Pianist  Richard  Goode
 
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie





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In some ways it must be awful to be saddled with the family name of Goode... and it is pronounced
good, not goody, as I have heard it occasionally said by others on the radio.  The puns and jibes are probably endless, and there is no relief from every person joking about it — for the umpteenth time.  I will refrain from any and all of those witticisms, and simply say that it was a great pleasure to meet and speak with this fine pianist.

He was in Evanston early in 1990 to give master classes, and we arranged to meet for a discussion.  He was candid about his feelings and observations.  Here is what was said at that time . . . . .


Bruce Duffie:   You’re in town doing some master classes.  In general, are you pleased with the talent that you see coming along these days?

Richard Goode:   [Laughs]  It varies a lot, but yes, many times I have heard very interesting people.  In master classes you rarely get more than just a quick sense of how people are playing, but if I can make a general statement, I have felt over the past years an increasing number of people seem to be playing with more conviction and more emotional commitment than I had heard for some time before.  It’s heartening.

goodeBD:    From whence stems this additional conviction?

RG:    It’s hard to say.  I only know that I like what I hear.

BD:    Are there enough places for all of the young pianists that are coming along?

RG:    Certainly not.  We have far more pianists than we have places.  This is something that I’ve come to realize in teaching, something I never thought of when I started teaching twenty years ago.  I didn’t think of it very much for myself, and I certainly didn’t think of it very much in the case of my students.  I tended to be somewhat impractical.  I thought places will be found, but now I do feel it’s a grave problem — that the supply so much exceeds the demand.  This seems to make piano competitions somewhat necessary, although I dislike the idea very much.

BD:    You’ve been roped into judging competitions on occasion.  What do you look for when you’re judging a competition?

RG:    Actually, over the past years I have not let myself be roped into it.  [Both laugh]  I did it a few times.  I learned quite a few things, but I decided I just didn’t want to be on the jury for a while.  Maybe I’ll change my mind.  What you look for is, well, many things, but I think strong artistic personality is the main thing.  That’s something on which it’s hard to make decisions of one person over another.  It’s almost an absolute thing.  You hear somebody, and you make a judgment that that person is extremely interesting and can do justice to music.  That’s the first thing you hear.

BD:    “Doing justice to music.”  Is that something that can be taught, or is that something that just has to be innate within each performer?

RG:    It’s a combination of things.  There are some talents that are so powerful that they would emerge no matter what the teaching.  [Laughs]  But you like to think that teaching can help a bit in bringing out what’s best, or allowing it to flower more quickly, or putting a range of possibilities in front of really gifted students.  I know that when I’ve heard people of enormous talent, I’ve felt that they could be at the bottom of the Mindanao Deep and they would somehow find a way of playing what they want and doing what they did.  You have a feeling of something that has to get said, which is a marvelous thing to feel!

BD:    Can you still help that student, or is that student really just ready to go on?

RG:    You can maybe present a few possibilities the student might not have heard of, or perhaps help steer in a certain way, but often with a student like that, you just have a feeling the person himself will think of many, many possibilities, and will have very strong artistic preferences already.

BD:    Do you know all the possibilities?

RG:    All the possibilities???  Of course not.  [Laughs]  I should hope not!

BD:    You’re still discovering them, then?

RG:    Oh absolutely, yes.

BD:    Where do you discover the possibilities?  When you’re playing a concert, do you all of a sudden think of something new or hear something new?

RG:    That’s really ideal.  Those concerts that I’ve enjoyed myself most are the ones in which I’ve suddenly thought of possibilities that didn’t occur to me before.  Maybe not radically different — I don’t mean that suddenly the Hammerklavier turns into a lyric poem, or something like that — but things that strike me a new way.  I experience them a different way.  That seems to be marvelous.  It means that you’re free enough to re-experience the music as you should, and new things occur to you.  That’s wonderful.  There’s a story told about Bartók when he played the Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion in the version with orchestra.  He played it with his wife, Ditta, who was also a student.  They were playing it by heart, and somewhere he sort of went off and didn’t get on the track for minutes.  They all held their breath.  He was madly improvising away, and finally he came back on the track and they finished the performance.  Nothing had stopped; it was just that he had invented a whole new first-piano part.  Afterwards he said, “I just had to.  I had a new idea, and I just had to see where it would lead me.”  [Both laugh]  I think of that as really being a very good way of experiencing a concert
— because of the daring.

goodeBD:    You have to do it, then, in public?

