Gould, Glenn

views updated May 29 2018

Glenn Gould


U.S. Debut

Creative Cheating

Solitude Trilogy

Selected compositions

Selected discography


When pianist Glenn Gould died in October of 1982, he left behind a legacy of recordings, television and radio programs, interviews, and articles in which he offered opinions and interpretations that continue to exert a profound influence on contemporary music. He was a complex figure and a mass of contradictions: a recluse who made himself, through the media, extraordinarily accessible; a man greatly sensitive to the cold who had a fascination with the Canadian Arctic; a romantic who dismissed most of the music of the romantic 19th century and whose playing displayed a notable lack of sentiment. Yet there was a consistency beneath the contradictions. In 1962, two years before he stopped performing in order to devote himself solely to recording, Gould contributed an article to Musical America, called Lets Ban Applause!, in which he made a statement that came to represent his view of life for the next 20 years: 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.

Glenn Herbert Gould was born on September 25, 1932, the only son of Russell Herbert Gould, a Toronto furrier, and Florence Greig Gould. His mother claimed to be a descendant of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Both parents were amateur musicians, and the young Gould displayed his own musical abilities at an early age. His mother taught him piano until he was ten; he then enrolled at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now the Royal Conservatory of Music), studying piano with Alberto Guerrero. He attended the Williamson Road Public School until 1945, later advancing to Malvern Collegiate Institute, a public high school.

Goulds formal debut was not as a pianist but as an organist, at Torontos Eaton Auditorium on December 12, 1945. On May 8, 1946, he gave his premiere performance as a pianist, playing the first movement of Beethovens fourth piano concerto with the Toronto Conservatory Symphony Orchestra at Torontos Massey Hall. That year he also received an associate diploma from the Toronto Conservatory.

U.S. Debut

In 1951 Gould left Malvern Collegiate without receiving his diploma; he stopped studying with Guerrero in 1952. By this time he was performing throughout Canada, establishing a reputation as one of the countrys most promising musicians. On January 2, 1955, Gould made his U.S. debut at the Phillips Gallery in Washington, D.C.; a week later he appeared at New York Citys Town Hall. His programs at that time were characterized

For the Record

Born Glenn Herbert Gould, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, September 25, 1932; died of a stroke October 4, 1982, in Toronto; son of Russell Herbert (a furrier) and Florence Greig (a piano teacher) Gould. Education: Studied piano with his mother, c. 1935-42; studied piano with Alberto Guerrero, organ with Frederick C. Silvester, and music theory with Leo Smith, Toronto (now Royal) Conservatory of Music, 1942-46.

Pianist. First public performance, on organ, 1945; debut as pianist, with Toronto Conservatory Orchestra, 1946; first solo piano recital, 1947. Performed throughout Canada, 1951-54; U.S. debut, Washington, D.C., 1955; signed with Columbia Records, 1955, and recorded Bachs Goldberg Variations; international solo and orchestral performances, 1957-64. Composer of chamber music and film scores.

Made over 80 recordings with Columbia, 1956-82; appeared in over 70 radio and 20 television broadcasts for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1964-82; hosted weekly radio program The Art of Glenn Gould, 1966-68, 1969; wrote and produced Solitude Trilogy series of radio broadcasts, including The Idea of North, 1967, The Latecomers, 1969, and Quiet in the Land, 1977; wrote and hosted four-part television series on twentieth-century music, Music in Our Time, 1974-77; numerous television appearances. Author of liner notes and contributor to periodicals.

Awards: Lady Kemp Scholarship; honorary doctorate of law, University of Toronto, 1964; Grammy Award, 1973, for liner notes to his recording of Paul Hindemiths Sonata No. 2 in G Major.

by a taste for intellectually rigorous music and a conspicuous absence of the 19th-century staples that dominate the repertory of most pianists.

