Canadian Pianist. A child prodigy, he is remembered as one of the best-known and most celebrated classical pianists of the 20th century. He was particularly renowned as an interpreter of the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He rejected most of the standard Romantic piano literature and, after his adolescence, avoided composers like Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, and Frederic Chopin. Although his recordings were dominated by Bach, his repertoire was diverse, including works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Josef Haydn, Johannes Brahms, pre-Baroque composers such as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, and such 20th-century composers as Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schoenberg and Richard Strauss. He was also was well known for various eccentricities, from his unorthodox musical interpretations and mannerisms at the keyboard to aspects of his lifestyle and personal behavior. He was also known as a writer, composer, conductor, and broadcaster. He was a prolific contributor to musical journals, in which he discussed music theory and outlined his musical philosophy. His career as a composer was less distinguished. His output was minimal and many projects were left unfinished. There is evidence that, had he lived beyond 50, he intended to abandon the piano and devote the remainder of his career to conducting and other projects. As a broadcaster, he was prolific, with his output ranging from television and radio broadcasts of studio performances to musique concrète radio documentaries about life in the Canadian wilderness. He was born Glenn Herbert Gold in Toronto, Canada to musical parents. The family's surname was changed to Gould informally around 1939 in order to avoid being mistaken for Jewish, given the prevailing anti-Semitism of prewar Toronto and the Gold surname's Jewish association. His maternal grandfather was a cousin of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (who was himself of Scottish ancestry). His interest in music and his talent as a pianist became evident at an early age. Both his parents were musical, and his mother, especially, encouraged the infant Gould's early musical development. By the age of three, his perfect pitch was noticed and he learned to read music before he could read words. His interest in the piano proceeded side by side with an interest in composition. He would play his own little pieces for family, friends, and sometimes large gatherings, including, in 1938, a performance at the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church of one of his own compositions. At the age of 10, he began attending The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Around this time, he injured his back as a result of a fall from a boat ramp on the shore of Lake Simcoe, in Southern Ontario. His father made an adjustable-height chair to compensate for his injury and his mother would urge him to sit up straight at the keyboard. He used this chair for the rest of his life and took it with him almost everywhere. This famous chair was designed so that Gould could sit very low at the keyboard, allowing him to pull down on the keys rather than striking them from above. He passed his final Conservatory examination in piano at the age of 12 (achieving the highest marks of any candidate), attaining a professional standing as a pianist at that age. One year later he passed the written theory exams, qualifying for an ATCM diploma. In 1945, he gave his first public performance, playing the organ, and the following year he made his first appearance with an orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, in a performance of the first movement of Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto. His first solo recital followed in 1947, and his first recital on radio was with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1950, marking the beginning of his long association with radio and recording. In 1953 he founded the Festival Trio chamber group with cellist Isaac Mamott and the violinist Albert Pratz. In 1957 he toured of the Soviet Union, becoming the first North American to play there since World War II. In 1958 he made his Boston, Massachusetts debut, playing for the Peabody Mason Concert Series. On April 10, 1964, he gave his last public performance, playing in Los Angeles, California at the Wilshire Ebell Theater. He performed fewer than 200 concerts over the course of his career, of which fewer than 40 were overseas. One of his reasons for abandoning live performance was his aesthetic preference for the recording studio, where, in his words, he developed a "love affair with the microphone." There, he could control every aspect of the final musical "product" by selecting parts of various takes. He felt that he could realize a musical score more fully this way. Thus, the act of musical composition did not entirely end with the original score. The performer had to make creative choices and he felt strongly that there was little point in re-recording centuries-old pieces if the performer had no new perspective to bring to the work. For the rest of his life, he eschewed live performance, focusing instead on recording, writing, and broadcasting. In his linear notes and broadcasts, he created more than two dozen alter egos for satirical, humorous, or didactic purposes that allowed him to write hostile reviews or incomprehensible commentaries on his own performances. Probably the best-known are the German musicologist "Karlheins Klopweisser," the English conductor "Sir Nigel Twitt-Thornwatie," and the American critic "Theodore Slutz." He was widely known cancelling performances at the last minute and for his unusual habits. While playing the piano, he usually hummed and his recording engineers had mixed results in how successfully they could exclude his voice from recordings. He claimed that his singing was unconscious and increased proportionately with the inability of the piano in question to realize the music as he intended. He was renowned for his peculiar body movements while playing and for his insistence on absolute control over every aspect of his playing environment. The temperature of the recording studio had to be exactly regulated and he invariably insisted that it be extremely warm. The piano had to be set at a certain height and would be raised on wooden blocks if necessary. A small rug would sometimes be required for his feet underneath the piano. He had to sit fourteen inches above the floor and would play concerts only while sitting on the old chair his father had made and continued to use this chair even when the seat was completely worn through. His chair is so closely identified with him that it is shown in a place of honor in a glass case at the National Library of Canada. He was averse to cold, and wore heavy clothing (including gloves), even in warm places. He was once arrested, presumably mistaken for a vagrant, while sitting on a park bench in Sarasota, Florida, dressed in his standard all-climate attire of coat(s), warm hat, and mittens. He lived a private life and disliked social functions. He also hated being touched, and in later life he limited personal contact, rarely shook hands with anyone, usually wore gloves, and relied on the telephone and letters for communication. He suffered many pains and ailments, though he was something of a hypochondriac. Because of his back injury, his physicians prescribed, usually independently, an assortment of analgesics, anxiolytics, and other drugs. There is speculation that his increasing use of a variety of prescription medications over his career may have had a negative effect on his health, and was perhaps taking pills to counteract the side effects of other pills, creating a cycle of dependency. On September 27, 1982, after experiencing a severe headache, he suffered a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body. He was admitted to Toronto General Hospital and his condition rapidly deteriorated. By October 4, there was evidence of brain damage, and his father decided that he should be taken off of life support, and he died shortly afterwards. In 1970 the government of Canada offered him the award of Companion of the Order of Canada, but he declined it, remarking that he believed he was too young to receive it. He was the winner of three annual Juno Awards (1979, 1983, and 1984) out of six nominations by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for the Best Classical Album of the Year and won four Grammy Awards (1973, 1982 (two separate ones), and 1983) for different categories of classical performances. In 1983 he was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Also in 1983, The Glenn Gould Foundation was established in Toronto to honor and preserve his memory. Among other activities, the foundation awards the Glenn Gould Prize every three years to "an individual who has earned international recognition as the result of a highly exceptional contribution to music and its communication, through the use of any communications technologies." The prize consists of $50,000 for an original work by a Canadian artist. In 2013 he was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. One of his performances of the Prelude and Fugue in C major from Book II of "The Well=Tempered Clavier" was chosen for inclusion on the NASA Voyager Golden Record. The disc of recordings was placed on the spacecraft Voyager I, which is now approaching interstellar space and is the farthest human-made object from the Earth. A park bench statue of him is dedicated to his honor outside the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto.
Bio by: William Bjornstad