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Glenn Gould Biography,Career,Personal Life and Death

Glenn Gould Biography

Glenn Gould was born in Toronto in 1932, and enjoyed a privileged, sheltered upbringing in the quiet Beach neighborhood.He was born to his parents Russell Herbert Gold and Florence Emma Gold ,Presbyterians of Scottish and English ancestry.His maternal grandfather was a cousin of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg . The family’s surname was changed to Gould informally around 1939 in order to avoid being mistaken for Jewish, given the prevailing anti-Semitism of prewar Toronto and the Gold surname’s Jewish association.Gould had no Jewish ancestry, though he sometimes made jokes on the subject, like “When people ask me if I’m Jewish, I always tell them that I was Jewish during the war.” Gould grew up in a home at 32 Southwood Drive, Toronto. His childhood home has been named a historic site by the City of Toronto.

Glenn Gould Career

A pampered only child, Gould demonstrated his remarkable talents quite early and in 1943 entered the Toronto Conservatory of Music, where he quickly came to the attention of its director, Sir Ernest MacMillan. On MacMillan’s recommendation, Gould was taken on as a student by the Chilean-born pedagogue Alberto Guerrero, whose own style was partly the basis for Gould’s own sensitive touch. Gould once described Guerrero’s keyboard technique as not so much striking the keys as “pulling them down.” The other influence on Gould’s technique was his experience playing the organ, wherein the tracker action is particularly responsive to variations in finger pressure.

At the age of 16,Gould made his debut , playing Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto in Toronto. He followed this victory with tours across Canada and frequent broadcast performances over the CBC, introducing him to the studio enviroment which would remain a focus of his life thereafter. Gould leaped into international acclaim, in fact, through a studio production: his now-legendary 1955 Columbia Masterworks recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. This recording, which has never been out of print in the 50 years since its first release, established Gould as a performer who combined penetrating insight (his Goldberg Variations was nothing short of a complete rethinking of the piece) and artistic daring with daunting technical prowess.

Gould’s immediate fame brought international demand, and he responded with worldwide concert appearances; he met these with considerable reluctance, however, and quickly gained a reputation for last-minute cancellations. His dislike of performing in public, of being “looked at” by audiences, allowed a natural tendency of hypochondria to blossom (it was a convenient cancellation excuse), and he soon became the habitue of specialists ranging from chiropractors to psychiatrists. Long before quitting the stage forever, Gould had made frequent threats to do so, so that his 1964 decision was no surprise to those who knew him.

Though he never became the significant composer that he longed to be, Gould channeled his creativity into other media. In 1967, he created his first “contrapuntal radio documentary,” The Idea of North, an innovative tapestry of speaking voices, music and sound effects that drew on principles from documentary, drama, music and film. Over the next decade, he made six more such specimens of radio art, in addition to many other, more conventional, recitals and talk-and-play shows for radio and television. He also arranged music for two feature films. He recorded in New York until 1970, when he began to record primarily at Eaton Auditorium in Toronto.

In the summer of 1982, having largely exhausted the piano literature that interested him, he made his first recording as a conductor, and he had ambitious plans for several years’ worth of conducting projects; he planned then to give up performing, retire to the countryside, and devote himself to writing and composing.

Glenn Gould Performances

Gould played in public for the first time at a church service held at the Business Men’s Bible Class in Uxbridge, Ontario to a congregation of about two thousand people in June 5, 1938. At the age of thirteen in 1945, , he made his first appearance with an orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, in a performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto. His first solo recital followed in 1947, and his first recital on radio was with the CBC in 1950. This was the beginning of his long association with radio and recording. He founded the Festival Trio chamber group in 1953 with the cellist Isaac Mamott and the violinist Albert Pratz.

In 1957, Gould embarked on a tour of the Soviet Union, becoming the first North American to play there since World War II. His concerts featured Bach, Beethoven, and the serial music of Schoenberg and Berg, which had been suppressed in the Soviet Union during the era of Socialist Realism. Gould made his Boston debut in 1958, playing for the Peabody Mason Concert Series. On 31 January 1960, Gould made his American television debut on CBS’s Ford Presents series, performing Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor (BWV 1052) with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic.

Gould was convinced that the institution of the public concert was not only an anachronism, but also a “force of evil”, leading to his retirement from concert performance. He argued that public performance devolved into a sort of competition, with a non-empathetic audience (musically and otherwise) mostly attendant to the possibility of the performer erring or not meeting critical expectation. This doctrine he set forth, only half in jest, in “GPAADAK”, the Gould Plan for the Abolition of Applause and Demonstrations of All Kinds.

