“A record is a concert without halls, and a museum whose curator is the owner.”
Glenn Gould was blessed with a musical talent that few have managed to match in our lifetime. A ‘child prodigy’ pianist, he was thrust into fame’s spotlight in 1955 at the age of 22 when Columbia released his groundbreaking Bach ‘Golberg Variations.’ (Gold was his birthname, which his parents had changed to “Gould” over fear of anti-semitism during WWII– the family was not Jewish. When he was often asked his religious ancestry he’d remark, “I was Jewish during the war.”) His rebellious style, anti-establishment vibe, and longish locks also made him a sort of counter-culture icon of Classical music.
Gould’s incredible playing– inventive, unorthodox, and originally shunned by classical purists like Leonard Bernstein, was often noted by a manipulated tempo, sometimes very fast, yet each note amazingly clear. He was also known for his signature ‘humming’– which he wouldn’t allow to be removed from the final tracks over fear that doing so would diminish the sound quality. His other eccentricities are also legendary– the lone, personal folding chair he insisted on using for playing, the layers of gloves he’d wrap his hands in year-round, his refusal to shake hands, hypochondria, the social awkwardness, and difficulty with fame– mostly likely can be attributed to Asperger’s Syndrome. By the age of 31, Gould had sworn off public performances.
Glenn Gould passed away from a stroke on September 27th, 1982– shortly after his epic second Bach ‘Goldberg Variations’ (recorded in 1981) was released. Many who knew him said he was planning on abandoning the piano and move on to conducting. God only knows what incredible works would have resulted. Below is an incredible series of photographs taken during the recording of his 1955 ‘Goldberg Variations’ by another cultural icon, the photographer Gordon Parks.
March 1955, Columbia recording studio, NY — Brilliant young Canadian pianist Glenn Gould listening intensely while a section of his performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations is played back as the sound engineer (R) follows the score. — Photograph by Gordon Parks for LIFE
March 1955, Columbia recording studio, NY — Glenn Gould eating his lunch (graham crackers & milk cut with bottled spring water) while sitting at the sound engineers table next to wall festooned with nude pinups.– Photograph by Gordon Parks for LIFE