Gould’s childhood was dominated by music. In a film about Gould produced by Vincent Tovell, Gould’s father comments that as a child Glenn would retreat into his bedroom to learn an unfamiliar musical score. Gould would not return out of his room until he commited the entire score for memory. Robert Fulford, a distinguished Canadian author, met Gould when they were both 9 and wrote : “Even as a child Glenn was isolated because he was working like hell to be a great man. He had a tremendous feeling and loving affection for music.. It was an utter, complete feeling. He knew who he was and where he was going” [iii]. Obviously, he carried his productive learning habbits of intense involvement and concentration from early childhood into adulthood.
In spite of Gould’s apparent abilities as a child performer, his parents protected him from the life of a child prodigy by keeping his public performances to a minimum. One of the few exceptions was his participation in the Kiwanis Music Festival held annually in Toronto, where he won the piano competition (February of 1944). Payzant (1978) wrote that although Gould was only twelve years old he ranked highest among several older advanced musicians. It was the only competition Gould would enter, for he later came to be strongly opposed to the idea of young musicians competing with each other and indeed to competition of any sort.
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Gould made his debut as an organist, not as a pianist, in a Casavant Society recital at Eaton Auditorium, Toronto, on December 12, 1945. Robert Fulford (1983) wrote that people were greatly impressed and astonished by Gould, the child, who could play with such brilliant technique and interpretive intuition. On May 8, 1946, Gould performed, for the first time, as piano soloist with the Toronto Conservatory Orchestra at Massey Hall at the conservatory. He played the first movement of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in G major, conducted by Ettore Mazzoleni . Of this performance Edward W. Wodson of the “Evening Telegram” wrote: “ he showed the music lover that scale passages and arpeggios on the humble piano may have spiritual as well as technical beauty and character. His phrasing was eloquent as poetry chanted by the poet himself”.
On 14 January 1947 Gould performed the entire concerto with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bernard Heinze. His first public recital was in 1947 and included Scarlatti, Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt. Gould gave his first network radio recital for the CBC in 1950, beginning his long relationship with broadcasting and recording. He played Mozart’s Sonata K281 and Hindemith’s Third Sonata on a studio piano with heavy, dark bass. When he played he found that by suppressing the bass and boosting the treble he could make the piano sound the way he had tried but failed to do in the studio and that in this way he had overcome the piano’s limitations and improved upon his original contribution as performer. His approach to performing and recording was to be dominated there after by this discovery and by his awareness of its implications.
By the age of 20 Gould’s performing experiences had included tours of western and eastern Canada, nine appearances as piano soloist with orchestras (Hamilton, Toronto, Vancouver), several public recitals – including his Montreal debut 6 November 1952 and, for the CBC, four or five studio recitals. His interest in modern music was well established ; his repertoire included the complete piano works of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. But it was not his intention to become a concert pianist. Composition was at that time for him a livelier concern, and already he was demonstrating remarkable abilities as a musical analyst and commentator. His first commercial recording was made in 1951 and released in 1953 on the Hallmark label. Between 1953 and 1963 he performed often at the annual summer Sheakespeare festival at Stratford, Ontario. In January 1955, Gould made his American debut, with recitals in Washington DC and New York. His unorthodox programme (16th century composer Sweelinck ; the late- Renaissance English composer Orlando Gibbons ; five J. S. Bach’s sinfonias ; J. S. Bach’s Partita in G major ; the Berg Piano Sonata, Opus 1 ; Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Opus 109; and the Webern Variations for piano, Opus 27) , distinctive style, idiosyncratic interpretations and flamboyant platform manner immediately marked him as an iconoplast. The critical review for these recitals recounts that Gould was totally equipped as a technician and subordinated his virtuosity for the sake of expressiveness. On January 12, 1955, the day following his New York debut recital, he was offered a contract with the Columbia Masterworks (later CBS Masterworks) label, for which he recorded exclusively for the rest of his life. Gould’s first recording in June 1955 of Bach’s Goldberg Variations marked the beginning of his exclusive association with Columbia and launched his international concert career. This was a work that was not performed in public, with the exception of performances by Rosalyn Tureck. The fact that Gould chose the Goldberg Variations as his first commercial recording exemplified his unique penchant for championing relatively unknown compositions. The recording was an immediate commercial and artistic success and it helped project Gould among the world’s foremost ranking contemporary pianists. His second recording project with Columbia was the last piano sonatas of Beethoven (Opus 109, 110, 111). In 1956, Gould published his most important composition, the String Quartet, Opus 1. Gould considered this late-romantic sounding piece an example of his early period writing. For the next nine years, he toured throughout North America. In March 1956 Gould performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #4 with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Paul Paray.
