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.

glenn gould, musician
gould was one of the most brilliant and complex musicians of the 20th century. shown here in rehearsal, 1974 (photo by walter curtin, courtesy library and archives canada/pa-137052). the music is an excerpt from bach's Goldberg Variations, Variation 19 (recorded 21 June 1954, courtesy CBC).

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).

He was also involved in several important productions abroad including: the CBC-BBC co-production Conversations with Glenn Gould (1966); the NET special How Mozart Became a Bad Composer (1968); a series of four films for the French television (ORTF) series Chemins de la musique (1974), with Bruno Monsaingeon; Gould’s self-produced video production Radio as Music (1975); and Glenn Gould Plays Bach, a series of three films directed by Monsaingeon (1979–81).

In 1976, Gould was awarded the Diplôme d'honneur from the Canadian Conference of the Arts, and the University of Alberta's National Award in Music. In 1977, one of his recordings of the Prelude and “Fugue in C major” from Book II of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier was included on a record that was placed in the Voyager spacecraft, as a representation of human civilization and intelligence. In 1979, he won the Juno Award for Best Classical Album of the Year for Hindemith; Das Marienleben. He received the Canadian Music Council Medal and the Canadian Music Council's Grand prix du disque in 1981.

Retirement Plans and Death

As he approached age 50, Gould was planning to phase out his career as a recording pianist while fulfilling ambitious plans to make recordings as a conductor. He made his first and only official recording as a conductor (Wagner's Siegfried-Idyll) in the summer of 1982. He also arranged music for the feature film The Wars (1983).

Gould planned to stop recording altogether around 1985, and devote himself to writing and composing. However, on 27 September 1982, a few days after his 50th birthday, and approximately a week after the release of a best-selling second recording of the Goldberg Variations, he suffered a massive stroke and died on 4 October 1982.

Beliefs about Recording

Outside popular music, possibly no artist to date has expanded the technological possibilities of recorded music, or explored its aesthetic and even ethical implications, more than Gould. He believed that his performances were not just readings of pieces of music, but documents that reflected his entire world view. He thought (as had creators in the Romantic era) that artists had a "moral mission," and that art had enormous potential for the betterment of human life.

Gould became a leading exponent among classical performers of a true philosophy of recording, which he passionately defended in articles and broadcasts, and practiced in dozens of albums for Columbia/CBS, developing a hands-on expertise in recording techniques.

A studio performer, he felt, need not be concerned with projecting musical effects into an auditorium for the purpose of catching and holding the attention of an audience; rather, he could subject the music to minute inspection of detail at every structural level. Moreover, he could allow the technology itself — placement of microphones, splicing, overdubbing, reverb, etc. — to influence the interpretation and could defer many final interpretive decisions to the post-production process.

For Gould, recording had fundamentally altered the traditional relationship of composer, performer and listener. He justified his interpretive experiments in part by arguing that there was no point in making yet another recording of, for example, the Emperor Concerto, without offering significant departures from conventional readings already available.

Repertoire and Style

Gould produced original, deeply personal, sometimes shocking musical interpretations, often employing extreme tempos, odd dynamics and even odder phrasing. He had a lifelong, controversial penchant for flouting conventional ideas about the piano and musical interpretation, perhaps exemplified by his fondness for detached articulation (playing without connecting the melody notes).

His wide but highly selective repertoire ranged from Tudor-era virginalists (performed on a kind of harpsichord) to living Canadians and revolved mainly around Bach and Schoenberg, but was conspicuously light on early Romantic music. He championed esoteric and intellectually challenging modern musical idioms, and advocated obscure works by composers like Georges Bizet, Edvard Grieg, Richard Strauss and Jean Sibelius. He also had a fondness (rare in his day) for playing orchestral and operatic music in transcription. In particular, he offered a dynamic and influential example of the mid-20th-century "high-modernist" approach to the performance of Bach.

Gould’s piano style — lean, refined, rhythmically dynamic, structurally explicit, insistently contrapuntal — was more modernistic than Romantic, though it could still be lyrical and deeply expressive in its own way. As an interpreter, however, he was the ultimate Romantic, often tinkering with the performance markings (occasionally even the notes). He sought fresh perspectives on works through extreme tempos, quirky phrasing and ornamentation, and other interpretive experiments. For these he was both praised for originality and condemned for eccentricity.

Eccentricities and Lifestyle

During his concert days, Gould noted that European critics wrote about his interpretations, while those in North America wrote more about his eccentricities. In his later years, a growing Gould legend was fed by reports of his personal eccentricities and lifestyle. He lived modestly and alone (he never married), guarded his private life jealously, refused to make public appearances of any kind and rarely left Toronto (especially after 1970, when he moved his recording operations there). In recent years, information regarding Gould’s discreet romantic relationships have come to light, most notably his five-year affair (beginning in 1967) with the painter Cornelia Foss, wife of the American composer Lukas Foss, who left her husband and moved with her children to Toronto for several years to live near Gould.