The day after the New York recital Gould was offered a recording contract with Columbia Recordsunprecedented considering he had mounted only a single performance in New York City. His first recording, of Bachs Goldberg Variations, was released in 1956 and became a best-seller. Gould was on his way to becoming a celebrity, known not only for his piano playing but also for his eccentricities: He sang and conducted himself as he played, sat in a low chair that put him at about shoulder level with the keyboard, carried a suitcase of pills for various ailments, soaked his hands in hot water before concerts, kept bottled water at his side, and wore wool sweaters under his tuxedo vest to ward off the cold of drafty concert halls.

Although his reputation continued to grow in the 1960s, Gould became increasingly uncomfortable as a concert performer. At live concerts I feel demeaned, like a vaudevillian, he told Holiday magazine in 1964, as was recalled by Tim Page in his introduction to The Glenn Gould Reader. On April 10th of that year he gave his last public performance. His withdrawal from concert life shocked both critics and the public, who felt he was turning his back on them at the height of his fame. But Gould had been planning to leave for years and had been telling reporters as much since the 1950s. He had his reasons. The most notorious of these was a belief that the live concert would cease to exist by the year 1999 and would be replaced exclusively by recordings. He felt that a piece of music could neither be played nor appreciated as well in a concert hall as it could via recording in ones living room. Moreover, as he wrote in The Prospects of Recording, a piece he penned for High Fidelity, In the course of a lifetime spent in the recording studio [the performer] will necessarily encounter a wider range of repertoire than could possibly be his lot in the concert hall. And in establishing what was perhaps most significant to him, Gould concluded that recording enables the performer to establish a contact with a work which is very much like that of the composers own relation to it. It permits him to encounter a particular piece of music and to analyze and dissect it in a most thorough way, to make it a vital part of his life for a relatively brief period, and then to pass on to some other challenge and to the satisfaction of some other curiosity.

Creative Cheating

Gould put these ideas into practice for the next 18 years, making over 80 recordings in which he engaged in what he called creative cheating, where multiple takesdifferent recorded versions of the same materialwere recorded, the most appropriate of these spliced together to create the perfect whole. He compared this process to the making of films, where scenes are frequently shot out of sequence and then pieced together in the editing room. Gould even imagined a time in the future when the home listener could obtain an editing kit by which his or her own ideal performance could be produced by splicing together, say, one orchestra playing the first movement of a symphony, another playing the second movement, and so on.

In a 1982 interview, reprinted in Piano Quarterly, Gould told music critic Tim Page, All the music that really interests menot just some of it, all of it-is contrapuntal musicmusic in which individual musical lines overlap. Goulds recordings displayed his facility for playing such music with remarkable clarity and accuracy. His interpretations were often controversial because he approached each piece of music from a fresh point of view, refusing to concern himself with how the piece should be played or with what other performers had done in the past. If theres any excuse at all for making a record, its to do it differently, he remarked in a 1968 interview captured on Volume 1 of The Glenn Gould Legacy, to approach the work from a totally recreative point of view... to perform this particular work as it has never been heard before. And if one cant do that, I would say, abandon it, forget about it, move on to something else.

Solitude Trilogy

Gould participated in dozens of radio and television broadcasts, mostly for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Perhaps his most important undertaking for these media was the Solitude Trilogy, a series of three docudramas he wrote and produced for CBC radio: The Idea of North, The Latecomers, and Quiet in the Land. Each of these explored the concept of isolation in various forms, the participants comments often overlapping to create a kind of counterpoint.

In addition to his roles as pianist and media figure, Gould was also a composer and writer. He wrote articles and essays throughout his life that developed his ideas about musical interpretation and analysis, the recording industry, and the electronic media, many of which were published in North American periodicals. Gould wrote a string quartet in his youth; his 1964So You Want to Write a Fugue? is a humorous piece for voices and instruments. He was also involved in creating music for films, including Slaughterhouse Five, in 1972, and The Wars, in 1982. Toward the end of his life Gould became interested in conducting; three months before his death he conducted members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in a recording of Wagners Siegfried Idyll.