On 10 April 1964, Gould gave his last public performance, playing in Los Angeles, at the Wilshire Ebell Theater. Among the pieces he performed that night were Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30, selections from Bach’s The Art of Fugue, and Paul Hindemith’s Piano Sonata No. 3.Gould performed fewer than 200 concerts over the course of his career, of which fewer than 40 were overseas. For pianists such as Van Cliburn, 200 concerts would have amounted to about two years’ touring.

One of Gould’s reasons for abandoning live performance was his aesthetic preference for the recording studio, where, in his words, he developed a “love affair with the microphone”. There, he could control every aspect of the final musical “product” by selecting parts of various takes. He felt that he could realize a musical score more fully this way. Thus, the act of musical composition, to Gould, did not entirely end with the original score. The performer had to make creative choices. Gould felt strongly that there was little point in re-recording centuries-old pieces if the performer had no new perspective to bring to the work. For the rest of his life, Gould eschewed live performance, focusing instead on recording, writing, and broadcasting.

Glenn Gould Legacy and Hounors

Gould is one of the most acclaimed 20th-century classical musicians. His unique pianistic method, insight into the architecture of compositions, and relatively free interpretation of scores created performances and recordings that were revelatory to many listeners while highly objectionable to others. Philosopher Mark Kingwell writes that “his influence is made inescapable. No performer after him can avoid the example he sets… Now, everyone must perform through him: he can be emulated or rejected, but he cannot be ignored.”

Gould left an extensive body of work beyond the keyboard. After his retirement from concert performance, he was increasingly interested in other media, including audio and film documentary and writing, through which he mused on aesthetics, composition, music history, and the effect of the electronic age on the consumption of media. Anthologies of his writing and letters have been published.Library and Archives Canada retains a significant portion of Gould’s work called The Glenn Gould Archive.

One of Gould’s performances of the Prelude and Fugue in C major from Book II of The Well-Tempered Clavier was chosen for inclusion on the NASA Voyager Golden Record by a committee headed by Carl Sagan. The disc of recordings was placed on the spacecraft Voyager 1, which is now approaching interstellar space and is the farthest man-made object from Earth.

Gould is a popular subject of biography and even critical analysis. Philosophers such as Giorgio Agamben and Mark Kingwell have interpreted Gould’s life and ideas. References to Gould and his work are plentiful in poetry, fiction, and the visual arts. François Girard’s Genie Award winning 1993 film, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould includes documentary interviews with people who knew him, dramatizations of scenes from Gould’s life, and fanciful segments including an animation set to music. Thomas Bernhard’s renowned 1983 novel The Loser (Der Untergeher) purports to be an extended first-person essay about Gould and his lifelong friendship with two fellow students from the Mozarteum school in Salzburg, both of whom have abandoned their careers as concert pianists due to the intimidating example of Gould’s genius.

Glenn Gould Photo

Glenn Gould Photo

Glenn Gould Personal Life

Gould lived a quiet, solitary, spartan life, and guarded his privacy; his romantic relationships with women, for instance, were never made public. (“Isolation is the one sure way to human happiness.”) He maintained a modest apartment and a small studio, and left Toronto only when work demanded it, or for an occasional rural holiday.

Glenn Gould Death

Gould suffered many pains and ailments, though he was something of a hypochondriac , and his autopsy revealed few underlying problems in areas that often troubled him. He was highly concerned about his health throughout his life, worrying about everything from high blood pressure to the safety of his hands. As mentioned above, early in his life Gould had suffered a spine injury. His physicians prescribed, usually independently, an assortment of analgesics, anxiolytics, and other drugs. Bazzana has speculated that Gould’s increasing use of a variety of prescription medicines over his career may have had a deleterious effect on his health. It reached the stage, Bazzana writes, that “he was taking pills to counteract the side effects of other pills, creating a cycle of dependency”.

On 27 September 1982, just two days after his 50th birthday, after experiencing a severe headache, Gould suffered a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body. He was admitted to Toronto General Hospital and his condition rapidly deteriorated. By 4 October, there was evidence of brain damage, and Gould’s father decided that his son should be taken off life support. Gould’s public funeral was held in St. Paul’s Anglican Church on 15 October with Lois Marshall and Maureen Forrester, a service attended by over 3,000 people and broadcast on CBC. He is buried next to his parents in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery . The first few bars of the Goldberg Variations are carved on his marker. According to the Glenn Gould Foundation, the cemetery staff are often asked for directions to his grave.

Glenn Gould Video


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