Among classical performers of the last half-century, only perhaps Arturo Toscanini, Vladimir Horowitz, and Maria Callas were the subjects of as much adulation, controversy, and speculation as Glenn Gould. Even so, Gould’s popularity was different. He was part of a new era, and addressed a new audience. Coming along at a time when music conservatories and piano contests were producing increasing numbers of pianists of indistinguishable proficiency and uniform style, Gould seemed both to produce his own unique sound and also to appeal to a new audience of listeners. Claiming a taste for his playing, like the fashion for Marshall McLuhan or for semiotics, became a sign of sophistication during the 1960s and 1970s.
His fame for a while was nearly comparable to Elvis’s—a Gould recording of a Bach prelude and fugue was launched into space on Voyager in 1977 to instruct aliens about human culture, should they ever be able to decipher how to turn on the spacecraft’s phonograph. Since Gould’s death in 1982, caused by a stroke shortly after his fiftieth birthday, his prestige seems only to have grown. A 1990s reissue of his 1955 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations sold nearly two million copies, a virtually unheard-of number for a serious classical album. That recording has since been repackaged once again and become another best seller.
Kevin Bazzana’s Wondrous Strange, following books like Geoffrey Payzant’s semi-official biography of 1978 and Otto Friedrich’s fine, authorized biography from 1989, is the best account so far of his life: lucid, balanced, intelligent, and wide-ranging. Like Gould a resident of Canada, Bazzana concentrates on Gould’s Canadian origins. He investigates Gould’s medical history (Gould was a hypochondriac whose worst fears came true). He analyzes Gould’s radio and television productions for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, in which he exper- imented with contrapuntal speech and which he took as seriously as his musical recordings. And he reviews the Gould discography in some detail.
The book joins an already vast industry. A French scholar has cataloged Gould’s physical tics and proposed a study of his eyebrow move-ments. There are poems and feature films about Gould, novels inspired by him. There are traders in Gould’s scores and memorabilia; Web sites and fan clubs; dances choreographed to his peculiar stage mannerisms and to his recorded performances; soundtracks of movies using his Goldberg recording. There is a Glenn Gould Foundation, a Glenn Gould Prize, a Glenn Gould Park, and music composed in his honor. A tourist industry in Toronto caters to pilgrims wishing to glimpse the house in which he lived as a boy, his grade school, the hotel where he holed up in later years and kept in touch with friends through long late-night–early-morning monologues on the telephone, and even the diners where, sometimes during the middle of the night, he would take his only meal of the day, by himself.
As for his playing, among recorded pianists only Horowitz, whom Gould claimed to disdain but with whom he has much more in common than he ever cared to admit, may be as instantly recognizable on disc to a broad musical public. You usually know when you are listening to Gould, even if, from one performance to another of the same piece, his tempos and articulation change. The opening theme in his second version of the Goldberg Variations, from 1981, is nearly twice as slow as the theme in the version from 1955, the one that made Gould a celebrity. But both albums are unmistakably his. So are his recordings of Mozart, the best of which are far more sympathetic toward the composer than even Gould, who enjoyed attacking Mozart, conceded, but the worst of which are mischievous and hostile, intended to be perverse.
Good or bad, Gould’s playing derived its strange and vital power partly from the conflict between his own stupendous virtuosity and his intense feelings for music—or to be more precise, the power derived from his neurotic struggles to tame and sublimate these enviable traits. After recording the Goldbergs the second time, he spoke disappointedly to the music critic Tim Page about the earlier version, lamenting its lack of deliberation and rhythmic architecture and its posturing excess of dynamic dips and tempo shifts—“things that pass for expressive fervor in your average conservatory.” The slow variation, No. 25, missed “the dignity to bear its suffering with a hint of quiet resignation,” Gould asserted. “There’s a lot of piano playing going on there and I mean that as the most disparaging comment possible.”* Or so he said. Was this itself a pose? In any case, it was exactly this emotive playing that many people admired about the performance.
There were other young pianists of his day as gifted (Sviatoslav Richter, Dinu Lipatti, William Kapell) but none had Gould’s peculiar, electric sound. To detractors this sound was monotonous and unpleasant. Alfred Brendel, another important contemporary and a very different sort of player, called Gould an “eccentric”—as opposed, Brendel said, to a “serious performer”—and he omitted any mention of Gould in an interview some years ago about playing Bach on the piano. The French psychologist and musicologist Michel Schneider claimed to know people for whom Gould’s playing “makes their flesh creep, makes them clench their fingers.” Schneider described Gould’s “remoteness, terror, disproportion… this over-transparent sound, this sublimated piano playing” as if the playing were a pathology.
