Glenn Gould plays William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons (and Sweelinck)



The scores for most celebrated recordings of European classical piano music are reasonably commonplace. There is nothing programmed by, say, Martha Argerich, Sviatoslav Richter or Artur Rubinstein that wouldn’t be easily found in a decent college library — or now, at IMSLP.

What are the exceptions? The most famous pianist with notable “originals” was Vladimir Horowitz, and today one can find reasonably accurate transcriptions of his Stars and Stripes Forever and the diabolical amplification of Liszt’s Danse Macabre if you look hard enough. (The Carmen Variations are partially based on Moszkowski’s Chanson Bohème de l’Opéra “Carmen,” an attribution that was obscure during the pianist’s lifetime.)

A few others used a relatively unusual piece as an encore, often choosing something with special personal meaning. Emil Gilels would frequently play a Bach prelude completely redone by his Moscow forebear Alexander Siloti; Guiomar Novaes ensured that the playful Feux Follets by her teacher Isidor Philipp would be remembered by her public.

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli dug up a simple sonata by Baldassare Galuppi (1706 — 1785) that essentially became his exclusive property. Michelangeli championed this unknown work as a way to celebrate his Italian heritage; even more importantly, the lyrical and meditative qualities of the opening theme were a perfect showcase for his intimate touch at the keyboard.

Galuppi is old enough to be lost in the mists a bit. I’m not sure how Michelangeli fans in the pre-IMSLP era could have found the 1920 Bongiovanni edition of the sonatas edited by Benvenuti, especially outside of Italy.

In general it gets tougher as you go further back. Not too many conventional virtuosi programmed much repertoire earlier than Bach and Scarlatti. Even chasing down the Scarlatti sonatas played by favorite pianists can still be a chore: There are about 500 of them, and publishers never organize selections as “the ones played by Haskil, Horowitz, and Pogorelich.”

However, the crowing jewel of unusual early repertoire played by a famous pianist must be Glenn Gould’s Consort Of Musicke By William Byrd And Orlando Gibbons. After years of adoring this recording, which is surely one of Gould’s most perfect artistic statements, I decided to finally collect the sheet music. Surely some have done this investigative work before, but this seems to be the first time this anthology of scores is grouped together online under the umbrella of “Glenn Gould.”

I suspect Consort Of Musicke By William Byrde And Orlando Gibbons is a truly rare object where most fellow pianists have never seen a relevant piece of notation: The entire contents of a celebrated piano disc are familiar by ear alone.

It is this obscurity that gives Gould such range of play. Every time somebody says, “Glenn Gould recorded the definitive Goldberg Variations, end of story!” it does some harm to the ongoing history of Bach interpretation. If you demand others to take Gould’s Mozart “Turkish March” or Beethoven “Appassionata” seriously, you are gearing up to be outmatched in battle.

No such weight is attached to the English Virginalists. At the time of Gould’s recording there was almost no history of this music in a conventional recital hall other than by Gould himself, who had included Gibbons and Sweelnick at his American debut in 1955. Today it is still uncommon to hear music from this era performed by a pianist.

Of course, even more than with Bach or Scarlatti, some hardliners would immediately declare, “Don’t you dare play this repertoire on the piano!” —  but that historically informed ruling doesn’t help explain why Consort Of Musicke By William Byrde And Orlando Gibbons is one of the greatest records ever made.

For a jazz musician like myself, exploring early music has a familiar kind of atmosphere. The sources are incomplete, supported and thwarted by oral tradition, kept together out of love and duty. The titles are remarkably inconsistent, let alone the pitches. When you get to ornamentation, all bets are off. Play it how you want to play it.

Gould might have read Thurston Dart’s comment for his 1960 edition of the Parthenia, the earliest publication of Byrd and Gibbons keyboard music from 1612. At the least Dart describes the kinds of liberties Gould takes as a matter of course.

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A worthy project would be to figure out exactly what was Gould’s resources were. There’s nothing truly scholarly on display for this page, I just pulled different stuff off of IMSLP.