RG:    That’s right.  That’s the trick.

BD:    I assume you try to do that a lot in the studio.

RG:    Do you mean when you’re practicing, or in recording?

BD:    In practicing.

RG:    Oh, sure.  Yes.

BD:    You bring up the idea of recordings, and I wanted to ask if you play the same on the concert platform as you do in the recording studio?

RG:    No, I still take more chances playing concerts.  I certainly feel I can take more chances now than I used to in making records, but records always sound tame to me, with a few exceptions.  I just find it very hard to play as freely as I’d like in the record, and the occasion of a concert usually brings out more new things.  I have, though, enjoyed making records more recently.  I have been able to consider them more as a kind of musical experience, and fool around and feel.  I really like making music in the studio, which I didn’t used to the beginning, so maybe I’m getting there.  But I feel the records need even a greater charge, somehow.  You have to give out even more in a record, but I find a lot of records very dull, and certainly including a lot of my own.  I don’t know what it is, whether it’s the vacuum-packed silence around it, or the lack of enveloping space, or just the fact that it comes out the same all the time when you play it over again.  I don’t know what that is, but getting the current flowing in a record is very hard.

BD:    Do manage to do it at least some of the time?

RG:    Well, I hope so.  People are always concerned that this has to be the way the piece goes, rather than this is one way it goes.  People say, of course, no wrong notes on the record — well, this is nonsense.  The fact of the matter is, if I and my musical friends are any indication, most of the piano records we listen to were made fifty years ago, and they have wrong notes in them.  But they also sound inspired, so we keep listening to those.  It’s not, somehow, playing every note in its absolute place that seems to matter, but something else.

BD:    What is it that matters about music?

RG:    [Laughs]  Wow.  That’s a big question.  All I know is that performances that matter most to me seem to get to the center of the music, the center of the musical feeling; they get deeply inside the music and seem to be generated by something very deep.  That’s part of it.  Then all the other things seem to form themselves around it, making the proportions of the work
the way one phrase comes out of another and the way the whole seems generated out of a central kind of a flow.  Those things matter to me a lot, but I have to admit that a great deal matters to me including the feeling that the central, emotional experience that music gives is being deeply understood and communicated.  That makes a great difference to me, and certain artists seem to be able to do that very beautifully.  Those are the ones I keep coming back to.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    When you’re performing, are you conscious of the audience that you’re trying to communicate with, or are you merely trying to communicate with the spirit of the composer?

RG:    I’m conscious there’s an audience there, certainly, and when things are going well, it’s a wonderful feeling to be in contact with music and be playing for people.  It’s certainly not a conscious effort to contact the audience.  I wouldn’t know quite how to go about that because, after all, you have this music to play.  But when you’re in touch with yourself and the feelings of the music, you usually feel the audience is with you.  With a responsive audience you can feel their quietness, and that’s the best kind of help for yourself.

BD:    Do you have any expectations of the audience?

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RG:    Quietness is a big thing.  [Laughs]  It really does help, and that varies enormously.  I was recently in Holland.  I didn’t play, but I heard some concerts there, and I was very impressed.  These were very live audiences; they loved the concerts and they were so quiet!  Occasionally, audiences in New York and audiences here and there don’t seem to realize that a cough here and a cough there adds up in an audience of 2,000 to more or less a continuous texture of sound that people are playing against, and this can be murderous.  I don’t know why it is, but certain audiences are able to suspend their coughing faculties for an hour and a half.  I don’t mean it’s completely soundless, but it is amazing.  I think it’s a part of what they expect from themselves, or an aspect of their attention, or maybe they just forget themselves and they’re just totally involved.  Anyway, I found it a marvelous thing.  I enjoyed it very much.  I enjoyed the huge attention.  Sometimes it seems to increase in proportion to the quietness of the playing.  I certainly remember hearing a wonderful concert by Peter Pears and Julian Bream some years ago in New York, in which I could hear a pin drop.  You heard every sound from that lute, and it’s a very quiet instrument.