And, in its way, it was. The distinguishing features of Gould’s style—the exaggerated tempos and dryness of attack combined with sustained tension, ostentatious indications that he had thought out his own new approach, a sometimes cavalier disregard for composers’ markings, and a distaste for anything he deemed too Romantic or too flamboyant—all of this seemed to suggest a calculated, which is not to say insincere, theatrics on Gould’s part and had the effect of a psychological spectacle. Spiky, crisp, full of odd accents, his playing could also be astonishingly graceful, breathless, achingly beautiful. His rigor, concentration, and technique were wonderfully, almost spiritually exhilarating.
Gould could, however, play Bach perfunctorily (as with the Toccatas), and some of his greatest recordings are not what’s commonly associated with him: his Brahms intermezzi, for instance (despite his disparaging remarks about Brahms), his recordings both of early composers like Byrd and Gibbons and of modernists like Berg and Prokofiev. In these renditions, one hears, besides the usual percussive and tensile sound, a suppleness of pulse, subtlety of coloration, and alacrity in responding to changes of tempo, as well as charm, even tenderness and vulnerability—qualities Gould might almost have wished to disown. But then, he was, as he had to concede, a Romantic despite himself. He once made an admission about Horowitz that was revealing. He couldn’t help admiring, he said,
the sense of space that very often infiltrated his playing, the way in which, sometimes very unexpectedly, an alto voice or a tenor voice would appear that you weren’t aware of…. It suddenly gave a sense of a three-dimensional aspect to the playing.
He could have been describing his own playing.
He was born Glenn Herbert Gold on September 25, 1932, an only child in a Protestant family of furriers who by the late 1930s had begun to call themselves Gould, perhaps to avoid being mistaken for Jews. The Toronto where Gould grew up, Bazzana recounts, was a small, peaceful, puritanical, Anglophilic city. Canada was achieving a degree of cultural independence in those decades, increasingly through the radio and television. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was pioneering and experimental. Gould was among the few classical musicians (Toscanini and Leonard Bernstein were others) who, early on, recognized and exploited the potential of the new technologies.
As a boy, he was a loner, polite, gangly, and disheveled, already an insomniac, amusing when he chose to be but also a young fogy, intolerant of his friends’ smoking, drinking, and flirting. There has been some speculation about Asperger’s syndrome. He was the sort of teenager who affected a German accent after reading Nietzsche and who claimed to identify with Tonio Kröger, Mann’s fictional aesthete.
His parents coddled him. His mother, Florence, in whose bed he slept at their summer cottage on alternate nights with his father, became his first piano teacher, and her Scottish heritage, Bazzana writes, fostered in him a strict and evangelical view of music. Bert, his father, spent heavily on newer, better instruments and, after Gould’s talent compelled the family to look beyond his mother’s instruction, on a formal music education.
Gould studied at the Toronto Conservatory with a Chilean-born pianist, Alberto Guerrero, one of the heroes in Bazzana’s book, previously slighted because Gould, who lacked Guerrero’s generosity, did not want to be seen as anyone’s disciple, which in the end he wasn’t. Even so, Bazzana shows, Guerrero excited the young Gould’s interest; he taught him how to analyze a score, how to memorize music away from the keyboard; he fostered Gould’s contrapuntal style, with its stress on independent voices and a sturdy bass line. He even encouraged Gould’s peculiar, low-seated posture at the piano (but not his other onstage shenanigans, such as warming his hands in water and crossing his legs): Guerrero pointed out that sitting low gave Gould’s fingers greater independence from his arms and shoulders. When, as an adult, Gould dismissed Guerrero, Guerrero responded: “If Glenn feels he hasn’t learned anything from me as a teacher, it’s the greatest compliment,” meaning that a successful student is one who comes to think for himself. Still, Guerrero observed, “Al maestro cuchillada.” To the teacher goes the knife.
Gould’s friend the writer Robert Fulford recalled him even as a boy having “the most breathtaking confidence I’ve ever known.” It was combined with a repressive sense that music, or at least good music, as he eccentrically defined it, must be a spiritual refuge from “worldly grime,” which is how Gould described the sonatas of Scarlatti. Fulford added that “in Glenn’s mind,” music was “refined and bodiless, almost entirely separated from the physical.”