The album took Gould four years to complete. According to the helpful liner notes by Michael Stegemann in The Glenn Gould Edition, Gould had to be egged on by producer Andrew Kazdin to get the job done. However long it took, the record is a coherent statement, starting from deep space with the only piece sporting a key signature and a C minor tonal center, going on a journey with other fancies set in C major and nearby keys, halting time with two long central narratives in A minor, and concluding with a joyous uptempo dance in triple meter.

Like Horowitz in Danse Macabre or Michelangeli in Galuppi, Gould plays this music partly to show off what he does best.

William Byrd, First Pavan and Galliard, recorded by Gould June 14 & 15, 1967.  A kind of timeless and solemn beauty is established from the first notes. Gould rolls the chords more often than not. This is historically acceptable, but it’s also true that Gould rolled plenty of chords regardless of the repertoire at hand.

The copy below is from the Byrd-approved edition My Ladye Nevells Booke. Compared to the next two Gibbons pieces, the Byrd pieces would not have been so hard to find if you knew where to look: My Ladye Nevells Booke and the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book were occasionally reprinted and updated over the years. Still, my suspicion is that most concert pianists have paid little attention to these sources, then and even now. In an age where almost everything has a complete edition, there seems to be no piano recording of either My Ladye Nevells Booke or Fitzwilliam Virginal Book in full — or even a single CD issue of highlights from either volume.

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Orlando Gibbons, Fantasy in C Major and Allemande (Italian Ground), recorded by Gould July 30 – August 1, 1968. Although not intended to be played as a set, it seems clear that Gould paired the Fantasy and the Italian Ground as antecedent and consequent. If I had to narrow down further from this desert island disc, I’d choose these these miracles of early tonality. The counterpoint in the Fantasy is glorious, and Gould marches so hard in the Italian Ground that he’s almost swinging.

As has been frequently pointed out, there is something of harpsichord’s non-legato “pluck” to be heard in Gould’s articulation. However, it’s not always just the fingers: Gould, Kazdin, and their engineers Fred Plaut, Kent Warden, and Milton Cherin (on the LP it is not specified which technician is responsible for which tracks) all liked close-miking his piano. As a result, the left hand in Italian Ground “grinds” away not unlike the sounds heard on any well-produced harpsichord recording. This effect would be quite different if Gould’s Steinway were recorded from a distance in a more resonant acoustic.

These two small Gibbons works are hard to find. As far as I can tell, there are only two places where you access these pieces. The copies below are from the complete Gibbons keyboard music edited by Margaret Glyn in 1925 (and on IMSLP). However, the deluxe complete hardbound Gibbons edition from 1962 by Gerald Hendrie (which is not on IMSLP because it is still under copyright) seems to be what Gould played from.

Still, the Glyn is close enough for reference, although some of the pitches are different from what Gould plays. (Of course Glyn’s expressive markings like dynamics and phrasing would now be considered hopelessly out of date.)

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William Byrd, Huge Ashton’s Ground, recorded by Gould April 18, 1971. While the whole album is a feature for Gould’s ornamentation, at the start of Huge Ashton’s Ground he really gets his incomparable trills into high gear. It’s the longest and most self-same of the program, essentially a set of variations with beautiful counterpoint and development, nearly minimal in effect, lasting almost ten minutes.

(Harpsichordist Davitt Maroney, who won the 2000 Gramophone Early Music award for his recording of the complete keyboard music of William Byrd, plays it in a nice strict eight minutes and in early music tuning, sounding half a step low to modern ears.)

This copy is from My Ladye Nevells Booke.

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William Byrd, Sixth Pavan and Galliard, recorded by Gould May 25 & 26, 1967.  In his liner notes (discussed more below) Gould makes a big deal about a B-flat in Sellinger’s Round, but to me the more shocking B-flat concludes the first section of the Sixth Pavan (left hand, last bar of page two, line four) before the new period beginning in G. What!? Gould plays that “blues note” with the appropriate amount of surprise.


I feel somewhat abashed presenting all this information from my armchair as a Glenn Gould fan. If you are impressed by this repertoire, I encourage you to explore musicians for whom this era is their daily bread. A wonderful modern American harpsichordist is Jory Vinikour, who plays the Sixth Pavan in a way that is certainly more historically informed than Gould.

This copy of the score is from My Ladye Nevells Booke.