Gould allowed observers to believe that his reclusive, highly controlled lifestyle was a reflection of his attempt to construct the state of wonder and serenity that was his ideal. In reality, his reclusive habits were most likely due more to Goulds high-strung and extremely sensitive temperament. Nonetheless, one can reason that by avoiding the distractions of the outside world, Gould was able to explore music and ideas in a way that would have been otherwise impossible. When listening to Goulds recordings, the listener cant help but feel that

he or she is in the presence, so to speak, of a highly original and utterly intelligent musical mind. As Nicholas Spice wrote in the London Review of Books in 1992, [Gould] delivers the music to us as someone might place in our hands a fragile and priceless object which he loved beyond anything else.

Selected compositions

String Quartet, Op. 1, 1956.

So You Want to Write a Fugue? (for four-part chorus of mixed voices with piano or string quartet accompaniment), 1964.

Also composed scores for films, including Slaughterhouse Five, 1972, and The Wars, 1982.

Selected discography

On CBS/Sony, except where noted

Bach, Goldberg Variations, 1956.

Beethoven, Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109, 1956.

Berg, Sonata, Op. 1, 1959.

Krenek, Sonata No. 3, Op. 92, No. 4, 1959.

Schoenberg, Three Piano Pieces, Op. 11, 1959.

String Quartet, Op. 1, 1960.

Brahms, Intermezzi: Op. 76, Nos. 6 and 7; Op. 116, No. 4; Op. 117, Nos. 1-3; Op. 118, Nos. 1, 2, and 6; Op. 119, No. 1, 1961.

Schoenberg, Five Piano Pieces, Op. 23, 1966.

Schoenberg, Piano Pieces, Op. 33a and b, 1966.

Scriabin, Sonata No. 3 in F-sharp minor, Op. 23, 1969.

Byrd, A Voluntary; Sixth Pavan and Galliard; First Pavan and Galliard; Hughe Astons Ground; Sellingers Round; Gibbons, Orlando. Lord of Salisbury Pavan and Galliard; Allemand, or Italian Ground; Fantasy in C Major, 1971.

The Idea of North, CBC Learning Systems, 1971.

The Latecomers, CBC Learning Systems, 1971.

Hindemith, Sonata No. 3 in B-flat Major, 1973.

A Glenn Gould Fantasy, 1980.

So You Want to Write a Fugue?, 1980.

Haydn, Selected Sonatas, 1982.

Bach, Goldberg Variations, 1982.

The Glenn Gould Legacy, Volume 1, 1984; Volume 2, 1985 Volume 3, 1986; Volume 4, 1986.

Glenn Gould the Composer, 1992.

The Art of Glenn Gould, 1992.

The Glenn Gould Edition, 1992.



Cott, Jonathan, Conversations With Glenn Gould, Little, Brown, 1984.

Friedrich, Otto, Glenn Gould: A Life and Variations, Random House, 1989.

The Glenn Gould Reader, edited by Tim Page, Knopf, 1984.

Glenn Gould Variations: By Himself and His Friends, edited by John McGreevy, Quill, 1983.

Payzant, Geoffrey, Glenn Gould: Music & Mind, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1978.


Canadian Music Journal, Fall 1956.

High Fidelity, April 1966; August 1975.

London Review of Books, March 26, 1992.

Musical America, February 1962.

New Republic, October 1, 1986; June 26, 1989.

Newsweek, October 18, 1982.

New York Times, October 5, 1982.

Piano Quarterly, Winter 1982/83; Summer 1974.

Pulse!, October 1991.

Saturday Review, December 1980.

Vanity Fair, May 1983.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from a recorded interview, Glenn Gould: Concert Dropout,The Glenn Gould Legacy, Volume 1, CBS/Sony, 1984.

Joyce Harrison

Glenn Gould

views updated Jun 11 2018

Glenn Gould

Canadian musician Glenn Gould (1932-1982) provoked much controversy with his piano interpretations, his writings on music, and his preference for recording to playing live concerts. Unlike most renowned pianists, he avoided much music of the 19th century, concentrating instead on that of the Renaissance, Baroque, and early 20th century.

