Glenn Herbert Gould (25 September 1932 – 4 October 1982) was a Canadian pianist who became one of the best-known and most celebrated classical pianists of the 20th century. He was particularly renowned as an interpreter of the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach. His playing was distinguished by remarkable technical proficiency and capacity to articulate the polyphonic texture of Bach's music.
After his adolescence, Gould rejected most of the standard Romantic piano literature including Liszt, Schumann, and Chopin. Although his recordings were dominated by Bach, Gould's repertoire was diverse, including works by Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Brahms, pre-Baroque composers such as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Orlando Gibbons and William Byrd, and such 20th-century composers as Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schoenberg and Richard Strauss. Gould was well known for various eccentricities, from his unorthodox musical interpretations and mannerisms at the keyboard to aspects of his lifestyle and personal behaviour. He stopped giving concerts at the age of 31 to concentrate on studio recording and other projects. Gould was the first pianist to record any of Liszt's piano transcriptions of Beethoven's symphonies (beginning with the Fifth Symphony, in 1967).
Gould was also known as a writer, composer, conductor, and broadcaster. He was a prolific contributor to musical journals, in which he discussed music theory and outlined his musical philosophy. His career as a composer was less distinguished. His output was minimal and many projects were left unfinished. There is evidence that, had he lived beyond 50, he intended to abandon the piano and devote the remainder of his career to conducting and other projects. As a broadcaster, Gould was prolific. His output ranged from television and radio broadcasts of studio performances to musique concrète radio documentaries about life in the Canadian wilderness.
Glenn Herbert Gould was born at home in Toronto on 25 September 1932, to Russell Herbert ("Bert") Gold and Florence ("Flora") Emma Gold (née Greig), Presbyterians of Scottish and English ancestry. His maternal grandfather was a cousin of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (who was himself of Scottish ancestry). The family's surname was changed to Gould informally around 1939 in order to avoid being mistaken for Jewish, given the prevailing anti-Semitism of prewar Toronto and the Gold surname's Jewish association. Gould had no Jewish ancestry, though he sometimes made jokes on the subject, like "When people ask me if I'm Jewish, I always tell them that I was Jewish during the war." Gould grew up in a home at 32 Southwood Drive, Toronto. His childhood home has been named a historic site by the City of Toronto.
Gould's interest in music and his talent as a pianist became evident very early. Both his parents were musical, and his mother, especially, encouraged the infant Gould's early musical development. Before his birth, his mother planned for him to become a successful musician, and thus exposed him to music during her pregnancy. As a baby, he reportedly hummed instead of crying and wiggled his fingers as if playing chords, leading his doctor to predict that he would "be either a physician or a pianist". By the age of three, Gould's perfect pitch was noticed. He learned to read music before he could read words. When presented with a piano, the young Gould was reported to strike single notes and listen to their long decay, a practice his father Bert noted was different from typical children. Gould's interest in the piano proceeded side by side with an interest in composition. He would play his own little pieces for family, friends, and sometimes large gatherings, including, in 1938, a performance at the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church (a few blocks from the Gould house) of one of his own compositions. At the age of six, he was taken for the first time to hear a live musical performance by a celebrated soloist. This left a tremendous impression. He later described the experience:
It was Hofmann. It was, I think, his last performance in Toronto, and it was a staggering impression. The only thing I can really remember is that, when I was being brought home in a car, I was in that wonderful state of half-awakeness in which you hear all sorts of incredible sounds going through your mind. They were all orchestral sounds, but I was playing them all, and suddenly I was Hofmann. I was enchanted.
As a young child, Gould was taught piano by his mother. At the age of 10, he began attending The Royal Conservatory of Music, (known until 1947, when it received a Royal Charter from King George VI, as the Toronto Conservatory of Music) in Toronto. He studied music theory with Leo Smith, the organ with Frederick C. Silvester, and piano with Alberto Guerrero. Around the same time, he injured his back as a result of a fall from a boat ramp on the shore of Lake Simcoe. This incident is almost certainly related to the adjustable-height chair his father made shortly thereafter. Gould's mother would urge the young Gould to sit up straight at the keyboard. He used this chair for the rest of his life and took it with him almost everywhere. The famous chair was designed so that Gould could sit very low at the keyboard. The chair allowed him to pull down on the keys rather than striking them from above, a central technical idea of his teacher at the Conservatory, Alberto Guerrero.