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Orland Gibbons, “Lord of Salisbury” Pavan and Galliard, recorded by Gould July 30-August 1, 1968.  Gould called Gibbons his favorite composer on more than one occasion and I suspect that Gould is working extra hard to make Gibbons the star of this record. Nothing could be prettier than the slow dance or more virtuosic in the fast.

Unlike the Fantasy and Italian Ground, the “Lord of Salisbury” Pavan has had multiple editions, thanks to inclusion in the  Parthenia or the Maydenhead of the first musicke that ever was printed for the Virginalls. Gould performed this piece frequently, including at his American debut.

It’s worth mentioning that Gould didn’t fix any of his interpretations in stone. One can find other Gould recordings of the “Lord of Salisbury” Pavan with different tempi and articulations. For me — probably just because I grew up with it — the studio version on this LP is definitive.

For fun, here’s the original “printing” of the Pavan:

Salisbury Parthenia

The copy below is from Glyn, where the more outré fast ornaments seem to have half as many repercussions. Gould plays those trills like Glyn, but some of the pitches are different.

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The rhythmic notation of Gyln in the Galliard seems like Gould as well, although again some of the notes are wildly different.

Thurston Dart’s edition of the Galliard below seems to have a few more of Gould’s notes, but the rhythmic frame is comparatively stodgy. There’s certainly no time for Dart’s ornamentation. My speculation is that Gould was inspired by Glyn’s con moto “double time” notation above.

(The complete Gibbons edition by Hendrie edition was overseen by Dart, so it unsurprising that Hendrie’s version is similar to Dart’s in the  Parthenia.)

Galiardo 1Galiardo 2

William Byrd, A Voluntary, recorded by Gould May 25 & 26, 1967.  Under Gould’s hands the rhythm just flows, an ideal meeting of propulsion and serenity.

This copy is from My Ladye Nevells Booke.

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William Byrd, Sellinger’s Round, recorded by Gould April 18, 1971. Gould joked in the original liner notes, “…either he [Byrd] or some associate had mastered scales in thirds to a fare-thee-well!” He could have added that fast moving thirds in the left hand would be uncommon for centuries to come. Towards the end Gould recedes further and further in the distance, gently closing the door on this excursion to the nearly unknown past.

Sellinger’s Round exists in My Ladye Nevells Booke, but to mix it up, I took this copy from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.

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The original disc ended there, which is the correct ending….

…However, the first CD reissue included Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s Fantasia in D (Fantasia chromatica) made for TV on April 23 & 24, 1964. It’s astounding music and astounding piano playing. As with the Gibbons “Lord of Salisbury” Pavan, Gould played this Sweelinck’s Fantasia for his American debut and on other occasions on tour.

A quick web search turned up an amusing comment from a mysterious “Aleph Zero,” who is responding to a plaintive request to help find the sheet music:

It’s in Volume II of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, titled “Fantasia 4.” But given the circumstances surrounding the compilation of the FVB (it was made by a not-especially-competent amateur musician copying manuscripts loaned by his friends to help while away the time while he was in prison) history does not record the significance of the number “4” in the title.

(According to a valued source, the Fantasia is in 4 voices, so whatever original he was copying from probably read “Fantasia à 4.”)

One detail of the score was a surprise: I had always assumed Gould had made a finger slip and played the ornamentation of the penultimate bar incorrectly. But no, that lydian flourish and odd resolution is indeed in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, which almost certainly was Gould’s source.

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Bonus track 1: Gould’s own incomprehensible liner notes to the original LP contain a bizarre and inappropriate attack on Monteverdi. Everything ends up being framed as, “Don’t listen to the hot Southerners, listen to the modest Northerners.” (In an oblique way, Gould is being as nationalistic as Michelangeli programming Galuppi, for no one has done more to promote a Canadian-based “Idea of North” than Glenn Gould.)

Even his opening gambit is weird and inaccurate: There is not just one B-flat in Sellinger’s Round, there are two. (The first is in bar two of the fourth variation.) What Gould is referring to is a B-flat triad that blares away toward the end, which indeed might be ringing down the curtain of the composition. However, connecting that wonderful chord to any greater comment about the practices of Byrd, Gibbons, and Monteverdi — not to mention the sweep of the major-minor tonal system through history  — strains all credulity.