BD:    Was this a big hall or a small hall?

RG:    It had less than a thousand seats, but it was a wonderful kind of attention that people were giving.  That does matter to me.

BD:    Do you play differently if you’ve got a small, intimate hall, or a great big, huge barn of a hall?

RG:    I think I do, although I don’t really plan to.  It happens because you can’t help but be conscious of those big spaces.  The halls I like best to play in are halls where you get your sound back.  You feel, somehow, where the back walls are, and you hear your sound.  It doesn’t just go off.  You can also have that in a fairly small hall where the sound just sort of goes out there and you don’t have the sense of enclosure.  I really like the sense of enclosure.  It varies, of course.  There are wonderful large halls, but in general I think most music for solo piano is not meant for big halls.  It was meant to be played in a small hall, and sometimes in a very small space, indeed.  I have my own private theories that some music was not meant to be played for other people, even.  It was only meant for the player.  Bach’s solo cello pieces, for example, like of the Bach fugues are meant really to be played and to be experienced by being played and to be listened to, but not to be performed.  In some ways there’s a certain amount of music that lets us experience if it’s at its best and can be captured; there’s almost no outward component of being presented at all, but you experience the music as you play it and people hear it, but it’s not a performance.

BD:    Are you guilty of playing some of that music on your concert schedule?

RG:    Occasionally, yes, but probably most performers would agree that there’s quite a lot of music that’s often played in large halls that really sounds best in intimate circumstances.

BD:    You’re a keyboard artist and you have this vast array of material to choose from.  How do you select which pieces you will play this season, and which pieces you will put off till next season, and which pieces you’ll say, “I’m never going to play that”?

RG:    It’s a good question, actually.  There are just a lot of things that come into play.  For example, I did a Beethoven cycle, and although it might have been the most difficult thing that I’ve ever done, it also solved the problem of repertoire quite handily for at least a year.  [Both laugh]  But how the decision is made?  In different ways.  I’m playing some concerts with a wonderful singer, Dawn Upshaw, and there we had an equally vast repertoire to choose from of the song repertoire and various things.  We wanted to do different things in English, French, German; we definitely wanted to do some things in English, so we did Purcell and some Barber.  But then I had to choose piano pieces to complement that, and that was relatively easy.  There are just so many different reasons why certain things would be chosen.  One thing I’d like to do in the coming years is to complement the playing of Beethoven, which I’ve been doing so much of recently, is to play lots of Chopin.  It always seemed to me that Beethoven and Chopin were the kind of opposite poles, no pun intended — only one Pole there!

BD:    Are they really two ends of the spectrum, or are they two sides of the same coin?

goodeRG:    They are two great composers whose piano music requires an enormously different approach
physically and other ways, also.  There’s a great challenge to play a lot of Chopin.  The experience of immersing myself in Beethoven made me realize this, since it’s not something I’ve ever done before.  I’ve never set out to do the music of a certain composer, and do a great deal of it.  I’ve always chosen pieces I love from various repertoire.  In order to play Chopinreally lean a lot more about Chopin — it probably is necessary to play a great deal of Chopin, to really immerse yourself in it.  Of course I’ve played works of Chopin over the years, but not as much as I’d like, so that’s my next project.

BD:    Going back to Beethoven for just a moment, the thirty-two sonatas, obviously, were written over a lifetime.  Do they form any kind of a real cycle, or are they just held together by the thread of Beethoven?

RG:    No, the cycle is a record of his compositional career, but it’s not really that because when you think of what he wrote, most of it is early music.  Half the sonatas were written before he was thirty-one; that’s maybe the central point.  There are only a couple from the middle period, and then the very last period of the string quartets is not represented in the sonatas at all, although it’s represented in the Diabelli Variations and the Bagatelles.  So it’s not a complete representation of Beethoven.