Gould developed a technique that enabled him to choose a very fast tempo while retaining the separateness and clarity of each note. His extremely low position at the instrument arguably permitted more control over the keyboard. Gould showed considerable technical skill in performing and recording a wide repertoire including virtuosic and romantic works, such as his own arrangement of Ravel's La valse and Liszt's transcriptions of Beethoven's fifth and sixth symphonies. Gould worked from a young age with his teacher Alberto Guerrero on a technique known as finger-tapping: a method of training the fingers to act more independently from the arm.
Gould passed his final Conservatory examination in piano at the age of 12 (achieving the "highest marks of any candidate"), thus attaining "professional standing as a pianist" at that age. One year later he passed the written theory exams, qualifying for an ATCM diploma.
Gould asserted that he almost never practised on the piano, preferring to study music by reading it rather than playing it, another technique he had learned from Guerrero. His manual practising focused on articulation, rather than basic facility. He may have spoken ironically about his practising as there is evidence that, on occasion, he did practise quite hard, sometimes using his own drills and techniques.
He stated that he didn't understand the requirement of other pianists to continuously reinforce their relationship with the instrument by practising many hours a day. It seems that Gould was able to practise mentally without access to an instrument, and even took this so far as to prepare for a recording of Brahms piano works without ever playing them until a few weeks before the recording sessions. Gould could play from memory not just a vast repertoire of piano music, but also a wide range of orchestral and operatic transcriptions. He could 'memorize at sight' and once challenged his friend John Roberts to name 'any piece of music' that he could not 'instantly play from memory'.
The piano, Gould said, "is not an instrument for which I have any great love as such... I have played it all my life, and it is the best vehicle I have to express my ideas." In the case of Bach, Gould admitted, " fixed the action in some of the instruments I play on—and the piano I use for all recordings is now so fixed—so that it is a shallower and more responsive action than the standard. It tends to have a mechanism which is rather like an automobile without power steering: you are in control and not it; it doesn't drive you, you drive it. This is the secret of doing Bach on the piano at all. You must have that immediacy of response, that control over fine definitions of things."
Gould was known for having a vivid imagination. Listeners regarded his interpretations as ranging from brilliantly creative to outright eccentric. His piano playing had great clarity and erudition, particularly in contrapuntal passages, and extraordinary control. He was a child prodigy and in adulthood described as a musical phenomenon. As he played, he often swayed his torso in a clockwise motion.
Gould had a pronounced aversion to what he termed a "hedonistic" approach to the piano repertoire, performance, and music generally. For Gould, "hedonism" in this sense denoted a superficial theatricality, something to which he felt Mozart, for example, became increasingly susceptible later in his career. He associated this drift towards hedonism with the emergence of a cult of showmanship and gratuitous virtuosity on the concert platform in the 19th century and later. The institution of the public concert, he felt, degenerated into the "blood sport" with which he struggled, and which he ultimately rejected.
On June 5, 1938, Gould played in public for the first time at a church service held at the Business Men's Bible Class in Uxbridge, Ontario to a congregation of about two thousand people. In 1945, at the age of thirteen, he made his first appearance with an orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, in a performance of the first movement of Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto. His first solo recital followed in 1947, and his first recital on radio was with the CBC in 1950. This was the beginning of his long association with radio and recording. He founded the Festival Trio chamber group in 1953 with the cellist Isaac Mamott and the violinist Albert Pratz.
In 1957, Gould embarked on a tour of the Soviet Union, becoming the first North American to play there since World War II. His concerts featured Bach, Beethoven, and the serial music of Schoenberg and Berg, which had been suppressed in the Soviet Union during the era of Socialist Realism. Gould made his Boston debut in 1958, playing for the Peabody Mason Concert Series. On 31 January 1960, Gould made his American television debut on CBS's Ford Presents series, performing Bach's Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor (BWV 1052) with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic.