Rather than this nonsense, Gould should have offered something more revealing about how he discovered these pieces and chose them for recording. At least Sweelinck is mentioned, although Gould seems to call him “dour.” (In his lifetime, there would be no release of the Sweelinck Fantasia by Gould.)

Three bars into the ninth and last variation of Sellinger’s Round (William Byrd’s final contribution to this disc), a solitary B-flat – the only note of its persuasion to grace this 182-bar opus – at once proclaims the end of this work and the beginning of that new key-oriented chord system to which, within a few years, most music would subscribe. The note, of course, is by no means without precedent; elsewhere in this album, Byrd situates others of its kind, or modal equivalents at similar cadential crossroads, and all accidentals, for that matter, assume in Tudor music a point and poignancy that they were rarely to attain again until the time of Wagner. But the distinguishing feature of this particular B-flat is that it occurs, first of all, as the denouement of a work in which a C-major-like diatonicism has been rigorously applied (though not, needless to say, in the interests of C major as we know it) and in the context of variations that, while prodigiously inventive in terms of melody and rhythm, propose only the most modest of chord changes in support of the jocular theme at their disposal.

To our ears, inevitably, such a note comes burdened with the baggage of history – of that subdominant bridge-building by which Bach, spanning the last stretti of a fugue, comes to ground upon a closing V-1 cadence, for instance, or by which Beethoven telegraphs the final paragraphs of a sonata, string quartet, or symphony. Yet, to Elizabethan ears, perhaps, it would represent little more than an instance of enharmonic contradiction – that pawn-takes-pawn technique of modal voice-leading so suavely dealt with by the celebrated figures of their era. And, certainly, there are many, far more striking moments of chromatic cross-relation in this music; Gibbons’ celebrated “Salisbury” Pavan offers one excruciatingly expressive instance of an alto G-natural at odds with a G-sharp in the tenor – while, on the other hand, the same composer’s “Italian Ground,” for instance, could better illustrate the new notions of triadic compatibility that gave rise to the Baroque.

So the truth about this note must lie somewhere in between. Clearly, the two beats allotted to it can sustain no profound analytical conceit; the subtler implications of that harmonic polarity-reversal – the DEW [Distant Early Warning] Line system set up by Baroque and Classical composers to alert us to a code – will have to wait for a century or two. And yet, because of that splendid isolation it enjoys within its context, I can call to mind few moments that comment more perceptively upon that transition between linguistic methods with which all music of the late Renaissance was occupied to some degree.

That transition, after all, was not toward a more complex or more subtle language but, rather, toward a language that, in its initial manifestations, at least, consisted of an almost rudimentary chordal syntax. And, as purveyed in the early seventeenth century by such celebrated masters of southern Europe as Monteverdi, for instance, and as compared with the sophisticatedRenaissance tapestries it succeeds, that language very often seems gauche, artless and predictable.

Monteverdi, of course, accepted the new language as a fait accompli. His brash, triadic pronouncements are rendered with the evangelical fervor of the frontiersman and, by a trick of fortune, have been credited with an influence out of all proportion to their indigenous value as music. Monteverdi simply dismissed the reasoned appeals of Renaissance technique and struck out into a type of music that no one had ever tried before.

Well, almost no one, anyway; there is something inherently, and perhaps inevitably amateurish about the “progressive” music of Monteverdi’s later years, and, I suppose, even before his time, there must have been a few really awful lay composers who couldn’t make the Renaissance scene and who probably wrote something like it once or twice.

In such cases, however, their executors would likely see to its suppression; in Monteverdi’s case, as things turned out, it made him famous. In part, perhaps, this came to pass because he was the first non-amateur to break the rules and get away with it; but, also, I suspect, it owed something to the fact that he broke them in the pursuit of a new kind of musical endeavor – opera. And that, in turn, may well be why, to this day, we, in the instrument-oriented northern countries, sometimes think of opera – especially Italian opera – as being rather less than music and, uncharitably and quite inaccurately, of opera stars as something other than musicians.

