In his lifetime J.S. Bach was a reputed musician in a small geographical-cultural area of Germany, and after his death, in 1750, he was known only to scholars.
He became a representative of the German nation thanks to Nikolaus Forkel, who in 1802, in the full eruption of nationalism caused by the Napoleonic wars, published his About life and art of J.S. Bach.
From Forkel onwards the figure of Bach did nothing but grow in stature, but today, if we leave the group of regular users of classical music, his enormous popularity is linked to the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.
Gould, born in 1932, recorded the Goldberg Variations in 1955 which was, for the "spirit of the time", an entirely wrong recording.
The instrument was wrong because one could not ignore the fact that Bach had written the piece for a harpsichord with two keyboards.
The form was wrong because Gould did not respect all the "refrains", that is, he did not perform each of the two parts into which each variation was divided twice.
The articulation of the sound was wrong, which did not care about the philological studies on the subject.
But the character was above all wrong because Bach was considered an artist-philosopher always immersed in sublime thoughts: Gould made him become even playful.
After the Second World War and the Korean War, people yearned to find a new joy of living and Gould served it not with a Strauss waltz or with a Gershwin song but with one of the supreme composition of the divine Bach.
Many years have passed since then. But the echo of the message that those Goldberg Variations brought to the world has not yet diminished and, I believe, will never diminish.
Gould taught everyone not to call Bach “Herr Bach” but to call him “Johann Sebastian” and to address him as a benevolent uncle who does not allow himself to be prayed to play with those who go to find him.
Glenn Gould did not properly "invent" Bach, but he invented the playful Bach, a Bach for young people that also old people like.
It is true that his recording legacy does not only concern Bach: Mozart, Beethoven, Schoenberg, Berg are also part of the great historical heritage of piano discography.
However, the popularity that is reserved for his Bach’s performances exceeds all imagination.
The academic world has not made him a model to be used in teaching.
With what motivation? With a silent but unspeakable motivation: popularity is a fault.
Fortunately, the album did not erase Gould's Bach: the Goldberg Variations of 1955 are a fresh fountain that still spurts and that does not end.