Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould
“At concerts I feel demeaned, like a vaudevillian.”
“Isolation is the one sure way to human happiness.” – Glenn Gould

“That nut’s a genius. There is nobody quite like him, and I just love playing with him.” – Leonard Bernstein

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould
Airing on WOSU TV:
12/27 at 9:00pm WOSU TV
12/28 at 1:00am WOSU TV
12/28 at 9:00pm WOSU PLUS

Glenn Gould’s musical proclivities, piano style and independence of mind marked him as a maverick. Favoring structurally intricate music, he disdained the early-Romantic and impressionistic works at the core of the standard piano repertoire, preferring Elizabethan, Baroque, Classical, late-Romantic and early-twentieth-century music; Bach and Schoenberg were central to his aesthetic and repertoire.

He had the technique and tonal palette of a virtuoso, though he upset many pianistic conventions – avoiding the sustaining pedal, using détaché articulation, for example. Believing that the performer’s role was properly creative, he offered original, deeply personal, sometimes shocking interpretations (extreme tempos, odd dynamics, finicky phrasing), particularly in canonical works by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms.

Gould’s American début, in 1955, and the release, a year later, of his first Columbia recording, of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, launched his international concert career. He earned widespread acclaim despite his musical idiosyncrasies, while his flamboyant stage mannerisms, as well as his hypochondria and other personal eccentricities, fueled colorful publicity that heightened his celebrity. But he hated performing. In 1964, he permanently retired from concert life.

His retirement was also fueled by his devotion to the electronic media. Gould was one of the first truly modern classical performers, for whom recording and broadcasting were not adjuncts to the concert hall but separate art forms that represented the future of music. He made scores of albums, steadily expanding his repertoire and developing a professional engineer’s command of recording techniques.

Watch the full episode. See more American Masters.

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 was averse to cold, and wore heavy clothing (including gloves), even in warm places. 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.

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.”

– Scott