Glenn Gould

Canadian Pianist, Writer, Radio and TV Producer (Toronto, 1932 - Toronto, 1982)

Glenn Gould was a Canadian pianist. He has an outstanding career as a concert pianist but suddenly cut himself off from public life, preferring recording studios to concert halls. He then devoted his life to writing, producing radio and television programmes, and composing.

Born on the 25th of September 1932 in Toronto, Canada, Glenn Herbert Gould began playing the piano at 4 years old learning from his mother. In 1940 Gould joined the Toronto Conservatory of Music. His first contact with Bach’s work was through the organ lessons he received there. In 1942 he joined Chilean Alberto Guerroro’s class, here he developed his skill and technical proficiency for which he would become renowned. 

In 1953 his father adapted a chair for him; it was shorter than a usual stool so that the pianist is lower than the piano, almost curled onto the keyboard. Glenn Gould kept this chair, even as it became worn, using it in both concerts and in the studio, as it enabled him to achieve a greater level of precision and clarity of sound. 

After several concerts in Canada, Glenn Gould gave his first concert in the New York Town Hall in 1955. The day after the concert the music label Columbia Masterworks (now Sony Masterworks) offered him a contract. The following year his recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations was released and catapulted him onto the global stage. Following this immediate and resounding success Glenn Gould recorded exclusively for Columbia Masterworks.

From 1956 to 1964, Glenn Gould toured America, Europe and the USSR. His style, choice of tempo and characteristic phrasing divided the musical world. In 1957 at a performance with New York Philharmonic Orchestra of Brahms’s D Minor Concerto, Leonard Bernstein spoke to the public before the concert to signal his disagreement with Gould’s interpretation, while assuring the audience “that we all have something to learn from this extraordinary artist”. 

At the height of his influence he ended his career as a concert pianist. Several reasons were given – his phobia of the public and fragility, but above all his feeling that the concert had become obsolete because of the technological possibilities offered by recording. 

Glenn Gould permanently left the concert world, devoting himself solely to the creation of radio and television programmes, composing and studio recordings. 

In 1977, NASA engraved one of his recordings of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C major on a gold disc for the Voyager Space Mission. 

In 1982 Gould suffered a serious stroke, whilst launching a new version of the Goldberg Variations, and died on the 4th of October that year. 

Three landmark dates in the life of Glenn Gould

1942: Gould joins Alberto Guerrero class 

1955: Signs with Columbia Masterworks 

1964: Ends his career as a concert pianist

A Key Recording by Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould: The full Columbia album collection 

Box 81 Cd 

SONY CLASSICAL 88875032222

Further Reading

Glenn Gould. Piano Solo, Michel Schneider – Edition Gallimard, ISBN 2 07 071547 7

Glenn Gould. Chemins de traverse.
 Bruno Monsaigeaon – Edition Fayard
 ISBN 978 2 2 213 67105 5