Monteverdi’s broken rules not only found their apologia in the service of music-drama, but in the development of a new soon-to-be-codified harmonic practice called tonality. He was not, of course, alone in trying to write tonal music, but he made more of a splash with it than most of his contemporaries – much more, certainly, than those whose art and outlook were tempered by the relative sobriety of life in northern climes.The two northern masters represented by this disc, though united by a distinctively and imperishable English brand of conservatism, are not, all puns intended, byrds of a feather. They share an idiom but not an attitude; Gibbons plays the introspective Gustav Mahler to Byrd’s more flamboyant Richard Strauss. For this reason, perhaps, Gibbons, though a virtuoso of repute among his fellows, never shows to best advantage in instrumental music. Byrd, on the other hand, though the creator of incomparable music for the voice, is also the patron saint of keyboard writing. He is, indeed, one of the “naturals” – in his music, like that of Scarlatti, Chopin, and Scriabin, no unfelicitous phrases need apply – and all of his prolific output for the keyboard is distinguished by a remarkable insight into the ways in which the human hand can most productively be employed upon it. Certainly, as the seventh division of Sellinger’s Round attests, either he or some associate had mastered scales in thirds to a fare-thee-well!

He was not, however, a composer for whom the roulade was permitted to stand in the way of invention. Among the items in this album, indeed, the Voluntary (“for My Ladye Nevelle”) is a dour, stretti -ridden exercise in counterpoint that might well do credit to Jan Sweelinck. Even in this work, however, Byrd’s uncanny exploitation of instrumental register is everywhere in evidence – his most ambitious strategems are inevitably worked out in those areas of the keyboard that realize them best – while in the deceptively relaxed, pre-eminently melodic atmosphere of the Sixth Pavan and Galliard, supporting voices supply solid hymn-like backdrops and simultaneously squirrel away canonic imitations of the theme.

For Orlando Gibbons, on the other hand, vocal music was the prime outlet, and, despite the requisite quota of scales and shakes in such half-hearted virtuoso vehicles as the “Salisbury” Galliard, one is never quite able to counter the impression of a music of supreme beauty that somehow lacks its ideal means of reproduction. Like Beethoven in the last quartets, or Webern at almost any time, Gibbons is an artist of such intractable commitment that, in the keyboard field, at least, his works work better in one’s memory, or on paper, than they ever can through the intercession of a sounding-board.

By the first decade of the seventeenth century, nonetheless, Orlando Gibbons was creating hymns and anthems with cadences as direct and emphatic as anything that Bach would ever set down to celebrate the faith of Luther – music that possessed an amazing insight into the psychology of the tonal system. But Gibbons, like all good Englishmen, shunned the path of the adventurer; although perfectly adept at a usage of the new techniques, a life lived dangerously à la Monteverdi was foreign to his nature. And so, once in a while, when the spirit moved him and the context seemed appropriate, he would engender some weird, ambivalent conflict between the voices, some last-minute detour around all that was most precise and compact and “progressive” in the texture. He would set upon it the mark of his and its past and, in that way, fulfill the implications of Mr. Byrd’s B-flat. — GLENN GOULD

Bonus track 2: Evan Shinners reminded me that the Chopin F major prelude has a vagrant dominant seventh at the end, not unlike Byrd’s B-flat at the closing of the first paragraph of the Sixth Pavan. Alexander Hawkins pointed me to Shura Cherkassky playing Lully, and a relevant YouTube video with valuable (anonymous) commentary: “The so-called Suite de Pièces was not actually assembled by Lully. Lully’s fame was so great that his editors often collected his dances and published them as keyboard suites. These transcriptions from Lully’s operas and ballets were particularly abundant in the nineteenth century and appeared in editions produced by Théodore Lack and Louis Oesterle. Shura Cherkassky performed Lully’s Suite de Pièces utilizing as a point of musical departure Oesterle’s edition published by G. Schirmer in 1904. Cherkassky changes the order of the pieces, making the suite more cohesive, and adds his own touches of ornamentation in a very Romantic style.Dodó Kis told me in person last week that “those of us in early music often get editions from our friends who also are in early music.” Again, this really sounds like jazz to me, where somebody hands you a cool chart at a jam session….and then you bring that same chart to the next jam session…

The latest Byrd and Gibbons editions are available in the Musica Britannica series from Stainer and Bell.