A Life in Pictures

by Glenn Gould
192 pages,
ISBN: 0385659032

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Gift Books ű Editor's Pick. Music/Biography
by Olga Stein

Glenn Gould was born in Toronto, on September 25, 1932 to parents Bert and Florence Gould. His musical talents were noticed at an early age, and his mother began to teach him when he turned three. Gould studied at the Toronto Conservatory of Music from 1942-6. Tim Page writes, in his Introduction to this delightful and touching collection of photos that Gould's professional career began in 1945, when "he played Bach, Mendelssohn and Dupuis on the organ in Toronto's Eaton Auditorium." That performance was quickly followed by others at Massey Hall with the Toronto Conservatory Orchestra, and with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (Jan, 1947), and then by many more in Toronto, Hamilton and London, Ontario. On December 24, 1950, Gould played sonatas by Mozart and Hindermith in the studio of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and was heard live across Canada. In 1953, Gould released his first commercial record, "a ten-inch LP on the Hallmark label, featuring a performance of Alban Berg's Piano Sonata, opus I, and three duets with the Canadian violinist Albert Pratz." And on January 2, 1955, Glenn made his tremendously successful American debut at the Phillips Gallery in Washington, D.C. David Oppenheim, the director of Columbia Masterworks (later Sony Classical) one of the two largest US record companies, signed Gould to an exclusive contract the day after his New York performance. That first recording became known as the Goldberg Variations.

All this is standard Gould history, which isn't to say that Page has done something wrong by including it (and much more) in his introduction. On the contrary, for younger readers or those only recently becoming acquainted with Gould's music, the facts about Gould's life¨his early success, his concerts and growing fame, and his later recording career¨are essential and establish a context for the photos and quotes by and about Gould. Gould was a remarkable musician, composer, conductor, and musicologist. His life and music are well worth reading about. And since the 200 photos in this book¨many of which have never been published, some coming from the archives of the CBC, Sony Classical, and the National Library of Canada¨offer both an intimate view of the person and a chronology his professional activities, A Life in Pictures is certainly worth looking at.

Lastly, I want to make certain I didn't create a false impression. The writing in Tim Page's Introduction is engaging, not at all dry, and conveys an understanding of Gould's artistic and intellectual gifts. Here is a sample:

Gould's first recording of the Goldbergs heralded a new approach to Bach¨one that combined the stark, separate contrapuntal voicings so easily delineated on the harpsichord with the tonal colour and dynamic calibration available from the modern piano. Never before had the composer's music been played with such dazzling and incisive virtuosity. Yet underlying the technical flamboyance was evidence of a remarkable cerebral intensity.

Page aims to give an unsentimental, and at times, penetrating account of Gould's life and personality, one that does justice to the captivating individual shown in the photographs. He writes:

Gould was paradoxical in the extreme, and almost any statement one makes about him can be contradicted by another that is equally valid. He made some of the best recordings of his time and (as he himself admitted) a few of the worst. He lived a life of monklike austerity, yet he was one of the jolliest and most spontaneous telephone companions imaginable. He was an individualist who prized rectitude and puritanical moral values, yet he considered himself a socialist and was skeptical of religious dogma. He frowned upon alcohol as weakness and indulgence, yet relied upon the generous consumption of tranquilizers. He loathed ostentatious Romantic effusion, yet esteemed Richard Strauss as the greatest of twentieth-century composers. He was reclusive and retiring, yet he wanted to be heard, be seen, be felt everywhere. ˛


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