Glenn Gould was considered a prodigy, and one of the finest pianists of the 21st century. He started reading music at the tender age of three, and his mother taught him how to play the piano until he was 10 years old. In 50 short years, Gould immersed himself in the recording studio, playing at concerts, writing, broadcasting, composing, conducting, and experimenting with recording technology.
Name: Glenn Gould
Birth Date: September 25, 1932 – October 4, 1982
Job Functions: Pianist
Fields: Music & Entertainment
- Learned respect for the music and not the medium from Artur Schnabel.
- Learned how to approach Bach from Rosalyn Tureck.
Glenn Gould’s Steps to Success
- Both of Glenn Gould’s parents were musically inclined: His father was an amateur violinist, and his mother was a pianist and organist.
- Began reading music at the age of three, and discovered that he had perfect pitch, and by the time he was five, he was composing small pieces.
- At 10 years old, he could play the entire first book of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier (The Glenn Gould Edition – Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I,
The Glenn Gould Edition – Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II ).
- At age 10, in 1942, he began studying at the Toronto Conservatory of Music now known as the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto, where he studied piano with Alberto Guerrero, organ with Frederick C. Silvester, and music theory with Leo Smith. Guerrero taught his students a technique which involved minimal effort: “Hold one hand in a relaxed position on the keyboard, lightly touching the keys. With the other hand, the student would tap a fingertip enough to depress the desired key. The mechanical action of the key springing up would lift the finger back into place.” NYT, Sept. 26, 2010.
- Composed while he was still a student in tonal and twelve-tone idioms – appeared as soloist in the first movement of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto, and in January of the following year he performed the entire concerto with the Toronto Symphony under Bernard Heinze. He passed his associateship exam in 1945 and music theory in 1946.
- By 1952, he had given several performances with orchestras in Toronto, Hamilton, and Vancouver, and was the first pianist to be televised by a Canadian network (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).
- That same year, he stopped his piano lessons with Alberto Guerrero and took time off from performing to evaluate his musical abilities. Three years later, he emerged with his first performance in the USA, playing recitals in Washington, DC on January 1, 1955. Ten days later, on January 11th, he performed in New York City at the Town Hall.
- A day after he performed in New York City, Columbia Records gave Gould an exclusive contract, with the first product being Bach’s Bach: The Goldberg Variations, in June 1955. This was his big break, with this bold, modern interpretation of the piece, which was written in 1742. Goldberg Variations catapulted him to success and has been a bestseller since then.
- In May 1957, he made his international debut in Moscow and Leningrad, and was the first Canadian musician to perform in the Soviet Union. He also performed in Berlin.
- Continued to perform at concerts for the next seven years, lectured in both Canada and the US, as well as write for periodicals such as High Fidelity, Saturday Review, and Piano Quarterly. During this period, he started to take a keen interest in recording. And in 1964, after a concert, he decided to abandon playing live concerts, and instead focus on recording.
- Experimented with technology, and used it as an integral part for expressing his music. He was a pioneer in using recording technology.
- Made his foray into film in 1966, with the series Conversations with Glenn Gould, produced by the BBC, where in four sessions he discussed Bach, Beethoven, Schoenberg, and Richard Strauss. In the 1972 film of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, he performed and arranged the music.
Bach – Goldberg Variations: Aria (Glenn Gould)
Glenn Gould’s Body of Work
- Made over 80 recordings with Columbia (1956-82).
- Appeared in over 70 radio and 20 television broadcasts for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (1964-82).
- Hosted the weekly radio program The Art of Glenn Gould (1966-68, 1969).
- Wrote and produced Glenn Gould’s Solitude Trilogy: Three Sound Documentaries series of radio broadcasts, including The Idea of North (1967) (1967), The Latecomers (1969) (1969), and The Quiet in the Land (1977) (1977).
- Wrote and hosted four-part television series on twentieth-century music, Music in Our Time (1974-77).
- Numerous television appearances.
Biggest Accomplishments – Why Glenn Gould’s Contribution Matters
Glenn Gould was inventive with sound, and had a unique ability to apply bold and modern interpretations of the pieces he played. According to Encyclopedia of World Biography, “Gould eschewed music that drew attention to technical feats of the performer or to the instrument, rather than to the piece itself. His interpretations intentionally confronted the listener with the thoroughness and originality of their conception. Among the most convincing are those of Bach and Schoenberg, both of whom were well-served by his complete finger independence and his attention to overall design….”
Lessons from Glenn Gould
- Have passion for your work: When Gould played the piano he became so consumed in his work that the world was oblivious to him.
- Have an appetite for intellectual knowledge: His intellect came across through his writing.
- Enhance the user experience: He used recording technology to augment the musical experience for the listener.
- Find ways to stand out by doing things differently: When Gould prepared a written version of The Prospects of Recording for a special anniversary issue of High Fidelity magazine, in the margins, he included commentary from notable people like “Milton Babbitt, Leopold Stokowski, Aaron Copland, B.H. Haggin, and Marshall McLuhan, giving a multi-voiced conversation to the essay.”
- Innovate your work: All the musical pieces that he was interested in were contrapuntal music, which is music in which individual lines overlap.
- Find the correct balance between theory and practice.
- Build a strong foundation in your field then build on it.
- Be bold! Have your own interpretation for whatever you are exposed to, whether it is writing, painting, you name it.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. The Invisible Mentor interviews will return in a month. They take an incredible amount of time to transcribe so I have taken a break from transcribing.
Book links are affiliate links.
Encyclopedia of World Biography
“For Glenn Gould, Form Followed Fingers”, The New York Times, September 26, 2010
Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians
Contemporary Musicians, May 13, 1993
American Decades Primary Sources
Current Musicology, Fall 2009