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As Close as You Can Get? Glenn Gould Seeking the Ordinary in the Eccentric

Many are names of things we hold dear. An enigmatic musical poet, world- renowned pianist Glenn Gould continues to captivate years after his untimely death in 1982. Gould followed his sensational 1955 New York City concert debut at the age of 22, by taking his talent to the Soviet Union and became an equally prodigious star there, in the midst of the Cold War. But, after a decade-long thriving international career, he defied the critics and shocked and disappointed his fans by leaving the concert circuit completely.

As we know Gould became famous for his radical interpretations of the work of classical composers, especially Bach. He was a strange mix of a man, completely immersed in his music, handsome, charming, but an isolate. His complex recording technologies, including overdubbing, were unprecedented and his inimitable music and writing reveal a world view that we are still unraveling.

In 2010 the documentary Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould was presented and became yet another attempt to describe the iconic musician. With comments from the very few people who knew him well, as well as from one of the great loves of his life Cornelia Foss and her children, the documentary paints a portrait of a man of prodigious and meticulous talent who may have hankered after intimacy but found it difficult to achieve in any long term. Genius Within has been fairly conventionally constructed, it’s blessed by the exhaustive documentation of Gould’s life while he was alive. But it nevertheless makes this troubled but talented man live again, it’s actually very touching and gives insight into what made his music so extraordinary.

This look at his life weaves together never-before-seen footage of Gould, excerpts from his private home recordings and diaries, plus personal interviews with Gould’s most intimate friends and lovers to reconstruct his thoughts on music, art, society, love, and life.

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould


Gould’s Favourite Piece but not his Favourite Piano

In Katie Hafner´s recent book; A Romance on Three Legs – Glenn Goulds Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano (2008), the author has avoided well known and often exaggerated stories concerning Gould´s eccentricity. Instead, she focuses on Gould´s musical perfectionism, which was, of course, also quite eccentric.
The main characters in the book are Gould, the Steinway grand of his choice—instrument number CD 318—and his piano technician Verne Edquist. When it was in transport at one point in 1971, this grand piano was subject to a terrible collision and could never be properly restored.
Therefore, ironically, neither of the two Gould recordings of J.S. Bach´s Goldberg Variations (1955 and 1981) were made on Gould´s favourite instrument.

The Aria is played here on a Yamaha grand, shortly before Gould´s death in October 1982.

Glenn Gould´s contribution to to the world of Bach performance was rich and complex.
In addition to adding to the incipient popularity of original instrumental ancient music movement in the 1960s and 70s, Gould´s interpretations taught us about the potential of articulation and tempo (never indicated in Bach’s scores).

In this Aria, Gould uses a slower tempo than usual, giving an improvisational basis for the theme with time to experience both the importance of articulation, baroque decorations and the free, singing melody in a slowly moving harmonic context.
His experiments with time and musical meter truly changed our ideas of how to play Bach.


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