Glenn Herbert Gould was born in Toronto September 25, 1932, and died in the same city October 4, 1982. He was the only child of musical parents, his father being an amateur violinist, and his mother a pianist and organist who had aspired to a musical career earlier in life and who taught him until age ten. Gould was musically precocious, though he denied having been a prodigy. He began reading music at the age of three, discovered that he had perfect pitch at around the same time, and was composing small pieces when he was five. At ten he could play the entire first book of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier.

In that year, 1942, he began studies at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (since 1947 called the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto). His teachers there included Frederick C. Silvester, organ; Leo Smith, theory; and Alberto Guerrero, piano. Guerrero, with whom he studied for ten years, was to be his only piano teacher. Gould, himself, minimized the importance of his piano lessons, but fellow pupil John Beckwith attributed Gould's position at the piano, the angle of his fingers to the keyboard, and his pure finger technique to Guerrero's teaching. To Gould, the greatest influences of his youth were the playing of Artur Schnabel, which showed a greater respect for the music than for its medium, the piano; Rosalyn Tureck, for her approach to Bach; and the organ, which he credited as the basis of both his piano technique and his interpretations of Bach. Gould composed throughout his student years, in both tonal and twelve-tone idioms. He passed his associateship exam, by which he established a professional rank, and his music theory exam in 1945 and 1946 respectively.

Years on the Concert Stage

His career as a concert performer also had its beginnings in his student years. In a Toronto Conservatory concert of June 1946 he appeared as soloist in the first movement of Beethoven's fourth piano concerto, and in January of the following year he performed the entire concerto with the Toronto Symphony under Bernard Heinze. By 1952 he had given several performances with orchestras in Toronto, Hamilton, and Vancouver; had toured the western provinces; and had given network radio performances for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). That same year he stopped his lessons with Guerrero and partially withdrew from the public eye in order to examine music more carefully and to assess his musical possibilities.

Re-emerging onto the concert stage, Gould made his American debut, playing recitals at the Phillips Gallery in Washington, D.C., on January 1, 1955, and at Town Hall in New York City ten days later. The program chosen for these recitals represented the affinity for introspective and contrapuntal writing that Gould maintained throughout his career. It consisted of music by Beethoven, Bach, Webern, Berg, Sweelinck, and Gibbons.

A contract with Columbia Records the day after his New York debut attested to the success of that performance. The first product of what would be a life-long affiliation with Columbia was a recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations in June 1955. This best-selling, highly acclaimed record catapulted Gould into the front rank of concert artists. His String Quartet No. 1, a post-Romantic work owing much to Richard Strauss, received its premier by the Montreal String Quartet in February 1956 and was subsequently recorded and published. In May 1957 he began his first tour outside of North America with several concerts in both Moscow and Leningrad. No Canadian musician had performed in the Soviet Union prior to Gould's appearance. After hearing the pianist's Berlin debut in the same month, the noted German critic H. H. Stuckenschmidt hailed him as "an absolute genius, the greatest pianist since Busoni."

End of His Concert Career

Gould continued to play concerts for the next seven years, to perform on television, and to lecture both in Canada and the United States. He also began to contribute frequently to periodicals, including High Fidelity, Saturday Review, and Piano Quarterly. Throughout these years, however, he became increasingly attracted to the recording medium, and in 1964, after an appearance in Chicago, chose to abandon the concert stage altogether in its favor. He offered several reasons for doing so: a dislike of applause and of "being demeaned like a vaudevillian;" a dislike of music suited for a large hall, especially the bravura concertos of Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, and Rachmaninoff; a reluctance to use those devices, such as rubato and exaggerated dynamics, necessary to project music in a large hall; and what he called "the none-take-twoness of public performances."