BD:    Should the Diabelli Variations be added as the 33rd Sonata?

RG:    Maybe.  Maybe it should be the crowning work.  In any case these sonatas are an incredible reflection of much of his development as a composer, and include some wonderful and neglected pieces.  I would say that some of the sonatas are played about twenty times more than others.  There’s always some neglected pieces, and some of those neglected pieces are masterpieces, like the little Opus 54, which is almost like a development of a Haydn sonata.  It’s really one of the most eccentric masterpieces of Beethoven.  I know quite a few pianists hate it, but I love it.  One of the things one learns from playing the sonatas is just how extremely individual Beethoven’s pieces are.  There are no rules.  They’re really individuals, every one of them, and as you get involved with each particular piece, there’s this fascination of seeing how different it is from all the others.  That goes for the early pieces, too.  Maybe it’s not an accident that Beethoven’s myth is of Beethoven the great individualist, because Beethoven, in his compositions, tended to develop each one as an individual.  It’s not to say that the concerti of Mozart, for example, are not each individual, but Beethoven’s go off in more different directions.  Their individuality is more heightened.  In the late sonatas, you really do feel that each one is a kind of world on its own.  That’s why you can spend so much time getting lost in each one.

BD:    Is this what helps to define a masterpiece, the fact that you can spend time with it and still not plumb the depths?

RG:    That certainly seems to be the case.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You play all over the world.  How long does it take you to get used to each instrument, so that it feels comfortable?

goodeRG:    Some never do, of course, and some you only have to play a few seconds and realize you’ll be comfortable.  Maybe on the average it takes a few hours, which is just as well, because that’s all we get, usually!  [Both laugh]  I do respect those pianists who travel around with their own instruments because they know what they want.  It’s sometimes just terribly important to be able to be comfortable and be able to realize what you want.  But I must say there is a certain interest and a sort of sporting feeling, of trying to make friends with each instrument as it comes along, and see what you can do.

BD:    Are they mostly fighting you, or are they mostly playing with you?

RG:    That’s a good question.  There are some pianos which just have their own requirements and their own sounds.  Of course the piano is not just a piano, but a piano and a hall.  There are occasions when I’ve arrived and I know I’ll have to play a concert the next night somewhere...  My nightmare is that it’s a perfectly dry hall.  I’ll arrive, having played there last year or the year before, and I’ll have had a marvelous small place with beautiful acoustics and high ceilings and lots of sound floating around — just the kind of thing I like.  Then they’ll say, “Oh, Mr. Goode, we’re so happy to tell you that we’ve changed from that awful hall, and we’re now in a nice movie theater.”  [Laughs]  This has happened to me in Italy!  They go into the movie theater, and of course it’s 2,000 seats now.  It’s all upholstered and the sound falls off the front of the stage into the rug.  The piano has also been changed, and it is now a spanking-new gleaming one.  Every sound is like a razor, with gleaming, chromium sound.  I know that in such a case, there won’t be any way to change it.  I’ll just do the best I can, but...

BD:    Could it have been put into your contract that if they can sell 2,000 seats, rather than selling one hall of 2,000 seats, play two or three concerts in a 900-seat hall?

RG:    I would if I could.  I really would, yes.  It would be marvelous, but unfortunately the concert societies are not obedient to the wishes of the artists.  You’re going to have to go to that movie theater, and that evening you’ll just have to try to make music on that instrument in that acoustic.  There’s nothing you can do.  You’ll just have to try to hypnotize yourself into making music.  I am dependent on sound, though.

BD:    Do you try to make the piano sound like Richard Goode, or you try to simply get the best sound possible out of that instrument and that hall?

RG:    The latter certainly sounds like the better possibility, but everybody who has any strong feeling about the instrument that he plays on ends up making it sound like what he imagines it should sound like.  You enter into the picture; you can’t help it.  You have to be able to get a certain kind of sound.  However, if you can’t get a certain kind of warmth and a certain sort of thing, you settle for what you can get.  You work with the possibilities you have.  If you can’t mold the instrument into a sound that you can love, you’ll have to at least make it sound like a reasonable facsimile of the music that you hear in your head.  But another person in that same situation might do a much better job.  There are some people who probably would be horrified to play on certain instruments and certain acoustics that I favor.  I like playing in churches.  I love it when there’s a lot of sound.  It seems to me that sound is something that can be sculpted.