Gould was convinced that the institution of the public concert was not only an anachronism, but also a "force of evil", leading to his retirement from concert performance. He argued that public performance devolved into a sort of competition, with a non-empathetic audience (musically and otherwise) mostly attendant to the possibility of the performer erring or not meeting critical expectation. This doctrine he set forth, only half in jest, in "GPAADAK", the Gould Plan for the Abolition of Applause and Demonstrations of All Kinds.
On 10 April 1964, Gould gave his last public performance, playing in Los Angeles, at the Wilshire Ebell Theater. Among the pieces he performed that night were Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 30, selections from Bach's The Art of Fugue, and Paul Hindemith's Piano Sonata No. 3. Gould performed fewer than 200 concerts over the course of his career, of which fewer than 40 were overseas. For pianists such as Van Cliburn, 200 concerts would have amounted to about two years' touring.
One of Gould's reasons for abandoning live performance was his aesthetic preference for the recording studio, where, in his words, he developed a "love affair with the microphone". There, he could control every aspect of the final musical "product" by selecting parts of various takes. He felt that he could realize a musical score more fully this way. Thus, the act of musical composition, to Gould, did not entirely end with the original score. The performer had to make creative choices. Gould felt strongly that there was little point in re-recording centuries-old pieces if the performer had no new perspective to bring to the work. For the rest of his life, Gould eschewed live performance, focusing instead on recording, writing, and broadcasting.
The issue of "authenticity" in relation to an approach like Gould's has been a topic of great debate, although diminished by the end of the 20th century—a development that Gould seems to have anticipated. It asks whether a recording is less authentic or "direct" for having been highly refined by technical means in the studio. Gould likened his process to that of a film director—one does not perceive that a two-hour film was made in two hours—and implicitly asks why the act of listening to music should be any different. He went so far as to conduct an experiment with musicians, sound engineers, and laypeople in which they were to listen to a recording and determine where the splices occurred. Each group chose different points based on their relationship to music, but none successfully. While the conclusion was hardly scientific, Gould remarked, "The tape does lie, and nearly always gets away with it".
In a lecture and essay titled "Forgery and Imitation in the Creative Process", one of Gould's most significant texts, he makes explicit his views on authenticity and creativity. Gould asks why the epoch in which a work is received influences its reception as "art", postulating a sonata he composes that sounds so much like Haydn that it is received as such. If, instead, the same sonata had been attributed to a somewhat earlier or later composer, it becomes more or less interesting as a piece of music. Yet it is not the work that has changed but its relation within the accepted narrative of music history. Similarly, Gould notes the "pathetic duplicity" in the reception of high-quality forgeries by Han van Meegeren of new paintings attributed to Dutch Golden Age master Vermeer, before and after the forgery was known.
Gould, therefore, prefers an ahistorical, or at least pre-Renaissance, view of art, minimizing the identity of the artist and the attendant historical context in evaluating the artwork: "What gives us the right to assume that in the work of art we must receive a direct communication with the historical attitudes of another period? ... moreover, what makes us assume that the situation of the man who wrote it accurately or faithfully reflects the situation of his time? ... What if the composer, as historian, is faulty?"
Gould is reported to have 'periodically told interviewers that if he had not been a pianist, he would have been a writer'. He expounded his criticism and philosophy of music and art in lectures, convocation speeches, periodicals, and radio and television documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Gould participated in many interviews, and had a predilection for scripting them to the extent that they may be seen as much as "works" as off-the-cuff discussions. Gould's writing style was highly articulate, but sometimes florid, indulgent, or rhetorical. This is especially evident in those works in which he attempts humour or irony, which he did often. Bazzana writes that although some of Gould's 'conversational dazzle' found its way into his prolific, written output, his writing was 'at best uneven, at worst awful'. While offering 'brilliant insights' and 'provocative theses', it was often marred by 'long, tortuous sentences' and a 'false formality'.
