In January 1955, Gould made his American debut, with recitals in Washington and New York. His unorthodox program (Gibbons, Sweelinck, Bach, late Beethoven, Berg, Webern), distinctive piano style, idiosyncratic interpretations and unusual stage manner marked him as an iconoclast. The day after his New York debut, he signed with Columbia Records, for whom he recorded exclusively for the rest of his life. His first album, of Bach's Goldberg Variations, released in 1956, was a critical and popular success, and brought him international attention. For the next 9 years he toured throughout North America, and between 1957 and 1959 he made 3 overseas tours, playing in the USSR, Western Europe, Israel and England, earning acclaim and arousing controversy wherever he appeared.
Broadcasts and Compositions
Despite his success, Gould harboured temperamental, moral and musical objections to the concert medium. In 1964, he retired from public performance to become an outspoken champion of the electronic media - recording, broadcasting and film-making. He made scores of albums, and acquired hands-on insight into the recording process. He made countless radio and television programs for the CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION, including conventional recitals, talk-and-play shows on particular themes, and documentaries. In the 1960s and 70s, he made 7 innovative "contrapuntal radio documentaries" - evocative tapestries of sound that blended elements of documentary, drama, and musical composition. Four were portraits of musicians he admired, the others a fascinating "Solitude Trilogy" about people living in isolation: The Idea of North (1967); The Latecomers (1969), about Newfoundland; and The Quiet in the Land (1977), about the Mennonites of Manitoba. Gould also made programs for the BBC (Conversations with Glenn Gould, 1966), for French television (Chemins de la musique, 1974), and for a German-Canadian co-production (Glenn Gould Plays Bach, 1979-81).
Gould was prolific as a writer, especially after 1964; he explored many musical and non-musical topics in record-liner notes, periodical articles and reviews, scripts for broadcasts and films, interviews, and, in the early 1960s, a few public lectures. He composed from childhood on, particularly in his teens, when he wrote keyboard works and a bassoon sonata. His only major work is the one-movement String Quartet, Opus 1, composed 1953-5, published and recorded. He longed to be a composer, but after the quartet he completed only a few humorous occasional pieces. He arranged music for two feature films: Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) and The Wars (1982).
Gould was one of the most unconventional classical musicians of his day. His repertoire was highly selective: he played few of the early-Romantic and impressionistic works at the core of the piano repertoire, preferring Baroque, Classical, late-Romantic and early 20th-century music, mostly by Austro-German composers; he also played Elizabethan music, transcriptions, and a few works by Canadians. He played Bach and Schoenberg, the composers most central to his repertoire and aesthetic, with particular authority. He upset many conventions of piano-playing, as with his fondness for detached articulation, but he was widely admired for his virtuosity, probing intellect, command of musical architecture, rhythmic dynamism, precise fingerwork and extreme clarity of counterpoint. Believing that the performer's role was properly creative, Gould offered original, deeply personal, sometimes shocking interpretations (extreme tempos, odd dynamics and phrasing) that have always been controversial, particularly in popular works by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. From the beginning of his career, moreover, his eccentric personality, public and private, provoked much colourful publicity.
By age 50, Gould's attention was turning away from the piano and toward conducting. In 1982, he made a chamber-orchestra recording of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, and he had ambitious plans for future conducting projects, some to be associated with films. He spoke of eventually giving up performance entirely, retiring to the countryside and devoting himself to writing and composing. But on 27 September 1982, shortly after the release of a new recording of the Goldberg Variations, he suffered a massive stroke.
Since his death, Gould's reputation has continued to grow, making him one of Canada's most important cultural figures, and one of the world's most admired and studied musicians. His writings, interviews and letters have been collected and have appeared in translations. In 1992, Sony Classical began releasing his live and studio recordings, films and broadcasts in 2 comprehensive series: the Glenn Gould Edition, on CD (8 volumes, more than 70 CDs); and the Glenn Gould Collection, on videotape and laserdisc (16 hour-long volumes). Since 1992, CBC Records has released his "Solitude Trilogy" and some of his early broadcast performances. In 1995, the German music publisher Schott undertook an edition of his compositions and arrangements.