BD:    Even with all the reverberation?

RG:    Well, there are limits.  Back to Italy again, I played in the Academia in Florence under the statue of David.  I had a wonderful idea that Michelangelo and Beethoven would be perfect partners.  I thought maybe these two figures have something in common.  But when I ended up playing the Hammerklavier in the stone-vaulted academy, with a reverberation time of, conservatively, seven seconds, in that fugue at the end you can imagine the result.  [Both laugh]  But in general, I must say I like warm acoustics and a lot of reverberation very much.  I like the aura around the sound.  I like it not being dry; it’s marvelous.  It depends on the music, of course.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    How do you divide your career
solo works, chamber pieces and orchestral concerts?

goodeRG:    It’s sort of changing.  I used to play maybe seventy or even seventy-five percent chamber music and the rest solo recitals and orchestra.  Now I would say I maybe play ninety percent solo music — much less chamber than I used to.

BD:    Do you miss the chamber music?

RG:    Right now, no.  Right now I’m very much enjoying playing solo music.  There’s so much solo music that I haven’t had a chance to perform, so it’s wonderful.  One thing I’m doing, as I mentioned before, is with Dawn Upshaw [pictured with Goode on a disc cover at left].  The lieder repertoire is another repertoire that I’ve always loved.  I’ve always loved singing, whether it’s singing on the instrument or listening to singers.  It is a very important thing for me, but I’ve never done a great deal of lieder repertoire, so this is fantastic.  I’m enjoying that, actually.

BD:    When you’re playing a solo concert, you are the whole concert; you are in control of everything.  When you’re playing an orchestral concerto, then you have to be in league and in sync with the conductor, and the of course the musicians.  What are the ups and downs of each?

RG:    The downs of playing a solo recital is that you have nobody playing but yourself!  [Both laugh]  The ups are that you can spend as long as you want preparing it.  The downs of playing orchestral concert are that the rehearsal time is almost never enough.

BD:    Could it ever be too much?

RG:    That’s an interesting question.  I think it could be, but not in our present state of things.

BD:    Even leaving aside financial considerations?

RG:    It is possible to work a piece into the ground, but I don’t know a single situation that I’ve ever been in, nor that anybody’s ever told me about, where that was a possibility!

BD:    Preparing alone for a solo concert, could you work yourself into the ground?

goodeRG:    I guess you could.  I have enjoyed enormously working with the conductorless Orpheus Orchestra, and one of the reasons is that because of the exigencies of playing without a conductor, they have to hear extraordinarily acutely what you’re doing.  You have to work together.  That means working on a Mozart concerto for ten hours, maybe.  That doesn’t seem to me too much, if people really want to get to know intimately how things go, to work it out.  We can also talk out some things that are not necessary to know for the performance, but are just interesting.  We do work out certain things together so the winds and the piano are really clicking, and hash out certain kinds of phrases and all kinds of things.  That’s a lovely thing to do, and it seems to me that in an ideal chamber-music situation you would have that time, too.  Mozart concertos should have at least that.  Of course you’re in a situation sometimes where the orchestra’s tremendously responsive.  You play together with the conductor and you see eye to eye; it doesn’t have to take a very long time, but it’s nice to know that there is that time.

BD:    When you’re touring alone, do you keep that same program for a long time, or do you vary the program constantly?

RG:    That itself varies; I’ve actually done both.  Sometimes I’ve played programs as many as six or seven times, and sometimes there’s just one or two.

BD:    I was thinking, perhaps, if you played the same program thirty times, then how do you keep number seventeen from being stale?

RG:    No, I wouldn’t do that.  That is a problem, and that’s one of the reasons we pianists have such a large repertoire to choose from.

BD:    If someone’s writing some piano music, what advice do you have for them?