In these he praised certain composers and rejected what he deemed banal in music composition and its consumption by the public, and also gave insightful analyses of the music of Richard Strauss, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Despite a certain affection for Dixieland jazz, Gould was mostly averse to popular music. He enjoyed a jazz concert with his friends as a youth, mentioned jazz in his writings, and once criticized The Beatles for "bad voice leading"—while praising Petula Clark and Barbra Streisand. He shared a mutual admiration with jazz pianist Bill Evans, who made his seminal record Conversations with Myself using Gould's celebrated Steinway CD 318 piano. Gould believed that "the piano is a contrapuntal instrument," and his whole approach to music was, in fact, centered in the Baroque. Much of the homophony that followed he felt belongs to a less serious and less spiritual period of art.
A 1962 quote is often used to summarize Gould's perspective on art: "The justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations. The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity."
Gould referred to himself repeatedly as "the last puritan", a reference to philosopher George Santayana's novel of the same name. Weighing this statement against Gould's highly individualistic lifestyle and artistic vision leads to an apparent contradiction. He was progressive in many ways, promulgating the controversial atonal composers, and anticipating, through his deep involvement with the recording process, the vast changes that technology would have on the production and distribution of music. Mark Kingwell summarizes the paradox, never resolved by Gould nor his biographers:
He was progressive and anti-progressive at once, and likewise at once both a critic of the Zeitgeist and its most interesting expression. He was, in effect, stranded on a beachhead of his own thinking between past and future. That he was not able, by himself, to fashion a bridge between them is neither surprising, nor, in the end, disappointing. We should see this failure, rather, as an aspect of his genius. He both was and was not a man of his time.
Gould was widely known for his unusual habits. He usually hummed while he played the piano, and his recording engineers had mixed results in how successfully they could exclude his voice from recordings. Gould claimed that his singing was unconscious and increased proportionately with the inability of the piano in question to realize the music as he intended. It is likely that this habit originated in Gould's having been taught by his mother to "sing everything that he played", as Kevin Bazzana puts it. This became "an unbreakable (and notorious) habit". Some of Gould's recordings were severely criticised because of the background "vocalising". For example, a reviewer of his 1981 re-recording of the Goldberg Variations opined that many listeners would "find the groans and croons intolerable". Gould was renowned for his peculiar body movements while playing and for his insistence on absolute control over every aspect of his playing environment. The temperature of the recording studio had to be exactly regulated. He invariably insisted that it be extremely warm. According to Friedrich, the air conditioning engineer had to work just as hard as the recording engineers. The piano had to be set at a certain height and would be raised on wooden blocks if necessary. A small rug would sometimes be required for his feet underneath the piano. He had to sit fourteen inches above the floor and would play concerts only while sitting on the old chair his father had made. He continued to use this chair even when the seat was completely worn through. His chair is so closely identified with him that it is shown in a place of honour in a glass case at the National Library of Canada.
Conductors responded diversely to Gould and his playing habits. George Szell, who led Gould in 1957 with the Cleveland Orchestra, remarked to his assistant, "That nut's a genius." Leonard Bernstein said, "There is nobody quite like him, and I just love playing with him." Bernstein created a stir at the concert of 6 April 1962 when, just before the New York Philharmonic was to perform the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor with Gould as soloist, he informed the audience that he was assuming no responsibility for what they were about to hear. He asked the audience: "In a concerto, who is the boss – the soloist or the conductor? (audience laughter). The answer is, of course, sometimes the one and sometimes the other, depending on the people involved." Specifically, he was referring to their rehearsals with Gould's insistence that the entire first movement be played at half the indicated tempo. The speech was interpreted by Harold C. Schonberg, music critic for The New York Times, as an abdication of responsibility and an attack on Gould. Plans for a studio recording of the performance came to nothing. The live radio broadcast (along with Bernstein's disclaimer) was subsequently released on CD.