Some consider Gould to have been not merely eccentric but perhaps mentally ill. (A number of writers, most notably Dr. Timothy Maloney, have speculated that he suffered from Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism that is compatible with high achievement.) His unusual habits included insisting on very warm room temperatures, always dressing in heavy layers and usually wearing gloves. He was concerned for his health to the point of hypochondria, took many medications and often avoided physical contact with others. His florid physical mannerisms (he often swayed and rotated his torso while playing), as well as his habit of vocalizing and humming while he played, also provoked much comment.

Gould the Writer

Gould published dozens of pieces of writing on a wide range of subjects (not all of them musical), including articles, program notes for concerts, liner notes for more than 20 of his albums, lectures, reviews, letters to the editor and humour. He received a Grammy Award in 1973 for the liner notes he wrote for his album Hindemith: Sonatas for Piano.

He wrote prolifically about recording and the mass media, his ideas often harmonizing with those of his friend Marshall McLuhan. Gould’s writings on the electronic media remain relevant, in some cases visionary. Figuring in the scripts he wrote for his radio, TV and film productions, the result is an impressive body of writing that, while uneven and often controversial, earned him a reputation as an informed, highly original and provocative thinker on music and technology.

Gould's Pianos and Chair

Five of Gould’s pianos have been preserved. CD 318, the 1943 Steinway grand piano he used in most of his recordings from 1960 to 1981, and which was also used by jazz pianist Bill Evans on his landmark 1963 album Conversations with Myself, is at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. The two Yamaha grands Gould bought in his final years are housed at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, and Central United Church in Edmonton. The two pianos he kept in his apartment, a 1932 Steinway grand and an 1895 Chickering baby grand, are respectively at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, and the lobby of Glenn Gould Studio at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto.

Following Gould’s death, his famous folding chair, customized for him by his father, was displayed in a glass case in the music division at the National Library of Canada. It remained there until 2005, when it was transferred to a storage vault and brought out only for special events and exhibitions. Since June 2012, it has been on permanent display at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, with Gould’s famous CD 318 Steinway.

Posthumous Releases and Rebroadcasts

Gould enjoyed a reputation as one of the world's premier musicians, but his prolific work in the media, aside from concerts and recordings, was not readily accessible during his lifetime. As a result many people, for much of his career, knew him only as a pianist. Since 1982, however, his work has become increasingly accessible. His international following has greatly expanded, and a thriving cottage industry has grown up around him.

Various studio recordings were digitally re-mastered and re-released soon after his death by CBS Masterworks, and many live and broadcast performances were released by smaller pirate labels in North America, Europe and Japan. Finally, from 1992 to 1997, Sony Classical released the comprehensive Glenn Gould Edition, comprised of more than 75 CDs, including many concert and broadcast recordings. CBC Records released eight Gould volumes on 11 CDs from 1992 to 1999, including many broadcast performances from the early 1950s.

Gould's recordings continue to sell in impressive numbers; in fact, his recordings sell better today than when he was alive. The 1982 recording of the Goldberg Variations was certified gold in Canada in 1984, and achieved platinum sales status of 100,000 copies in 1992. Gould's radio and TV broadcasts and films have also been revived since his death. In 1987, the CBC began rebroadcasting the bulk of his TV work, edited into 24 half-hour programs titled Glenn Gould Plays. The series was also shown in Europe. His "contrapuntal radio documentaries" have been rebroadcast by the CBC and abroad, and most have been released by CBC Records. Sony Classical released a generous selection of TV performances from 1992–94 in the Glenn Gould Collection, comprised of 16 hour-long volumes on VHS and laserdisc.

Gould's writings have been published in two major English-language collections and in some periodicals, and have been translated into many languages. His compositions, too, have enjoyed a minor revival since his death, receiving performances at Gould events and elsewhere around the world. In 1995, Schott Musik International undertook a comprehensive edition of Gould’s compositions and arrangements. In 2011, CBC launched a website commemorating the 80th anniversary of Gould’s birth, and produced a set of DVDs, Glenn Gould on Television, the Complete CBC Broadcasts 1954–1977.

Literature, Societies, Conferences on Gould

The new availability of Glenn Gould's recordings, broadcasts, writings and compositions inspired a vast amount of writing on Gould, in many countries and languages. Today the Gould literature rivals that of classical performers as prominent as the conductor Arturo Toscanini. It ranges from hagiography to scholarship, biographies to reference books, general appreciations of his achievement to focused studies of almost every aspect of his life, personality, work and thought.

