Born: 1932, Toronto, Ontario
Genre: Classical (Piano)
Achievements: Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Canadian Walk of Fame
Unlike the other Canadian musicians of the time, Gould was born into a middle class family and was an only-child. By the time he was three years old, his mother knew she had given birth to a prodigy. He studied piano with her and then piano and organ at the Toronto (Royal) Conservatory of Music in the 1940s. He earned his diploma when he was but 12. His first major organ recital took place in 1945 and piano a year later. His first professional debut took place with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in early 1947 when he performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. Through radio broadcasts beginning in 1950, television in 1952, and recordings in 1953, he became famous throughout Canada.
Though he toured early-on, he preferred the studio environment. In the beginning of 1955, he made his U.S. debut with recitals in Washington and New York. He immediately signed a deal with Columbia Records. His first album Bach’s Goldberg Variations was his piano masterwork, a recording that up until today has never gone out of print. There is irony in this. The piano was invented during Bach’s lifetime. Legend has it that Bach, himself, hated it. He refused to have anything to do with it, continuing to compose and perform on the harpsichord, despite its going out of fashion.
Whether or not Gould’s piano performance of Bach’s works had the first of the great classical composers rolling in his grave, one thing was indisputable, it made Gould internationally famous, and world tours were in order. He performed in the USSR, Israel, and Western Europe. Wherever he went, his skill brought him acclaim and his unusual stage manner and eccentric personality brought controversy.
Suffering from shyness and hypertension, Gould hated performing in public and became a hypochondriac, canceling out of performances at the last minute. It was no surprise to those who knew him, therefore, that he formally withdrew from public performance in 1964. His moral, artistic, and temperamental objections to the concert format led him to become an outspoken activist for electronic media. Learning the ropes of the recording industry, he began making radio and television programs, documentaries, recitals, scripts, and films.
He longed to be a composer but after a one-movement string quartet in the mid-50s, he completed only a few minor pieces. He arranged the musical scores of two feature films. He adopted the method of splicing together single performances from many takes, which was seen initially as fraudulent art, but this technique was subsequently adopted by the recording industry.
In 1982, he announced plans of conducting and of retiring to the countryside to focus on composing. But his hypertension led to a massive stroke that year. He died a week later at age 50. A year later, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. His reputation continued to grow after his passing. In 1993, a feature film was made about him entitled Thirty-Two Short Films about Glenn Gould; it won Best Picture at the Genie Awards. In 1998 he gained a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.