Gould was averse to cold and wore heavy clothing (including gloves), even in warm places. He was once arrested, presumably mistaken for a vagrant, while sitting on a park bench in Sarasota, Florida, dressed in his standard all-climate attire of coat(s), hat and mittens. Barbara Rose, daughter of the legendary cellist Leonard Rose, with whom Gould partnered on several recordings, later suggested that Gould had suffered from fibromyalgia, a condition which could not be diagnosed at the time and which made it impossible for Gould to tell hot from cold. He also disliked social functions. He hated being touched, and in later life he limited personal contact, relying on the telephone and letters for communication. On one visit to Steinway Hall in New York City in 1959, the chief piano technician at the time, William Hupfer, greeted Gould by giving him a slap on the back. Gould was shocked by this, and complained of aching, lack of coordination, and fatigue because of the incident. He went on to explore the possibility of litigation against Steinway & Sons if his apparent injuries were permanent. He was known for cancelling performances at the last minute, which is why Bernstein's above-mentioned public disclaimer opens with, "Don't be frightened, Mr. Gould is here... will appear in a moment."
In his liner notes and broadcasts, Gould created more than two dozen alter egos for satirical, humorous, or didactic purposes, permitting him to write hostile reviews or incomprehensible commentaries on his own performances. Probably the best-known are the German musicologist "Karlheinz Klopweisser", the English conductor "Sir Nigel Twitt-Thornwaite", and the American critic "Theodore Slutz". These facets of Gould, whether interpreted as neurosis or "play", have provided ample material for psychobiography.
Fran's Restaurant in Toronto was a regular haunt of Gould's. A CBC profile noted, "sometime between two and three every morning, Gould would go to Fran's, a 24-hour diner a block away from his Toronto apartment, sit in the same booth, and order the same meal of scrambled eggs." In a letter to the cellist Virginia Katims, dating back to 20 January 1973, Gould stated he had been vegetarian for about ten years.
It has been debated whether or not Gould's mind fell within the autism spectrum. The diagnosis was first suggested by psychiatrist Peter Ostwald, a friend of Gould's, in the 1997 book Glenn Gould: The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Genius.
Gould lived a private life: Bruno Monsaingeon said of him, "No supreme pianist has ever given of his heart and mind so overwhelmingly while showing himself so sparingly."
When Gould was in Los Angeles in 1956, he met Cornelia Foss and husband Lukas. Foss was an art instructor who had studied sculpture at the American Academy in Rome. Her husband worked for both the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Brooklyn Philharmonia. After several years, Gould and Cornelia Foss became lovers. Foss left her husband in 1967 for Gould, taking her two children with her to Toronto. She purchased a house near Gould's 110 St. Clair Avenue West apartment. In 2007, Cornelia Foss finally admitted that she and Gould had had a love affair lasting several years. According to Foss, "There were a lot of misconceptions about Glenn, and it was partly because he was so very private. But I assure you, he was an extremely heterosexual man. Our relationship was, among other things, quite sexual." Their affair lasted until 1972, when she returned to her husband. As early as two weeks after leaving her husband, Foss noticed disturbing signs in Gould. She alluded to a serious paranoid episode:
"It lasted several hours, and then I knew he was not just neurotic – there was more to it. I thought to myself, 'Good grief, am I going to bring up my children in this environment?' But I stayed four and a half years." Foss did not discuss details, but others close to Gould said he was convinced someone was trying to poison him and that others were spying on him.
Gould suffered many pains and ailments, though he was something of a hypochondriac (admitting it himself on at least one occasion), and his autopsy revealed few underlying problems in areas that often troubled him. As mentioned above, early in his life Gould had suffered a spine injury; his physicians prescribed, usually independently, an assortment of analgesics, anxiolytics, and other drugs. Bazzana has speculated that Gould's increasing use of a variety of prescription medicines over his career may have had a deleterious effect on his health. It reached the stage, Bazzana writes, that 'he was taking pills to counteract the side effects of other pills, creating a cycle of dependency'.
