Glenn Gould is known as a conductor, a virtuoso pianist, click here to find the best digital piano on the market, and organ player from Canada. Glenn Herbert Gould was born in Toronto on September 25th, 1932 into a musical family. At three years of age after his family discovered that he had a passion for playing music and a perfect pitch, he started taking piano lessons with his mother.
He was immediately considered a child prodigy. At five, he started composing music and he started playing his creations for close friends and family members. One year later, at six, his family took him to see Josef Hofmann’s last appearance in his home town, Toronto. This event had an important significance for young Gould who became fascinated by the idea of performing.
One vital relationship that Gould developed as a child was his friendship with Robert Fulford, the Canadian writer. Later on, Fulford commented that, even as a child, the young pianist and composer stood out as somebody who had a clear understanding of who he was as a person and of who he wanted to become.
At ten, Glenn Gould started taking piano lessons with Alberto Guerrero at the Royal Conservatory of Music. He also took organ lessons under Frederick C. Silvester. In 1944, he competed in the annual Kiwanis Music Festival and he won first place. He was 12 years old at the time.
One year later, he took and passed the associateship examination at the Royal Conservatory. At 14, he passed his theory examination with honors. Gould continued taking piano lessons with Alberto Guerrero until 1952.
As a teenager, he took inspiration from Artur Schnabel, Leopold Stokowski, and Rosalyn Tureck. His first organ performance came in 1945 and, in 1946, he made his debut with the Royal Conservatory orchestra as a soloist. He gave his first public recital as a pianist in 1947 and in 1950 he had his first radio recital for the CBC.
After his debut in NYC, he signed a contract with Columbia Masterworks. His recording, Goldberg Variations by Bach, was acclaimed by the critics and it soon became a bestseller. Many argued that this was the event that propelled him as an international artist.
In 1957, Gould embarked on his first European tour. He became the first Canadian to perform in the URSS during the Cold War. In 1960, he made his first appearance on American TV. By now, he was regarded as a virtuoso pianist by the Canadian television.
In the 60s, he continued to tour America and, in 1964, he retired. His decision to stop performing had a lot to do with the challenges that life on the road as a musician implied. He continued making and recording music in the studio. His repertoire included Beethoven, Bach, and Schoenberg.
In the 70s, he started creating documentaries about famous musicians such as Leopold Stokowski, Pablo Casals, Arnold Schoenberg, and Richard Strauss. He also produced a series called Telescope, and he created several other productions such as Music in Our Time, The Well-Tempered Listener and a documentary called Glenn Gould’s Toronto.
In his 50’s Gould decided to focus on training as a conductor. In 1982, he made a recording of him conducting Wagner’s Siegfried-Idyll. Even though he planned on devoting himself to composing and writing, his plans remained incomplete. On the 27th of September 1982, at 50, he had a massive stroke and he died a month later, on the 4th of October.
Originality is the word that best describes Gould’s style. His recordings and interpretations are somewhat shocking and very personal. In the choices that he made, he sought to bring attention to composers often forgotten such as Jean Sibelius, George Bizet or Edvard Grieg.
His piano style was modern, refined and deeply rhythmic. In the works that he put forward; it is easy to identify the fresh perspectives that he invented. As expected, his eccentricity was met with both positive and critical reviews.
Throughout his life, Gould had a number of love affairs that, at the time, remained hidden. For instance, he had a 5-year long affair with Cornelia Foss, the wife of composer Lukas Foss. Cornelia left her husband and moved with their children to Toronto, to live with Gould.
In part, some of his eccentric behavior was explained as a result of a possible illness that Gould had. Even though it was not confirmed, some specialists have argued that the composer suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome.
He was a man of many unusual habits. For example, he would always dress in layers and used to wear gloves at all times. Gould was also obsessed with his heath, took many medications and liked to limit his contact with many people.
While he played the piano, he enjoyed humming, vocalizing and even swaying his torso. Once again, critics were often vocal about his mannerisms.
He detested being touched and was afraid of catching colds. This is why he often wore very warm clothes. One time, he was arrested in Florida while he was sitting on a bench in the park after being mistaken for a vagrant.
In his broadcast work, he often assumed numerous alter egos. Some of the best-known ones are musicologist Karlheinz Klopweisser, American critic Theodore Slutz and the conductor Sir Nigel Twitt-Thornwaite.
To honor Glenn Gould after his death, the University of Toronto created the Glenn Gould Memorial Scholarship Fund. Also, the Royal Conservatory of Music started a special school named in his honor.
Many universities offer college courses that are devoted to him both in the USA and in Canada. In Toronto, there is a park that is dedicated to him. The house in which he grew up was also declared a historic site.
Today, Gould still has numerous fans. There are plenty of forum discussions devoted to him on the Internet and he is ranked as one of the most important Canadians that have ever lived.
Given the impressive legacy that he has left behind, it could be argued that he achieved a level of recognition that is very rare in the case of classical musicians. Even today, decades after his passing, Gould is still a figure that fascinates and entertains.
Gould was an erratic driver. In 1958 he even ended up in court in Ontario after sliding into a truck. He is also quoted as describing himself as an absent-minded driver.
As we have mentioned before, the pianist was a hypochondriac. This disease also influenced his eating habits. The only restaurant that he frequented in Toronto was called Fran’s Restaurant. Some argue that he chose it because of its location, as it was closed both to his home and the recording studio where he worked.
He was an animal-lover. As a child, he was very close to the two dogs that his family kept as pets, Sir Nickolson of Garelocheed and Banquo.
In an article from 1976, he praised Barbra Streisand’s voice by calling it “one of the natural wonders of the age”.
After his first public performance on the organ, in 1945, the review dedicated to his performance appeared under the name “Boy, age 12, Shows Genius As Organist.”
In 1983, one year after his death, the Glenn Gould Foundation in Toronto was established in an attempt to honor his work and to preserve his memory.
He was posthumously introduced into the Grammy Hall of Fame for his recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Throughout his life, he only had two piano teachers, his mother, and Alberto Guerrero, his mentor from the Royal Conservatory of Music.
He gave his last public concert in 1964, in Los Angeles, at the prestigious Wilshire Ebell Theatre.
A substantial amount of his estate was willed to the Toronto Humane Society.
His famous chair that was customized by the composer’s father was displayed at the Toronto Humane Society until 2005. Since 2012, the chair has been on display at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
From 1960 to 1981, he made most of his recordings on a 1943 Steinway grand piano. Today the piano is currently displayed at the National Arts Centre.
His writings have also been published after his death and they have been translated into many languages.
Glenn Gould has inspired numerous works by artists such as Christos Hatzis and Alexina Louie just to name a few.
Today, his recordings still sell in impressive numbers. In fact, many of his recordings sell better today than they did when he was still alive.