Excerpts from Canadian Encyclopedia

Excerpts from The Canadian Encyclopedia


Touring and Concert Career, 1956–64

For the next nine years, Gould toured annually throughout North America. Highlights included a performance at Massey Hall on 16 April 1956, at which he received an engraved watch from the City of Toronto. His only major composition, the long, one-movement String Quartet (written 1953–55), was first performed by the Montréal String Quartet on CBC’s French radio network on 21 May 1956. The work is a synthesis of Baroque fugue, Classical sonata form, Richard Strauss’s late-Romantic harmony and Schoenberg’s “developing variation.”

Gould made his formal conducting debut on CBC TV’s Chrysler Festival on 20 February 1957. In May of that year, he made his European debut as a pianist with a two-week concert tour of Moscow and Leningrad (making him the first Canadian musician, and the first North American pianist, to play in the Soviet Union after the Second World War), followed by performances with the Berlin Philharmonic under conductor Herbert von Karajan, and a recital at the Vienna Festival. On 26 September 1957, Gould conducted the CBC Vancouver Orchestra in symphonies by Mozart and Schubert, broadcast nationally on CBC Radio. Another highlight of this period includes his recital at Carnegie Hall on 7 December 1957.

He returned to Europe the following two summers. In 1958, he appeared at the Salzburg Festival and, with the Hart House Orchestra under Boyd Neel, at the Brussels World’s Fair. He also performed that year in Sweden, Germany and Italy, made his Boston debut in the Peabody Mason Concerts, gave 11 performances in 18 days in Israel, and gave concerts and lectures at the Vancouver International Festival (1958, 1960–61). In 1959, he gave a recital in Berlin, made his London debut in a Beethoven cycle with the London Symphony Orchestra under Josef Krips, gave two recitals for the BBC, and appeared at the Salzburg and Lucerne Festivals. In 1959, he received the Harriet Cohen Bach Medal for Pianists, a British-based prize. He again appeared at New York’s Carnegie Hall on 13 February 1959.

On 6 and 7 December 1960, he gave the first public performances in Canada of Schoenberg’s piano concerto. Gould, the cellist Leonard Rose and the violinist Oscar Shumsky were artists-in-residence at the Stratford Festival in 1960, and later served as the Festival’s co-directors of music (1961–64).

Some of Gould’s most notorious performances were of Brahms’s D minor Concerto with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic (5, 6, 8 April 1962). Bernstein delivered a pre-concert speech to the audience noting his disagreement with Gould’s interpretation, which featured unusually slow tempos, departures from Brahms’s dynamic and phrase markings, and the highlighting of counterpoint and motives.

Gould had wide-ranging musical and intellectual interests, and never wanted to be limited to the life of a concert pianist. He had ambitions to conduct and compose, and from his late teens demonstrated gifts as a writer on musical subjects. The range of his talents and interests was widely admired. During his concert years, he continued to record prolifically for Columbia, to write and lecture, and to perform on CBC Radio and TV. He made his first radio documentary, on Schoenberg, in 1962, and delivered a dozen lectures from 1963 to 1964, most of which have been published.

Gould harboured musical, temperamental and moral objections to live concerts (“At concerts I feel demeaned, like a vaudevillian,” he once said), and performed sparingly, if not grudgingly; he gave approximately 300 concerts over the course of his career, including fewer than 40 overseas — a sparse amount for a professional concert pianist of his duration. He felt that live concert performances were an anachronistic practice. “The purpose of art,” he wrote, “is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.”

Increasingly attracted to his work in the electronic and print media, Gould decided to give up the life of a concert pianist to devote himself to recording, broadcasting, composing and writing. At the height of his fame and creative powers, he gave his last live concert performance on 10 April 1964 at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles.

Broadcasting and Recording Career, 1964–82

While Gould’s live concert career wound down, his radio and TV recitals and documentaries were becoming more innovative and sophisticated as he explored beyond the limits of the conventional broadcast recital. In the early 1960s, he began giving radio and TV recitals that were unified thematically or tied together with his own spoken commentary. He also became prolific as a writer, exploring many musical and non-musical topics in liner notes, periodical articles, reviews, scripts and interviews.

However, he never realized his plan to devote himself largely to composition after his retirement from concert life; despite ambitious plans and sketches for chamber and orchestral music, songs, and opera, his serious composing effectively ceased after 1964. He did notate or record some of his transcriptions (versions re-written for piano), including three of orchestral music by Wagner, and one of Ravel’s own transcription of La Valse.

Increasingly, Gould sought other ways to express himself away from the piano. He created many programs in which he did not perform but instead explored musical topics that interested him, such as recording and broadcasting, the “psychology of improvisation,” aleatoric music (music composed randomly, e.g., by rolling dice), and the Moog synthesizer. His innovations were rewarded with the Canadian Confederation Medal in 1967 and the Canada Council for the Arts’ Molson Prize in 1968.

From the late 1960s forward, his compositional ambitions were channeled into the production of what he called “contrapuntal radio documentaries,” evocative tapestries of speech, sound effects and music that drew on principles and techniques from radio documentary, radio drama, film and music. The programs known as his “Solitude Trilogy” — The Idea of North (1967); The Latecomers (1969), about Newfoundland; and The Quiet in the Land (1977), about the Mennonites of Manitoba — explored the effects of geographical, cultural, and religious isolation on individuals and communities.

In 1970, he declined a nomination to the Order of Canada and moved his recording operations to Toronto from New York. He composed the music for the feature film Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) and won the only Grammy award in his lifetime for Best Classical Album Notes for his 1973 album Hindemith: Sonatas for Piano.

During this period, Gould also created four major documentaries on musicians: conductor Leopold Stokowski (1971); cellist Pablo Casals (1974); and composers Arnold Schoenberg (1974) and Richard Strauss (1979). Among the most important CBC TV productions of Gould’s later years were a documentary portrait in the series Telescope (1969), his technologically experimental special The Well-Tempered Listener (1970), his series Music in Our Time (1974–77) and the documentary “Glenn Gould’s Toronto” in the Cities series (1979).