Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 

Bernstein, Leonard. On Education, In Findings. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.

Burton, Humphrey. Leonard Bernstein. New York: Doubleday, 1994. 

Burton, William Westbrook. Conversations about Bernstein. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Cott, Jonathan. Dinner with Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. 

Friedrich, Otto. Glenn Gould: A Life and Variations. New York: Random House, 1989. Gottlieb, Jack. Working with Bernstein: A Memoir. New York: Amadeus Press, 2010. 

Gottlieb, Jack. Working with Bernstein: A Memoir. New York: Amadeus Press, 2010

McGreevy, John, and Bernstein, Leonard. Glenn Gould by Himself and His Friends, The Truth about a Legend, Leonard Bernstein, 17-22. 1. st ed. Toronto, Ont.: Doubleday Canada, 1983.

Myers, Paul. Leonard Bernstein. London: Phaidon Press, 1998. 

Peyser, Joan. Bernstein: A Biography. New York: Beech Tree Books, 1987.

Plaskin, Glenn. Horowitz: A Biography of Vladimir Horowitz. New York: W. Morrow, 1983.