Throughout the remainder of his life Gould explored the prospects of recording. The editing process became a vital and integral part of his musical expression, and he felt that even the splicing of two distinct interpretations showed neither a lack of integrity nor necessarily interrupted the continuity of a performance. Eventually he produced his own recordings. Apart from the sound recordings, Gould became involved in film. The series Conversations with Glenn Gould, produced by the BBC in 1966, featured the pianist on four occasions discussing the music of Bach, Beethoven, Schoenberg, and Richard Strauss. For the 1972 film of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, Gould performed and arranged the music, some of which he also composed. He also wrote two radio plays, The Idea of North and The Latecomers, which employ a carefully controlled overlapping of spoken voices that Gould calls "contrapuntal radio," and which he regarded as a distinct musical genre.

Gould was certainly among the most remarkable and interesting pianists of the century. His interpretations intentionally confronted the listener with the thoroughness and originality of their conception, often achieved through such means as extreme tempos and novel articulations. Among the most convincing are those of Bach and Schoenberg, both of whom were well-served by his complete finger independence and his attention to overall design. He also championed unusual repertory, including English Renaissance composers and the little-known piano music of Sibelius and Richard Strauss. His renderings of Mozart, for whom he admitted a lack of sympathy, were often less successful.

The possessor of an astounding technique, Gould eschewed music that drew attention to technical feats of the performer or to the instrument, rather than to the piece itself. Throughout his career Gould displayed several unconventional mannerisms, among them humming audibly while playing and conducting himself whenever he had a free hand. Most agree that these were part of his musical personality and not conscious attempts to attract attention to himself.

Further Reading

Gould wrote voluminously during his career, usually in the form of record jacket notes or magazine articles, and on every subject that appealed to him. Excepting autobiographical information, which he dismissed as uninteresting, he remains the best source for his ideas. His writing is usually cogent and always spiced with wit. Three volumes of his selected writings provide perhaps the most accessible basis for study. The Glenn Gould Reader (1984), edited and with an introduction by Tim Page, contains the largest and most broadly chosen selection. Conversations with Glenn Gould (1984) contains interviews by Jonathan Colt, originally published in Rolling Stone magazine, with updated and added material. Glenn Gould Variations, By Himself and His Friends (1983), edited by John McGreevy, contains some of Gould's writings interspersed with tributes from other musical luminaries, including Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, and Yehudi Menuhin. Geoffrey Payzant's Glenn Gould, Music and Mind (Toronto, 1978) provides the most comprehensive biographical information and attempts to interpret Gould's writings and his often unorthodox opinions. Two interviews with Gould have also been recorded: At Home with Glenn Gould, by Vincent Tovell (CBC, 1959); and Glenn Gould: Concert Dropout, by John McClure (Columbia BS 15, 1968). □

Gould, Glenn (Herbert)

views updated Jun 08 2018

Gould, Glenn (Herbert)

