This Week in History


Glenn Gould, a Remarkable Musician

For the week of Monday September 22, 2012

On September 25, 1932, Glenn Gould was born in Toronto, Ontario. He was the winner of many awards and among the most acclaimed pianists of his generation.

His father was a music lover and his mother, from whom Glenn began taking lessons at the age of four, was a piano teacher. He spent hours practising the piano. In 1940, he entered the Toronto Conservatory of Music, today known as the Royal Conservatory of Music, where he mastered music theory, piano and organ. He gave many concerts, first in Toronto and then throughout Canada, and his career quickly took off.  

Glenn Gould at the piano with his dog and his budgie
© Courtesy of the Ontario Archives, Library and Archives Canada / Glenn Gould fonds/ MUS 109-P0037, about 1944

In 1955, following a public performance in New York, Gould was given an exclusive contract with the Columbia Records label. A year later, he recorded his first album, Bach: the Goldberg Variations, which was a great success and made his reputation. He was considered unconventional as a pianist because of his unusual repertoire and original, even controversial, interpretations. He was also known for his eccentricity, using an adjustable wooden chair made by his father in 1953 whenever he gave concerts or made recordings throughout his entire career.

Between 1956 and 1964, Gould went on a number tours in Canada and throughout the world. At the same time, he focussed on other activities such as radio and television appearances. He preferred studio recording to concerts and was one of the first musicians to explore the various possibilities of the medium. He enjoyed the control it gave him over every facet of sound.

Glenn Gould in rehearsal
© Library and Archives Canada / Walter Curtin / PA-137052, 1974

Gould gave his final concert on April 10, 1964. Deciding to distance himself from the piano and widen his musical horizons, he then devoted his time to his radio and television career, giving and commenting on recitals or discussing a variety of musical matters of interest to him. He created “contrapuntal radio” documentaries which sometimes superimposed voices, sound effects and music. He also devoted time to recording, writing and composing, and occasionally conducted orchestras.

Glenn Gould died suddenly of a stroke on October 4, 1982, nine days after his 50th birthday. After his death, some of his pianos and his chair were exhibited, and a foundation was created in his name. Much of his work has been republished and he has received a number of posthumous awards.

Glenn Gould was declared a person of national historic significance in 2012, in recognition of his great contribution to music.

To learn more about the history of music in Canada, please read the following articles from This Week in History: The Piano Man, Portia May White: the Legendary Contralto, Quebec's Star and Canada's First Chansonnière, and Healey Willan, The Dean of Canadian Composers. To learn more about Glenn Gould, visit the website of the Glenn Gould Foundation.

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