The Endlessly Fascinating Life of Glenn Gould from Twenty Perspectives

Colin Eatock
Glenn Gould: Twenty Interviews with People Who Knew Him (Penumbra Press)

There have been a lot of books about Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist who revolutionized classical music in his 30-year career. Eatock counts 31 and admits that some of the people he interviewed had to be convinced that adding another one was worthwhile. But this one's different. It is by far the most multi-faceted, and also the most personal. Somehow, Eatock persuaded friends and colleagues -- and even an ex-girlfriend -- of the pianist to talk in depth about the highly private Gould, who would be celebrating his 80th birthday now if not for a fatal stroke 30 years ago.

The people interviewed cover many aspects of Gould's life, though of course music is most heavily represented.

  • John Beckwith (composer and fellow student at Toronto's Royal Conservatory)
  • Verne Edquist (Gould's hand-picked piano technician)
  • Cornelia Foss (ex-girlfriend)
  • Robert Fulford (childhood next-door neighbor)
  • Stuart Hamilton (fellow student at Toronto's Royal Conservatory)
  • Walter Homburger (Gould's manager)
  • Andrew Kazdin (recording technician on many of Gould's CBS Masterworks LPs)
  • Anton Kuerti (rival pianist)
  • Jaime Laredo (violinist who recorded the Bach Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord with Gould)
  • William Littler (music critic)
  • Timothy Maloney (clarinetist and archivist)
  • John McGreevy (film maker)
  • Margaret Pacsu (CBC broadcaster)
  • Tim Page (music critic who participated in a pre-planned interview with Gould)
  • Stephen Posen (lawyer)
  • John Roberts (CBC broadcaster)
  • Ray Roberts (Gould's long-time personal assistant)
  • Ezra Schabas (administrator)
  • Vincent Tovell (CBC broadcaster)
  • Lorne Tulk (CBC technician)

I have to admit that I didn't read the chapters in order. My curiosity piqued, I skipped ahead to see what Foss had to say. Nothing really juicy, of course, because she wants to maintain her own privacy and dignity, but it's kind of mind-blowing to even know that the extremely eccentric Gould had a girlfriend, much less a relationship with her that lasted five years.

This book is a bit like the music biz version of Rashomon, in that the different witnesses to Gould's life have some widely varying opinions about him, and even seemingly factual issues are sometimes reported in contradictory fashion by different interviewees. Questions of influence, of how much he practiced, of the extent of his neuroses, of whether he did or didn't have sexual relations, of the extent of his prescription drug use -- all are up for grabs here. Gould fanatics, and they are legion, will be endlessly fascinated, and even more casual observers will find that this book gradually reveals an engrossing story of a multi-genre achiever -- Gould was also a composer, an author about music, and a producer of innovative radio and television programs for the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

Personally, I barely managed to put it down, it was so interesting. Highly recommended to all music fans and connoisseurs of psychologically fraught personalities. - Steve Holtje

steve-holtjeMr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based editor, poet, and composer. His song cycle setting five of James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach can be heard here.