Though still dismissed as a mere eccentric in some quarters, Gould is studied and even revered as an artist and thinker, particularly outside the English-speaking world, in countries like France, Germany, Russia, Israel and Japan. The CBC, National Public Radio in the US, the BBC, Japan's NHK, and all of the major European networks have produced posthumous portraits and other radio and TV programs about Gould.

A Glenn Gould Society based in Groningen, Netherlands, was founded on 1 October 1982; it sponsored public events and published a semi-annual Bulletin until 1992. The Glenn Gould Foundation (GGF) was established in Toronto in 1983, and since 1987 has awarded a triennial $50,000 Glenn Gould Prize in Music and Communication. In 1995, the GGF established a Friends of Glenn Gould society and published a semi-annual magazine, GlennGould, until 2008.

Interest in Gould has been intense enough to spawn major conferences analyzing his life and work: the Glenn Gould Colloquium, 13–15 October 1987, at l'Université du Québec à Montréal; the Glenn Gould Symposium, 13–15 May 1988, in Amsterdam (organized by the Glenn Gould Society); the Glenn Gould Conference in Toronto, 23–27 September 1992, organized by the GGF; the Glenn Gould Festival in Groningen, 2–4 October 1992, organized by the Society; and the Glenn Gould Gathering, at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto, 23–26 September 1999, organized by the GGF. In addition, many smaller Gould events have been held in major cities.

Works Devoted to Gould

Gould has been honoured in works by an ever-expanding list of artists. He has inspired several transcriptions of the Goldberg Variations, as well as original compositions by Alexina Louie (O Magnum Mysterium: In Memoriam Glenn Gould, 1982), Christos Hatzis (The Go(u)ldberg Variations, 1992), Art Lewis (Homage to Glenn Gould, 1996) and others. He has inspired works by painters and sculptors, including the exhibition The Idea of North in New York in 1987. A life-sized statue by Ruth Abernethy of Gould seated on a park bench, located in front of the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto, was unveiled in 1999. An exhibit by photographer Don Hunstein — The Hunstein Variations: A Photographic Record of Glenn Gould 1957-1999 — has toured widely.

Many choreographers have created dances inspired by Gould's image and personality or using his recordings. For example, Israeli choreographer Emanuel Gat's 2013 work The Goldlandbergs was based on material from the radio program The Quiet in the Land. A book of Gould-inspired poems, Northern Music, appeared in 2001. He has been featured in short stories by writers including Joy Williams, Lydia Davis, and Joyce Carol Oates, and in novels by Thomas Bernhard (Der Untergeher, 1983), Thomas Harris (The Silence of the Lambs, 1988), Richard Powers (The Gold Bug Variations, 1991), Joe Fiorito (The Song Beneath the Ice, 2002) and others. He inspired The Maestro, a novel for young people by Tim Wynne-Jones, and Anne Chislett's children's play Not Quite the Same.

There have been dramatic works based on Gould in several countries — the most important, David Young's play Glenn, had its premiere in Toronto in 1992, played at the Stratford Festival in 1999, and has been produced overseas in translation. François Girard's Genie Award-winning experimental biopic, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993), is structured to reflect the 32 parts of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and includes interviews with those who knew Gould. Ted Dykstra starred in John McGreevy’s play An Evening with Glenn Gould, which was performed in anniversary celebrations of Gould’s 75th birthday in Ottawa and Toronto in 2007. Also that year, a portion of Metro Square in Toronto, next to Roy Thomson Hall, was designated Glenn Gould Place.

Glenn Gould Archive

The principal repository of Glenn Gould materials is the Glenn Gould Archive at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in Ottawa. In October 1983, the library (then called the National Library of Canada) acquired more than 200 boxes of Gould’s personal belongings from his estate, a wealth of material that included: compositions and arrangements; writings; tapes of radio programs; audio and video recordings; correspondences; business, financial and medical records; and various other materials. The papers have been microfilmed. Certain artifacts — such as clothing, motel-room keys, pens, knick-knacks, etc. — are stored at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, QC.

The National Library of Canada mounted a major exhibition, Glenn Gould 1988, from April–September 1988; it subsequently travelled across Canada and to Tokyo. A smaller but immensely popular Gould exhibition was shown at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris in 1986 and later toured eight other European cities.

Searchable databases, as well as a virtual exhibition, private audio recordings, bibliographies, writings, etc. can be accessed through LAC's website. The LAC main catalogue includes a comprehensive collection of more than 2,000 sources relating to Gould.