He was highly concerned about his health throughout his life, worrying about everything from high blood pressure (which in his later years he recorded in diary form) to the safety of his hands. Gould rarely shook hands with anyone and usually wore gloves.
On 27 September 1982, just two days after his 50th birthday, after experiencing a severe headache, Gould suffered a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body. He was admitted to Toronto General Hospital and his condition rapidly deteriorated. By 4 October, there was evidence of brain damage, and Gould's father decided that his son should be taken off life support. Gould's public funeral was held in St. Paul's Anglican Church on 15 October with Lois Marshall and Maureen Forrester, a service attended by over 3,000 people and broadcast on CBC. He is buried next to his parents in Toronto's Mount Pleasant Cemetery (section 38, Row 1088, Plot 1050). The first few bars of the Goldberg Variations are carved on his marker. According to the Glenn Gould Foundation, the cemetery staff are often asked for directions to his grave.
In creating music, Gould much preferred the control and intimacy provided by the recording studio. He disliked the concert hall, which he compared to a competitive sporting arena. After his final public performance in 1964, he devoted his career solely to the studio, recording albums and several radio documentaries. He was attracted to the technical aspects of recording, and considered the manipulation of tape to be another part of the creative process. Although Gould's recording studio producers have testified that "he needed splicing, less than most performers", Gould used the process to give himself total artistic control over the recording process. He recounted his recording of the A minor fugue from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier and how it was spliced together from two takes, with the fugue's expositions from one take and its episodes from another.
Following his first recording (of Berg's Piano sonata, Op. 1, on the Canadian Hallmark label, c. 1952), the pianist's first breakthrough success, Bach: The Goldberg Variations, was recorded in 1955, at Columbia Records 30th Street Studios in New York City. Although there was initially some controversy at CBS as to whether this was the most appropriate piece to record, the finished product received phenomenal praise and was among the best-selling classical music albums of its time. Gould became closely associated with the piece, playing it in full or in part at many of his recitals. Another version of the Goldberg Variations, recorded in 1981, would be among his last recordings, and one of only a few pieces he recorded twice in the studio. The 1981 recording was one of CBS Masterworks' first digital recordings. The first recording is highly energetic and often frenetic. The second, slower and more deliberate. In the latter, Gould treats the aria and its 30 variations as one cohesive piece.
Gould revered Bach: " first and last an architect, a constructor of sound, and what makes him so inestimably valuable to us is that he was beyond a doubt the greatest architect of sound who ever lived". He recorded most of Bach's other keyboard works, including the complete The Well-Tempered Clavier, Partitas, French Suites, English Suites, and keyboard concertos. For his only recording at the organ, he recorded about half of The Art of Fugue. He also recorded all five of Beethoven's piano concertos and 23 of the 32 piano sonatas.
Gould also recorded works by Brahms, Mozart, and many other prominent piano composers, though he was outspoken in his criticism of some of them. He was extremely critical of Frédéric Chopin. In a radio interview, when asked if he didn't find himself wanting to play Chopin, he replied: "No, I don't. I play it in a weak moment – maybe once a year or twice a year for myself. But it doesn't convince me." Although Gould recorded all of Mozart's sonatas and admitted enjoying the "actual playing" of them, he claimed to dislike Mozart's later works, to the extent of arguing (perhaps facetiously) that Mozart died too late rather than too early. He was fond of many lesser-known composers, such as Orlando Gibbons, whose Anthems he had heard as a teenager, and for whose music he felt a "spiritual attachment". He recorded a number of Gibbons's keyboard works and called him his favourite composer, despite his better-known admiration for the technical mastery of Bach. He made recordings of piano music by Jean Sibelius (the Sonatines and Kyllikki), Georges Bizet (the Variations Chromatiques de Concert and the Premier nocturne), Richard Strauss (the Piano Sonata, the Five Pieces, and Enoch Arden with Claude Rains), and Paul Hindemith (the three piano sonatas and the sonatas for brass and piano). He also made recordings of the complete piano works Lieder by Arnold Schoenberg. The last piece Gould recorded was Strauss: Piano Sonata, Op. 5. It was recorded between 1 September – 3, 1982 in New York City.