RG:    Hmmm.  I don’t know if I would presume to give advice to a composer writing piano music.  At the risk of sounding incredibly banal, a piano, among other things, is a singing instrument and I’m very happy when that’s taken into account!  Put it that way.  There are so many things that can be done on a piano, but it was one of the great inventions.  It is mostly a 19th Century invention which survived into the 20th Century, and it’s a great triumph of the imagination that this instrument could be made to sing.  It would be nice to hear those sounds coming out again.

BD:    You normally play on what’s generally called a modern concert grand.  Do you ever go back and play on a fortepiano or smaller instruments that were used earlier?

RG:    I’ve actually tried some.  I even once played a concert on a fortepiano, which was, I think, chutzpah.  But I enjoyed it myself, and even though I don’t play them in public, I may someday.  I’d like to work on it.  When I’ve been teaching Haydn, for example, I find myself thinking about the sound of the fortepiano, and about the possibilities of how they can be suggested, if not duplicated on the modern piano.  I have that sound in my ear, and it tends to counteract some of the defects of the modern piano
— certain kinds of focus of sound, lightness of sounds, transparency, rhythmic attack — many things that I think are very useful.  In many ways, just by keeping those things in mind, a lot of the sound of the modern instrument can be clarified.  One of my favorite pianists was Clifford Curzon, who, it seemed to me, in performance anyway, did amazing things to transform the sound of the piano.  This is the whole trick, to transform it into what you want it to be.  I heard him play Mozart concertos with just this amazingly nuanced, inflected, transparent sound, which I thought was ideal medium.

BD:    Is this technique, or is this artistry?

RG:    It’s both.  It’s the imagination dictating what the technique should be.  But you could see it in action because he had a very special way of playing; the extreme clarity and incisiveness of the sound was something.  One could feel he had this in his imagination this way.  Most artists do that, but I remember what he did with the piano and that music, and it was extraordinary.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Is playing the piano fun?

RG:    Enormous fun, except sometimes when you’re playing in public and you don’t feel like it’s fun at all.  At best it’s an extraordinary pleasure to play the piano.  I would hope it’s an extraordinary pleasure to play any instrument.  It’s a combination of things, and it’s hard to know where one leaves off and the other begins.  It’s immense pleasure — and something more — to play great music, and then it’s the pleasure of playing the instrument.  It’s sometimes hard to separate those two pleasures.  There are certain kinds of music that are just fun to play — the music itself might not be that great — and there’s some kinds of music in which the playing of the instrument is not a great deal of fun but the music is great.  In the latter category I would put the fugue in the last movement of the Hammerklavier.  That is not a lot of fun.  Playing the Grosse Fuge, which Beethoven transcribed for four hands, is really almost entirely work, and no fun at all!

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BD:    But it’s great music!

RG:    It’s great music, yes, but it’s uphill all the way.  [Laughs]  In general, music falls in somewhere in between those great scopes.

BD:    Do you leave the more difficult pieces out of your repertoire whenever you can?

RG:    No, on the contrary!  You keep on hoping that the next time it will be possible to master them.  There are pieces that pose an enormous challenge, just because of that Sisyphus quality.  You are left wondering if you can ever get it right.  Of course there are also pieces that are rather easy to play that have a certain struggle, only it’s internalized.  It’s not a physical struggle.  Those are certain pieces that I think Beethoven and other composers wrote against the instrument.

BD:     Are you optimistic about the future of pianism?