Posthumous Honours and Tributes

There is a Glenn Gould Memorial Scholarship Fund at the University of Toronto and a Glenn Gould Professional School at the Royal Conservatory of Music. For a time there was an annual Glenn Gould Lecture in New York, and there have been college-level courses devoted to him in Canada and the US. There is a Glenn Gould Park in Toronto and a Glenn Gould Crescent in Uxbridge, and the City of Toronto has declared the house in which he grew up (32 Southwood Drive) to be a historic site. He was given a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 1998, and Canada Post issued a stamp in his honour in 1999.

He is a popular figure on the Internet, the subject of fan sites, databases, discussion groups (most notably the F_Minor mailing list) and more. Some tributes to Gould have been ironic, most notably the 1985 International Bach Competition, held in Toronto 1–12 May 1985. The competition raised money for the GGF, but was criticized as inappropriate because Gould had strongly objected to music competitions and live performance. Similarly, the auditorium at the CBC's Canadian Broadcasting Centre is named Glenn Gould Studio.

The 75th anniversary of his birth was honoured in 2007–08 with an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and the 80th anniversary in 2012 was celebrated around the world.

Gould ranks high on lists of great musicians and great Canadians. When Maclean's magazine named its 100 most important Canadians in 1998, he ranked No. 1 among artists and No. 5 overall. His 1955 Goldberg Variations recording was inducted into the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 1983; it was also among the first audio-visual artifacts to be inducted into Canada's Masterworks program in 2000, and was named by the magazine Gramophone as one of the 10 best recordings of the century.

Impact and Legacy

One encounters a wide range of opinions about Glenn Gould. Despite his relatively short concert career and 20-year truancy from the concert hall, and despite the absence from his repertoire of such mainstream piano composers as Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, Bartók and Stravinsky, he is widely considered one of the greatest (and certainly the most original and idiosyncratic) pianists of the 20th century, particularly in the music of Bach and of Gould's favourite 20th-century composers, such as Schoenberg and Berg. Gould also counted among his admirers many great performers, conductors and composers of his day.

On the other hand, many musicians, critics, and aficionados have dismissed Gould vehemently. His musical interpretations and public pronouncements provoked considerable enmity, and some perceived him as a threat to many accepted views. The controversies continue, though he provokes less outrage today and his place among internationally renowned pianists seems to be solidifying. Many pianists — such as András Shiff, Evgeny Kissin, Peter Serkin, Ivo Pogorelić and Piotr Anderszewski — have acknowledged a debt to Gould's lean, refined, structurally explicit, contrapuntal style and to the creative freedom he demanded as an interpreter. Gould’s example encouraged later pianists to explore outside the standard piano repertoire. His nuanced championship of the music of Richard Strauss in the 1950s–60s, though it met with derision, is now recognized as prescient.

Gould had some impact away from the piano as well. His writings on the electronic media remain relevant, in some cases visionary. Current thought on the premises, possibilities and ethics of recording is much indebted to him. His ideas resonate strongly in today’s world of digital technology, which was in its infancy when he died. His postmodernist advocacy of open borders between the roles of composer, performer and listener, for instance, anticipated digital technologies such as the internet, which democratize and decentralize the institutions of culture. His radio-documentary style also spawned many imitators.

Gould has crept into the popular culture to a degree few classical musicians have. It is important to note that, at a time when many Canadian musicians needed to leave Canada to find success, Gould was always extremely well-received in Canada. His success at home presaged a new nationalist period in Canadian culture, and he found opportunities to be influential through Canada’s new and growing cultural institutions.

Decades after his death, Gould continues to entertain and fascinate, challenge and provoke, as both a personality and artist. The very uniqueness that continues to attract new fans may limit his influence, since he was too idiosyncratic to breed literal imitators or lead a movement. It does however seem likely that he will remain a major presence in classical music. Certainly, he has proved to be one of the most important cultural figures Canada has produced.


Harriet Cohen Bach Medal (1959)

Honorary Doctorate, University of Toronto (1964)

Molson Prize, Canada Council for the Arts (1968)

Best Album Notes – Classical (Hindemith: Sonatas for Piano), Grammy Awards (1973)

Diplôme d'honneur, Canadian Conference of the Arts (1976)

Best Classical Album of the Year (Hindemith; Das Marienleben), Juno Awards (1979)

Canadian Music Council Award (1981)

Best Classical Album (Bach: The Goldberg Variations), Grammy Awards (1982)

Best Classical Performance, Instrumental Soloist (Bach: The Goldberg Variations), Grammy Awards (1982)

Best Classical Performance, Instrumental Soloist (Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 12 and 13), Grammy Awards (1983)

Best Classical Album of the Year (Bach: The Goldberg Variations), Juno Awards (1983)

Inductee, Canadian Music Hall of Fame (1983)

Inductee (Goldberg Variations, 1956), National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame (1983)

Best Classical Album of the Year (Brahms: Ballades Op. 10, Rhapsodies Op. 79), Juno Awards (1983)

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (2013)

A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.

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