Gould has posthumously been the subject of a large and diverse literature, not only in English: many publications in French, German, Italian, Japanese, and other languages reveal a passionate international following. Countless radio and television broadcasts have been devoted to him, and he has inspired novels, plays, musical compositions and arrangements, poems, visual art and the Canadian feature film Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993). Whole conferences have been devoted to Gould - 2 in Toronto (1992 and 1999), others in Montréal (1987), Amsterdam (1988) and Groningen, The Netherlands (1992) - and there have been many exhibitions, film festivals and other Gould events around the world. A Glenn Gould Society was based in Groningen from 1982 to 1992, and published a semiannual Bulletin. A Glenn Gould Foundation was created in Toronto in 1983; since 1987 it has awarded a triennial Glenn Gould Prize in music and communications, and in 1995 it formed an international Friends of Glenn Gould society, with its own semiannual journal, Glenn Gould. Gould's personal archive is housed in the Music Division of the NATIONAL LIBRARY OF CANADA, in Ottawa.
During his lifetime, Gould received many honours, including the Harriet Cohen Bach Medal (1959); a doctorate from the University of Toronto (1964); the Canada Council's MOLSON PRIZE (1968); the Canadian Conference of the Arts' Diplôme d'honneur (1976); and the Canadian Music Council Award (1981). Posthumously, he has received awards and tributes of many kinds, from cultural institutions and from every level of government.
See also TORONTO FEATURE: THE EATON AUDITORIUM.
Author KEVIN BAZZANA
John McGreevy, ed, Glenn Gould: Variations (1983);Geoffrey Payzant, Glenn Gould: Music and Mind (1984); Tim Page, ed, The Glenn Gould Reader (1984); Jonathan Cott, Conversations with Glenn Gould (1984); Otto Friedrich, Glenn Gould: A Life and Variations (1989); Nancy Canning, A Glenn Gould Catalog (1992); Andrew Kazdin, Glenn Gould at Work: Creative Lying (1992); John P. L. Roberts & Ghyslaine Guertin, eds, Glenn Gould: Selected Letters (1992); Peter Ostwald, Glenn Gould: The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Genius (1997); Kevin Bazzana, Glenn Gould: The Performer in the Work (1997); John P. L. Roberts, ed, The Art of Glenn Gould (1999).
Links to Other Sites
An informative website about the life and music of Glenn Gould. Features his biography, discography, photos, timeline, and more. From Sony BMG Music Entertainment.
Canadian Music Hall of Fame
The website for the Canadian Music Hall of Fame from the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS).
Glenn Gould Archive
An online collection of archival material about celebrated musician Glenn Gould. Includes audio clips of interviews, discussions, photos, writings, and more. From Library and Archives Canada.
Conservatory Experts Discuss Glenn Gould at the Grammys
A blog post about Glenn Gould's posthumous 2013 GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award. With links to related articles from The Star newspaper. From The Royal Conservatory website.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Glenn Gould
Renowned pianist Lang Lang pays tribute to Glenn Gould and his legendary recordings of the music of Bach and other great composers. From the website for the GRAMMY Awards.
Glenn Gould: Variations on an Artist
See CBC's collection of audio and visual clips featuring the masterful musician Glenn Gould.
'So You Want to Write a Fugue?' for Four Voices and String Quartet
Listen to an audio clip of Glenn Gould performing his composition 'So You Want to Write a Fugue?' for Four Voices and String Quartet. Also features Anita Darian, Boris Brott, Charles Bressler, Donald Gramm, Elizabeth Benson-Guy, the Juilliard String Quartet, Symphonia Quartet, and Vladimir Golschmann. From iTunes.
String Quartet Opus 1
View a video featuring a performance of Glenn Gould's only major composition: his String Quartet Opus 1. From YouTube.
Click on the brief profiles of "extraordinary Canadians" and the authors who wrote about them in this Penguin Group (Canada) series. Also includes bios of artists who created the cover art for each book.
CBC: Glenn Gould
This website is home to the CBC's vast multimedia collection about esteemed Canadian composer Glenn Gould.
View brief videos from a television series profiling some of Canada's most distinguished Canadians. Click on "Older Posts" at the bottom of the page to see additional videos.