goodeRG:    When I think about it, there are some wonderful pianists around, actually, and the instrument has certainly found itself capable of great things.  People keep on writing for it.  One thought that comes to mind is, as we were talking about, how many pianists there are and how relatively small is the demand.  But I find myself hoping that more people simply will learn to play the piano for themselves for the joy of it as a avocation.  I wonder, in a time when CDs are really so much easier than learning to play the instrument, if people really have very much motivation.  But that was the great age of piano writing, at the time when musical amateurs had pianos and people were encouraged, and the piano was a home entertainment center.  In an age of phonography, I don’t know what the future of the piano is as an instrument for people to experience music on for themselves.  I’m not sure
— if I weren’t a pianist, would I be playing the piano?  It’s hard to know.  I don’t feel any doubt about the future of piano playing for professional people and people listening to it on phonographs, but for people simply playing the instrument and getting to know music through the piano, I don’t know.  Of course, I cannot say whether music is or is not developing in such a way.  Maybe it won’t be possible anyway to get to know music through the piano.  People playing modern symphonies in four-hand arrangements is a little hard to imagine, but that’s one of the things that I would hope.  It’s also the thing that leads to the most intelligent listening.  When people realize what it’s like to play an instrument and to make music for themselves, that’s the most active listening, which is the best listening.  I’m not saying that active listening can’t take place through the phonograph.  Obviously it can, but it becomes a little easy to sort of let it wash over you.  [Pauses for a moment to ponder this idea.]  Interesting question about, “Is it fun playing the piano?”  But it’s true.  Of course it is; it has to be.  I can’t imagine many instrumentalists who don’t find what they do tremendous pleasure.  But I studied with Rudolf Serkin for whom it’s almost to the oppositemusic was something too serious to be bound up with the fun of piano playing.  I almost think that would be a paradigm of his philosophy.  There’s a certain puritanical aspect, a rigor, and a looking down on the pleasurable aspect of playing.  I just realized that when I say I really did come from that school, and I respected it in many ways, but I must say it goes against my grain just because playing the piano is enormous fun, among other things!

BD:    Serkin seemed to just radiate the joy of the music.

RG:    Ah, but that’s not the joy of piano playing.  I think there is a kind of a difference for him, or at least consciously there is the difference.  Of course he enjoys playing the piano, but it has to be made into work in order for it to be enjoyable.  For me, piano playing rarely registers or radiates a joy of, “Isn’t it marvelous to be playing the instrument?”  It’s always more serious than that; there’s always something else involved, which maybe is as it should be.  But there is a certain amount of music in which there’s a certain kind of love of playing that comes in.  Some of it is great music, like Chopin or Mozart and Bach.  There’s a certain joy of doing it, and it even enters into the music itself.  But far too often one does also hear people who are carried away by their own fluency and “Love me, love my sound.”  That is really more of a problem in music-making — people who are not attentive enough to music, and hear only themselves in the mirror of the instrument.  But the other thing is really important, too.  I think of Serkin as a great aesthetic of the instrument; somebody who, if his personality had been a little bit different, could have been one of the greatest players of really virtuosic music.  He was an incredible pianist, but he always had a very strong feeling against that.  He didn’t like it.  A lot of that music he didn’t care for, of course.  He once said to me, “Do you know this music?”  I said I hadn’t played it
I was just a kid.  He said, “You should learn this music in order to have played it.”  [Both laugh]

BD:    Like medicine!

RG:    That’s right.  “Don’t enjoy it while you learn it.”  As a matter of fact, I don’t love very much Liszt...

BD:    Thank you for chatting with me about playing the piano and about music.

RG:    Thank you.  It’s my pleasure.






Richard Goode has been hailed for music-making of tremendous emotional power, depth, and expressiveness, and has been acknowledged worldwide as one of today’s leading interpreters of Classical and Romantic music. In regular performances with the major orchestras, recitals in the world’s music capitals, and acclaimed Nonesuch recordings, he has won a large and devoted following. In an extensive profile in The New Yorker, David Blum wrote: “What one remembers most from Goode’s playing is not its beauty—exceptional as it is—but his way of coming to grips with the composer’s central thought, so that a work tends to make sense beyond one’s previous perception of it ... The spontaneous formulating process of the creator [becomes] tangible in the concert hall.”  According to the New York Times, “It is virtually impossible to walk away from one of Mr. Goode’s recitals without the sense of having gained some new insight, subtly or otherwise, into the works he played or about pianism itself.”

His first recording of the five Beethoven Concertos with Ivan Fisher and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, released in 2009 by Nonesuch Records, was nominated for a Gramophone magazine “Concerto of the Year” award joining his historic recording of the complete Beethoven Sonatas and equally acclaimed recent recordings of Mozart and Bach. In reviewing the Beethoven concertos recordings, the Times of London wrote: “Goode’s special gift has always been his selfless artistry: his penetrating intellect, warm heart and nimble fingers are entirely placed at the composer’s service.”  The Financial Times called the set “a landmark recording of the Beethoven concertos," adding that "Goode makes the familiar sound unexpectedly fresh.”

