Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, and New World Virtuosities

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Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, and New World Virtuosities

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Title: Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, and New World Virtuosities
Author: Mok, Lucille Yehan
Citation: Mok, Lucille Yehan. 2014. Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, and New World Virtuosities. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation centers on virtuosity as a source of creative genesis, boundary-pushing, and musical debate. Focusing on the careers and works of pianists Oscar Peterson (1925-2007) and Glenn Gould (1932-1982), I examine the role of the virtuoso in twentieth-century music-making, and his encounter with Canadian national identity. Gould and Peterson were contemporaries, and despite their differences - Gould was a white classical musician from Toronto, and Peterson, an African Canadian jazz artist from Montréal - their career paths share points of connection. Using archival material from the Glenn Gould fonds and the Oscar Peterson fonds at Library and Archives Canada, I analyze the work of both figures as sources of musical creativity through musical performance and composition.
The first part of this dissertation demonstrates how Gould's and Peterson's respective performances sparked furor through their contestation of musical boundaries. In the first chapter, my analysis of outtakes from Gould's 1955 recording session of the Goldberg Variations illuminates how his radical musical philosophies emerged from his early recording practices. In chapter two, I examine critiques of Peterson's performance aesthetic from an extensive collection of reviews, and argue that his style of virtuosic jazz allowed him to push back against musical expectations. In the third chapter, I examine the work of Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren whose experimental animation provided opportunities for partnerships with both musicians; with Peterson in 1949 and with Gould in 1969.
The second part of my dissertation takes the reader outside the realm of performance and demonstrates how Gould and Peterson engaged with landscape through sound composition. The fourth chapter investigates the spatial and sonic interpretation of Canadian locales in Gould's Solitude Trilogy, a series of three experimental radio documentaries. In the final chapter, I unravel the biographical and musical influences in Peterson's multi-movement suite for jazz trio, Canadiana Suite. By studying these iconic virtuosos side-by-side, my dissertation illuminates the significance of the performer in Canada's cultural life in the second half of the twentieth-century and yields a new understanding of how Gould and Peterson exploded expectations in their respective musical communities.
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