"IT WAS a hot day in June. He was wearing a heavy coat, a muffler, gloves, and a beret. He brought the very famous chair of his. While recording, he sang to the piano intoxicated with his music, swaying his body back and forth as if he were dancing or conducting. The recording engineers of CBS had to work hard to exclude his voice from the recordings.”
This is a famous anecdote about Glenn Gould (1932~1982), who appeared at the studio in 1955 to record Bach's Goldberg Variations, which is his masterpiece. Glenn Gould. He was an outstanding pianist, regarded as the most controversial artist of the twentieth century.
Gould in childhood
Glenn Gould was born in Toronto, Canada in 1932 into a musical family: his father was an amateur violinist and his mother played piano and organ. When he was three years old, it was already evident that he possessed exceptional musical aptitude, including perfect pitch and the ability to read staff notation. Reflecting on the past, Robert Fulford, a distinguished Canadian author who was a friend of his, 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.”
Artur Schnabel was a significant influence upon the teenage Gould. “The piano was a means to an end for him, and the end was to approach Beethoven,” said Gould. Maybe his end was to approach Bach, who was his favorite musician.
Glenn Gould style
Glenn Gould’s first disc, J. S. Bach Goldberg Variations, brought him international attention and remained his most popular record ever. It was the first variation with a piano, distinguished from others which were usually played with a harpsichord. He was able to gain strong popularity because he interpreted the variations, which were regarded originally as boring and dull music like a lullaby.
In this way, Gould sought fresh perspectives on other piano works through extreme tempos, quirky phrasing and ornamentation, and various interpretive experiments. Consequently, many pianists have acknowledged a debt to Gould's simple, refined, structurally clear, contrapuntal style, and to the creative freedom he demanded as an interpreter. His example encouraged later pianists to explore outside the standard piano repertoire.
Peculiar aspects of Gould
Gould, on the other hand, was renowned for his eccentricities. Gould usually hummed while he played the piano, which was sometimes criticized as “intolerable groans and croons” by some reviewers. He played the piano only using the chair which his father had made him, even though it was completely worn through. Also, he always wore heavy clothing, including gloves, even in warm places.
What is more, Gould hated his audience. He said that the more the audience knows about music, the more desire they have to criticize the performance. Because of this reason, Gould disliked performing on stage, saying, "At live concerts I feel demeaned, like a vaudevillian."
Passion for other artistic careers
Gould finished his career as a pianist on April 10th, 1964. He retired earlier than other pianists, because he thought his performance as a pianist distracted him from realizing his other interests. He was equally committed to writing, broadcasting, composing, conducting, and experimenting with technology. After he got accustomed to broadcasting technology, he made three radio programs for himself, called the Solitude Trilogy. They reflect Glenn Gould’s longing for northern Canada, which, to him, represented solitude, independence, courage, elusiveness, spirituality, and peace. These trials show that he always thought of solitude as a helpful factor when creating his works.
Glenn Gould is an artist still in dispute. Some praise him highly, others criticize him because of his eccentricities and limited repertoire. There is one thing on which everyone agrees, however: there has been no one in the world who expresses that much “freedom” with the piano, besides him.