Glenn Gould


Glenn Herbert Gould (September 25, 1932 – October 4, 1982) was a Canadian pianist who became one of the best-known and most celebrated classical pianists of the twentieth century. He was particularly renowned as an interpreter of the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach. His playing was distinguished by a remarkable technical proficiency and a capacity to articulate the polyphonic texture of Bach’s music.

Gould is 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 were able to exclude his voice from recordings. Gould claimed that his singing was subconscious 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 "vocalise". 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 only play concerts 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 honor 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." Ironically, Bernstein created a stir in April 1962 when, just before the New York Philharmonic was to perform the Brahms D minor piano concerto with Gould as soloist, he informed the audience that he was assuming no responsibility for what they were about to hear. Specifically, he was referring to Gould's insistence that the entire first movement be played at half the indicated tempo. 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), warm hat, and mittens. 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. Upon one visit to historic 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 even 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." Link.



subled said...

New category? Like it. :)

Cuidado said...

He indeed was a genius....and a nut.

Anonymous said...

He was an amazing performer. What Bernstein said about the performace and about Gould beforehand is like what artists in the past were described as.

But now? They are respected and are known for bringing their art (whether it was painting, music, dance, etc.) forward.

Anonymous said...

Bernstein was a celebrity hound, respected Gould and said there was only one other time the performer had told the conductor what to do (Bernstein, that is), and that was the last time he conducted for Gould.

Gould's deconstructive style is unique, outstanding, unbelievable. As he said, "Why go listen to yet someone else play beautifully exactly what the composer wanted." Listen to Gould and you'll never have heard anything comparable.