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Tue October 9, 2012
Remembering Glenn Gould -- Again
When my wife got home, I showed her the new book "Remembering Glenn Gould" by Colin Eatock, and she remarked “Didn't you have every book about him already”? She had a point there. I thought I had every book and the fact that a new title would be published thirty years after his death and it would be anticipated is a bit different.
Gould's recordings are still unique. His Bach is the easiest to pick out, but he brought his own distinctive and incisive style to most of his repertoire. You hear it in the balance between the hands and the voicing of the notes. Gould didn't play with two hands, but ten independent fingers and they sing out - the tenor legato and loud and the baritone staccato and sharp and then, probably because he could, he changed it up and swapped the balances around as easily as an organist changes the registration of the various ranks of pipes. It is not surprising to learn that in his youth Gould was a very fine organist. There is an old saying “music picks up where words fail.” I can't miss this irony when there is a book about a musician, a pianist no less, that joins the 14-plus books devoted to this Canadian musician that is somehow still worth writing and more importantly, thinking about. Consider other pianists, like one of the great virtuosos of the 20th century, Vladimir Horowitz, he gets one or two books, Artur Rubinstein, three or four and Rubinstein had to write two of those himself!
Clearly there is something about Gould. It started in 1978 with a very unusual book about the pianist by the Toronto educator Geoffrey Payzant, entitled "Glenn Gould Music and the Mind." This is no florid, adjective strewn book about a piano virtuoso storming through concerts and life; what we get is a portrait of the mind and motives of a man who lived pretty much the contemplative life of a hermit. What started Payzant down this road was Gould's approach to music and the mental discipline the pianist put into all of his recordings.
With Glenn Gould's good looks and easy manner at the keyboard - he had no problem with crossing his long legs while playing a concerto or warming his arms with scalding hot water before a performance. It wasn't long before reporters knew they had something rare in classical music - a musician that was good copy. And soon the stories and legends, not all of them true, became part and parcel of the GG mystique. This mass of information is compounded by the fact the young man enjoyed the attention and knew that being colorful and outspoken could get him even more column inches. The difficult part for the fans and those curious about the pianist was finding out what was he really like? With his life of music so well documented, one is left wondering about all that was left out.
In "Remembering Glenn Gould," Eatock questions twenty people who knew or were somehow associated with the pianist. Sometimes asking the same questions to different friends and colleagues we gain insight that paints a more complicated portrait than is presented in previous books. I also appreciate that Eatock follows up each interview with an enlightening postscript and footnotes explaining some of the details that add interest to the story. Eatock categorizes the interviews in an interesting way. The first four are under “Working for Mr. Gould” then “Musicians Speak”, “Microphone and Camera,” “Two personal relationships” and ending with “Writing about Gould.” In this book one finds out what Canada’s second most famous pianist, Anton Kuerti, thought about Gould; then there is the man that set up his recording venues, the piano technician, and the producer of most of his output Andrew Kazdin, who already published a tell-all book about the pianist - he gives us his final thoughts. Most interesting.
Mr. Eatock is thorough and kind to those who granted him an interview and his book gives us a multifaceted look at a man who amazed music lovers for too short a time. Considering that Gould looked at music in a unique manner and was so careful in the fine mental judgments that make a difference between a great and everyday performance, it is not surprising that this is topic worthy of study and yet another book about him. What is surprising is that in thinking about musicians over the last 60 years, who has come about to replace him?