The success of Gould's collaborations with other artists was to a degree dependent upon their receptiveness to his sometimes unconventional readings of the music. His television collaboration with Yehudi Menuhin in 1965, recording works by Bach, Beethoven and Schoenberg, Stegemann (1993b) was deemed a success because "... Menuhin was ready to embrace the new perspectives opened up by an unorthodox view ...". In 1966, his collaboration with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, however, recording Richard Strauss's Ophelia Lieder, Op. 67, was deemed an "outright fiasco". Schwarzkopf believed in "total fidelity" to the score, but she also objected to the thermal conditions in the recording studio: "The studio was incredibly overheated, which may be good for a pianist but not for a singer: a dry throat is the end as far as singing is concerned. But we persevered nonetheless. It wasn't easy for me. Gould began by improvising something Straussian—we thought he was simply warming up, but no, he continued to play like that throughout the actual recordings, as though Strauss's notes were just a pretext that allowed him to improvise freely...."
As the result of Gould's association with CBC Records, he made numerous television and radio programs for CBC Television and CBC Radio. Notable productions include his music-concrète Solitude Trilogy, which consists of The Idea of North, a meditation on Northern Canada and its people, The Latecomers about Newfoundland, and The Quiet in the Land, about Mennonites in Manitoba. All three use a radiophonic electronic-music technique that Gould called contrapuntal radio, in which several people are heard speaking at once—much like the voices in a fugue—manipulated through the use of tape. Gould's experience of driving across northern Ontario while listening to Top 40 radio in 1967 provided the inspiration for one of his most unusual CBC radio pieces, The Search for Petula Clark, a witty and eloquent dissertation on the recordings of the renowned British pop singer, who was then at the peak of her international success
Gould was not only a composer, but also a prolific arranger of orchestral repertoire for piano. His arrangements include his recorded Wagner and Ravel transcriptions, as well as the operas of Richard Strauss and the symphonies of Schubert and Bruckner, which he played privately for pleasure.
As a teenager, Gould wrote chamber music and piano works in the style of the Second Viennese school of composition. His only significant work was the String Quartet, Op. 1, which he finished when he was in his 20s, and perhaps his cadenzas to Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1. Later works include the Lieberson Madrigal (SATB and piano), and So You Want to Write a Fugue? (SATB with piano or string quartet accompaniment). The majority of his work is published by Schott Music. The recording Glenn Gould: The Composer contains his original works.
The String Quartet Op. 1 (published in 1956 and recorded in 1960) had a mixed reception from critics. For example, the notices from the Christian Science Monitor and The Saturday Review were quite laudatory, while the response from the Montreal Star was less so. There is little critical commentary on Gould's compositional work for the simple reason that there are few compositions. He did not proceed beyond Opus 1. Gould left many compositions unfinished. He attributed his failure as a composer to his lack of a "personal voice". See List of compositions by Glenn Gould for a complete list of works.
Towards the end of his life, Gould began conducting. He had earlier directed Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 and the cantata Widerstehe doch der Sünde from the harpsipiano (a piano with metal hammers to simulate a harpsichord's sound), and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2 (the Urlicht section) in the 1960s. His last recording was as a conductor of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll in its original chamber music scoring. He intended to give up the piano at the age of 50, spending later years conducting, writing about music, and composing.
Gould is one of the most acclaimed 20th-century classical musicians. His unique pianistic method, insight into the architecture of compositions, and relatively free interpretation of scores created performances and recordings that were revelatory to many listeners while highly objectionable to others. Philosopher Mark Kingwell writes that "his influence is made inescapable. No performer after him can avoid the example he sets... Now, everyone must perform through him: he can be emulated or rejected, but he cannot be ignored."