In January of 1957 Gould gave his first concert with New York Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein as conductor of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #2. This was the beginning of Gould’s association with Bernstein. Their performing together ended in the infamous 1962 concert of the Brahms Piano Concerto in D minor. Bernstein disavowed himself from the extremely slow tempi on which Gould insisted. He announced on the stage, just prior to the performance, that he did not agree with Gould’s musical ideas but would go along with them for the sake of musical experimentation. A scandal erupted and the critics had a heyday of maligning both Bernstein and Gould .
The years from 1959 to 1964 were marked by increased activity in speaking about music rather than performing it. Gould lectured at the Gardner Museum in Boston, the University of Cincinnati, Hunter College in New York, the University of Wisconsin, Wellesley College and the University of Toronto. The fact that he was interested in writing and giving lectures was dismissed as eccentric behavior not to be taken seriously by some critics. In 1963, the University of Toronto awarded Gould an honorary doctorate. By 1963, Gould’s concert activity had fallen off sharply, and at the age of 31, after a recital in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, Illinois, on March 28, 1964 (Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Opus 110, Krenek’s Third Piano Sonata, Bach’s Partita #4 in D Major and fugues from Bach’s The Art of the Fugue) , he ended his public performing career in order to devote his energies exclusively to writing, broadcasting, composing, conducting and experimenting with technology. This early retirement from public performance was prompted in part by a realization that the strenuous life of a touring musician was preventing him from realising his many other interests.
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Gould’s writings can stand as a worthy complement to his legacy of recordings. Like his piano interpretations, Gould’s articles are lucid, unconventional, and occasionally outrageous. He was not afraid of owning up to an unorthodox opinion. They range from the early “Dodecaphonist’s Dilemma”, written when he was 33, through the masterful “Prospects of Recording”, to the variety of shorter articles written for Piano Quarterly. Less well known, but also critically praised, is Gould’s work in radio documentary. In the 1960s Gould began to take a strong and active interest in radio and TV documantaries, almost all for the CBC. He was the deviser, compiler, interviewer, narrator, and even producer of many of these programs. Notable here is his "Solitude Trilogy", constisting of "The Idea of North", a meditation on the north and its people; "The Latecomers", about Newfoundland; and "The Quiet in the Land", on Mennonites in Manitoba. The Idea of North attracted Gould, with its implications of solitude, winter darkness and cold weather, all of which he associated with purity. All three use a technique which Gould called “contrapuntal radio”, in which several people are heard speaking at once. Gould’s recorded music has been featured in many films, during his life and after his death. In 1993 he was the subject of an award-winning fictional movie, “Thirty two short films about Glenn Gould”. He received countless tributes, awards (four Grammy Awards) and honours of every kind.
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“I don’t think that my life style is like most other people’s and I’m rather glad for that. The two things, life style and work, have become one. Now if that’s eccentricity, then I’m eccentric. If eccentricity consists of wearing a scarf in an air-conditioned environment while recording, or playing with an overcoat on during my stay in Jerusalem, I’m guilty; but those things are organic to what I have to do”.[v]
He admired deeply Barbra Streisand and wrote an article about her for "High Fidelity" (“I adore everything she does..I don’t know of any other singer, with the exception of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, who has impressed me as much...”) [vii]. Gould loved to use pseudonyms (Dr. Herbert von Hochmeister-a German critic, Theodore Slutz-a New York cab driver, Sir Nigel Twitt-Thornwaite-British conductor, Dr. Karlheinz Klopweisser-a German composer and critic and others). He enjoyed these creations, making tapes for which he spoke “in character”, writing fictitious interviews and even publishing certain articles under the name “Hebert von Hochmeister”.
Gould was addicted to many prescription drugs, some of which had contradictory effects on his health. He was highly concerned about his health throughout his life, such as his cognenital high blood pressure and the safety of his hands. Dr. Timothy Maloney (PhD), the director of the Music Division of the National Library of Canada has written about and discussed the possibility that Gould had Asperder’s Syndrome, a disorder related to Autism. This idea was first tentatively proposed by Gould’s biographer, Dr. Peter Ostwald (MD). According to Maloney, Gould’s eccentricities could be related to the symptoms displayed by persons with Asperger’s. But this theory is doubted by many psychiatrists today. [viii]
“Technology should not, in my view, be treated as a noncommittal, noncommited voyeur; its capacityfor dissection, for analysis, for the idealization of an impression, must be exploited”.