Richard Goode will be touring nationally and internationally during the 2011–2012 season, including performances with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra led by James Levine, performing the Mozart Concerto No. 25, K503; the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Gustavo Dudamel, performing the Mozart Concerto No. 20, K 466; a West Coast tour with the Boston Symphony; and recitals at Carnegie Hall, as well as in Chicago, Philadelphia, Berkeley, Kansas City, Baltimore, Detroit, and at universities around the country. In Europe, Mr. Goode will be performing in major series in cities including Birmingham, Budapest, Genoa, Madrid, and Paris, as well as touring through the UK, including performances at London's Royal Festival Hall and Wigmore Hall.

In recent seasons Mr. Goode curated a multi-event residency as one of South Bank Centre’s Artist-in-Residence including collaborative performances with pianist Jonathan Biss. This followed his "engrossing" (New York Times) eight-event Carnegie Hall Perspectives. This celebration of Mr. Goode’s artistry also included master classes at the City’s three leading conservatories—Juilliard, Manhattan, and Mannes—and two illustrated talks on his Perspectives repertoire at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Richard Goode was honored for his contributions to music with the first ever Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance, which culminated in a two-season residency at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and in May 2010, he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

A native of New York, Richard Goode studied with Elvira Szigeti and Claude Frank, with Nadia Reisenberg at the Mannes College of Music, and with Rudolf Serkin at the Curtis Institute. He has won many prizes, including the Young Concert Artists Award, First Prize in the Clara Haskil Competition, the Avery Fisher Prize, and a Grammy Award. His remarkable interpretations of Beethoven came to national attention when he played all five concerti with the Baltimore Symphony under David Zinman, and when he performed the complete cycle of sonatas at New York’s 92nd Street Y and Kansas City’s Folly Theater.

In addition to his most recent release, Richard Goode, an exclusive Nonesuch artist, has made more than two-dozen recordings, including Mozart solo works as well as Concerti with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas, the complete Partitas by J.S. Bach, and solo and chamber works of Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Busoni, and George Perle. Goode is the first American-born pianist to have recorded the complete Beethoven Sonatas, which were nominated for a Grammy Award and universally acclaimed.

With soprano Dawn Upshaw, he has recorded Goethe Lieder of Schubert, Schumann, and Hugo Wolf for Nonesuch. The four recordings of Mozart Concerti with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra were received with wide critical acclaim, including many “Best of the Year” nominations and awards and his recording of the Brahms sonatas with clarinetist Richard Stoltzman won a Grammy Award. Mr. Goode’s first, long-awaited Chopin recording was also chosen Best of the Month by Stereo Review and described as “absolutely magical ... glorious playing.”

Over the last seasons, Richard Goode has appeared with many of the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Levine, Haitink, and Ozawa; the Chicago Symphony under Eschenbach; the Cleveland Orchestra under Zinman; the San Francisco Symphony under Blomstedt and Alan Gilbert; the New York Philharmonic with Sir Colin Davis; the Toronto Symphony with Peter Oundjian; and the St. Louis Symphony under David Robertson. He has also appeared with the Orchestre de Paris, made his Musikverein debut with the Vienna Symphony and has been heard throughout Germany in sold-out concerts with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields under Sir Neville Marriner.

Mr. Goode serves with Mitsuko Uchida as co-Artistic Director of the Marlboro Music School and Festival in Marlboro, Vermont.  He is married to the violinist Marcia Weinfeld, and, when the Goodes are not on tour, they and their collection of some 5,000 volumes live in New York City.

--  From the Nonesuch website 






© 1990 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded at his hotel in Evanston, IL on February 19, 1990.  Sections were used (along with recordings) on WNIB two months later, and again in 1993 and 1998.  It was transcribed and posted on this website in 2012.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.