Gould left an extensive body of work beyond the keyboard. After his retirement from concert performance, he was increasingly interested in other media, including audio and film documentary and writing, through which he mused on aesthetics, composition, music history, and the effect of the electronic age on the consumption of media. (Gould grew up in Toronto at the same time that Canadian theorists Marshall McLuhan, Northrop Frye, and Harold Innis were making their mark on communications studies.) Anthologies of his writing and letters have been published. Library and Archives Canada retains a significant portion of Gould's work called The Glenn Gould Archive.
One of Gould's performances of the Prelude and Fugue in C major from Book II of The Well-Tempered Clavier was chosen for inclusion on the NASA Voyager Golden Record by a committee headed by Carl Sagan. The disc of recordings was placed on the spacecraft Voyager 1, which is now approaching interstellar space and is the farthest man-made object from Earth.
Gould is a popular subject of biography and even critical analysis. Philosophers such as Giorgio Agamben and Mark Kingwell have interpreted Gould's life and ideas. References to Gould and his work are plentiful in poetry, fiction, and the visual arts. François Girard's Genie Award winning 1993 film, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould includes documentary interviews with people who knew him, dramatizations of scenes from Gould's life, and fanciful segments including an animation set to music. Thomas Bernhard's renowned 1983 novel The Loser (Der Untergeher) purports to be an extended first-person essay about Gould and his lifelong friendship with two fellow students from the Mozarteum school in Salzburg, both of whom have abandoned their careers as concert pianists due to the intimidating example of Gould's genius.
A head of Glenn Gould was made by Canadian artist and sculptor Una Mavis Ehlert. The head is part of a permanent collection owned by Juliet Margaret Gordon in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
The Australian a cappella group The Idea of North takes its name from one of his radio programs. The Glenn Gould Studio at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto was named after him.
In 1998 he was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto, and in 2012 he was designated a National Historic Person. A federal plaque reflecting the designation was erected next to a sculpture of him in downtown Toronto.
In Toronto in 1983, The Glenn Gould Foundation was established to honour Gould and preserve his memory. The Foundation's mission "is to extend awareness of the legacy of Glenn Gould as an extraordinary musician, communicator, and Canadian, and to advance his visionary and innovative ideas into the future." Among other activities, the foundation awards the Glenn Gould Prize every three years to "an individual who has earned international recognition as the result of a highly exceptional contribution to music and its communication, through the use of any communications technologies." The prize consists of $50,000 for an original work by a Canadian artist.
The Royal Conservatory of Music Professional School in Toronto decided to adopt the name The Glenn Gould School in 1997, after The Royal Conservatory's most famous alumnus.
To commemorate what would have been Gould's 75th birthday, the Canadian Museum of Civilization held an exhibition titled Glenn Gould: The Sounds of Genius. The multimedia exhibit was held in conjunction with Library and Archives Canada. The exhibition opened 28 September 2007 and looked at five aspects of Gould: "The person," "The musician," "The broadcast personality and producer," "The writer and theorist, composer and conductor," and "The Sounds of Genius". Curator Sam Cronk said "The primary purpose of the exhibition is to remind Canadians of the many facets of Gould's musical genius." John F. Burns of The New York Times reported, in an interview with Herbert Kallmann, that the exhibit will omit many of Gould's eccentricities in favour of highlighting Gould's talent. Of the numerous documents, there are essays, scripts, and music scores. The scores on display were used for some of his most important recordings, marked only for breaks between takes. Peter Goddard of the Toronto Star says that the exhibit will give patrons a feeling of what it was like at Gould's home: "The cramped space conveys a sense of what his St. Clair Ave. apartment might have felt like, with his piano at the very centre of things, along with his low piano chair made by his father."
Gould received many honours before and after his death, although he personally claimed to despise competition in music. In 1970, the government of Canada offered him the award of Companion of the Order of Canada, but Gould declined it, remarking that he believed he was too young to receive it.
The Juno Awards are presented annually by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Gould won three awards out of his six nominations. However he only personally received one Juno. In 1983, he was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
The Grammys are awarded annually by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Gould won four awards but personally only received one. In 1983, he was honoured posthumously, being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for his 1955 recording (released in 1956) Bach: The Goldberg Variations.
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