“I believe that 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 the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity”
“Artists have a moral mission and art has an unrealized potential for the betterment of humankind. Each person must accept the challenge of contemplatively creating his own “divinity”. [x]
[ii] Born in 1944 in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia . Pianist, composer, friend and occasional collaborator with Glenn Gould. He has taken on the monumential project of using his new recording technique, which he calls “musical sculpting”, to record the complete keyboard works of Bach.
[iii] Angilette, Elizabeth. Glenn Gould: philosopher at the keyboard. London: The Scarecrow Press, 1992
[iv] Bazzana, Kevin. Glenn Gould: the performer in the work. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997
[v] Mach, Elyse. Great contemporary pianists speak for themselves. New York: Dover 1991
[viii] Article by Helen Mesaros in ‘Medical Post’: Did Glenn Gould have a form of autism? http://www.medicalpost.com/mpcontent/article.jsp?content=/content/EXTRACT/RAWART/3618/24.html
[ix] Page, Tim. The Glenn Gould Reader. New York: Faber,1984.
[x] divinity here refers to the better part of individual human nature, which for Gould is the introspectively and ecstatically contemplative part
[xi] Payzant, Geoffrey. Glenn Gould: Music and Mind. Toronto, 1978
Canning, Nancy. Α Glenn Gould catalog. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1992
Jonathan, Cott. Conversations with Glenn Gould. Boston: Little Brown, 1984
Schneider, Michael. Glenn Gould, piano solo: aria et trente variations. Paris: Gallimard, 1994
Bazzana, Kevin. Glenn Gould: the performer in the work: study in performance practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997
John P. L., Roberts and Ghyslaine, Guertin. Glenn Gould: selected letters. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1992
Tim, Page. The Glenn Gould reader. London: Faber and Faber, 1987, c1984
Sachs, Harvey. Virtuoso. Thames and Hudson, 1982
Mach, Elyse. Great contemporary pianists speak for themselves. New York: Dover Publications, 1991
Kostelanetz, Richard and Darby, Joseph. Classic essays on twentieth-century music: a continuing symposium. New York: Schirmer Books, 1996
Fiebig, Paul. Uber Beethoven: von Musikern, Dichtern und Liebhabern: eine Anthologie. Stuttgart: P. Reclam, 1993
Schaal, Susanne und Schader, Luitgard. Uber Hindemith: Aufsatze zu Werk, Aesthetik und Interpretation. Mainz: Schott, 1996
Cook, Nicholas John. Structure and performance timing in Bach’s C minor prelude (WTCI): An empirical study. Music Analysis: Vol. 6; Issue 3; Oct. 1987; pp. 257-272
Gould, Glenn. Glenn Gould interviews himself about Beethoven. Piano Quarterly: Vol. 79; Fall 1972; pp. 2-5
Gould, Glenn. Did we really hear him? Piano Quarterly: Vol. XXXIV/135; Winter 1986; pp. 60-63
Kallmann, Helmut. The music collection of the National Library of Canada. Fontes Artis Musicae: Vol. 34; Issue 4; Oct-Dec. 1987; pp. 174-184
New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd Edition, ed.by S. Sadie), vol. 10, “Glenn Gould”, (London, Macmillan, 2001), pp. 212-213.
The Oxford Companion to Music, ed. by Latham, Alison, “Glenn Gould”, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2003, pp.533
Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, (Centennial Edition, ed. by Slominsky, Nicolas), vol.2, “Glenn Gould”. New York, Schirmer, 2001, pp.1336
Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (MGG); zweite neubearbeitere Ausgabe; herausgegeben von Finscher, Ludwig, Bd. 7, Kassel, Barenreiter, 2002, pp. 1416-1418
Wagner, Richard. Siegfried-Idyll (WWW 103); in einer Klaviertranskription von Glenn Gould. Mainz: Schott, 2003
The Glenn Gould edition (vols. 35). New York: Sony Classical, 1993
Glenn Gould. Great pianists of the 20th century; vol. 39. Netherlands: Philips, 1999
www.glenngould.com (the official Glenn Gould web site)
www.glenngould.ca (the Glenn Gould Foundation)
www.collectionscanada.ca/glenngould (the Glenn Gould Archive)
http://archives.cbc.ca/IDD-1-68-320/arts_entertainment/glenn_gould/ (videos of Glenn Gould from the archives of CBC)