Gould, Glenn (Herbert), remarkable and individualistic Canadian pianist; b. Toronto, Sept. 25, 1932;d. there, Oct. 4, 1982. His parents were musically gifted and fostered his precocious development, and he began to play piano, and even compose, in his childhood. At the age of 10, he entered the Royal Cons, of Music in Toronto, where he studied piano with Alberto Guerrero, organ with Frederick C. Silvester, and theory with Leo Smith, graduating in 1945 at the age of 13. He made his debut in Toronto on May 8, 1946. As he began practicing with total concentration on the mechanism of the keyboard, he developed mannerisms that were to become his artistic signature. He reduced the use of the pedal to a minimum in order to avoid harmonic “haze”; he cultivated “horizontality” in his piano posture, bringing his head down almost to the level of the keys. He regarded music as a linear art; this naturally led him to an intense examination of Baroque structures; Bach was the subject of his close study rather than Chopin; he also cultivated performances of Sweelinck, Gibbons, and other early keyboard masters. He played Mozart with emphasis on the early pianoforte techniques; he largely omitted the Romantic composers Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt from his repertoire, although he favored an early sonata by Richard Strauss. He found the late sonatas of Beethoven more congenial to his temperament, as well as the piano works of the modern Vienna school—Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern—perhaps because of their classical avoidance of purely decorative tonal formations. Actually, his selective but challenging repertoire ranged widely, from the 16th century to jazz. Following his U.S. debut in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 2, 1955, he evoked unequivocal praise at his concerts, but in 1964 he abruptly terminated his stage career and devoted himself exclusively to recording. This enabled him to perform unfettered by the presence of an audience and to select the best portions of the music he played in the studio, forming a mosaic unblemished by accidental mishaps. Certainly part of the interest he aroused with the public at large was due to mannerisms that marked his behavior on the stage. He used a 14-inch-high chair that placed his eyes almost at the level of the keyboard; he adopted informal dress; he had a rug put under the piano and a glass of distilled water within easy reach. He was in constant fear of bodily injury; he avoided shaking hands with the conductor after playing a concerto (he actually sued the Steinway piano company for a large sum of money when an enthusiastic representative shook his hand too vigorously). He also had an unshakable habit of singing along with his performance, even allowing his voice to be audible on his carefully wrought, lapidary recordings. Nonetheless, Gould acquired a devoted following, and a small coterie of friends, despite the fact that he was quite reclusive; he found release from his self-imposed isolation in editing a series of radio documentaries for the CBC, entitled “The Idea of North,” three of which aired as “solitude tragedies.” Symbolically, they were devoted to the natural isolation of the Canadian Arctic, the insular life of Newfoundland, and the religious hermetism of the Mennonite sect. Fittingly, upon his death in 1982, 7 days after a stroke from which he never recovered, it was learned that Gould had bequeathed his estate in equal portions to the A.S.P.C.A. (Assn. for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and to the Salvation Army. In 1994 his life became the subject of a successful film, Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould. He was also made the invisible protagonist of Thomas Bernhart’s immensely entertaining novel, The Loser. A selection of his writings is contained in T. Page, ed., The Glenn Gould Reader (N.Y., 1985). J. Roberts andG. Guertin ed. a selection of his letters (Oxford, 1992).


G. Paysant, G. G.: Music and Mind (Toronto, 1978; rev. ed., 1992); J. Cott, Conversations with G. G. (Boston, 1984); W. Matheis, G. G.: Der Unheilige am Klavier (Munich, 1987); O. Friedrich, G. G.: A Life and Variations (N.Y., 1989); A. Kazdin, G.G. at Work: Creative Lying (N.Y., 1989); J. Hagestedt, Wie spielt G.G.?: Zu einer Theorie der Interpretation (Munich, 1991); E. Angilette, Philosopher at the Keyboard: G. G. (Metuchen, N.J., 1992); M. Stegemann, G. G.: Leben und Werk (Munich, 1992); S. HamelMichaud, G. G., mon bel et tendre amour (Quebec, 1995); K. Bazzana, G. G.: The Performer in the Work: A Study in Performance Practice (Oxford, 1997); P. Ostwald, G. G.: The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Genius (N.Y., 1997).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Gould, Glenn (Herbert)

views updated Jun 11 2018

Gould, Glenn (Herbert) (b Toronto, 1932; d Toronto, 1982). Canadian pianist, composer, and writer. Début Toronto at age of 14 in Beethoven's 4th pf. conc; Washington DC and NY 1955, Eur. tour 1957, London 1958. Salzburg Fest. début 1958. Toured USSR. Exceptionally wide repertory, from 16th-cent. kbd. works to jazz. Highly idiosyncratic performer with mannerisms to match. In 1964 gave up public perf. in favour of recordings. Recorded complete cycle of Schoenberg. Brilliant and controversial writer whose essays were pubd. in The Glenn Gould Reader (1985).

Gould, Glenn

views updated May 18 2018

Gould, Glenn (1932–82) Canadian pianist and composer. Gould is chiefly celebrated for his interpretations of J. S. Bach and Beethoven. His first string quartet premiered in 1956.