So Gould embraced the rationalism of Schoenberg but hated Stravinsky (Rite of Spring was, he said, “a very offensive work” and Soldier’s Tale “a piece of trash”). Bach was his paragon of order, the master of beloved counterpoint, which meant Gould conveniently ignored Bach as a man of the theater. Mozart was too melodious for him, and Gould played him as if he were a failed contrapuntalist, grossly exaggerating the bass lines in homophonic music, rather than treating them as accompaniments. He admired the pianist Artur Schnabel partly because, as Theodor Leschetizky, Schnabel’s famous teacher, said about him, “you will never be a pianist; you are a musician”—that is, Schnabel was an idealist who transcended the hurly-burly of playing. Gould might have preferred not to acknowledge that Schnabel was, like Schoenberg, also a Romantic at heart.
He was a bundle of absurd contradictions. His favorite conductors included Leopold Stokowski and he loved Humperdinck’s Hänsel and Gretel. He told an interviewer that his taste was “roughly demarcated by The Art of the Fugue on one side and Tristan on the other,” while almost everything in between was “at best, the subject of admiration rather than love.” But this was not true. He despised Schubert for being repetitive, and middle-period Beethoven as bombastic. The first movement of Beethoven’s last piano sonata, Op. 111, one of the glories of music, was, for him, “a bad piece,” but he revered Haydn. He played Liszt’s transcriptions of Beethoven symphonies and also, for his pleasure, piano transcriptions of Mahler, Bruckner, and Elgar. Meanwhile, he wrote off nearly all Spanish music and Italian opera, which he found cloyingly melodious and too sensuous (it made him “intensely uncomfortable,” he once said, revealingly). About the music of France, he considered Fauré’s music “junk” but declared Bizet’s forgettable and rarely played Variations chromatiques as “one of the very few masterpieces for solo piano to emerge from the third quarter of the nineteenth century.” His recording of it, from 1971, while brilliant, is humorless and thereby a lost argument for the composition’s resuscitation.
And then there was Richard Strauss. “Seeing Gould through his current Richard Strauss phase,” Gould’s friend the composer and critic John Beckwith said, was “a little like seeing a difficult child through mumps.” Gould recorded Strauss’s Five Piano Pieces, Op. 3. They are, not surprisingly, absolutely gorgeous—proud, unmistakably Romantic, a little stentorian but with a fugue that shows Gould at his best—all of which only amplifies the irrationality of his position. There is no logical reason he could not have taken the same approach toward, say, Schumann, whom he found intolerable.
The music world was small enough during the mid-1950s that word had already begun to spread about a talented young Canadian pianist before Gould made his United States debut, in January 1955, in Washington, D.C. That recital received a clairvoyant review from the critic Paul Hume (“We know of no pianist anything like him of any age”). His Town Hall recital a week later in New York attracted pianists like Kapell and Paul Badura-Skoda, and also the record producer David Oppenheim of Columbia’s Masterworks division. He signed Gould to a contract. For his first album, Gould elected a lengthy, esoteric piece by Bach, and then spent a balmy week in June 1955 in a former church turned recording studio in midtown Manhattan, wrapped in muffler and mittens, soaking his hands and arms in hot water to warm up, haranguing the air-conditioning engineer, drinking bottled spring water, munching arrowroot biscuits and popping pills, singing and rocking along as he played the Goldberg Variations. It was released in January 1956, for $3.98, with thirty black-and-white photographs on the cover, one for each variation, showing Gould mugging at the keyboard.
How calculating were Gould’s antics? He and his promoters capitalized on them during his concert career. There were the rumpled suits and mismatched socks and untied shoes; the shuddering and moaning and clucking and the flopping tousle of hair like one of the Beatles before the fact; the sitting, hunched, only a foot off the ground, eyeballs level with the keyboard, legs crossed, on a rickety folding chair that his father had cobbled together for him, with blocks under the piano legs, a little rug, a glass of water.
Keith MacMillan, a Canadian record producer, recalled a performance in Toronto of the Beethoven C-minor Concerto. Gould walked on stage with the conductor, Walter Susskind, barely acknowledging the audience as he sat down, cross-legged, as usual, eyes buried in a pocket score he held in his hands, never mind that he obviously knew every note by heart. “As his own opening scales drew near,” MacMillan remembered,
his head remained in the score and his legs remained crossed, until the merest fraction of a second before his first entry, when he snapped the score shut and tossed it into the air; it landed flat on the piano’s downturned music rack simultaneously with the downbeat of his first entry. The timing was perfect, the legs were still crossed, and the opening scales were impeccable.
But while Gould clearly was a ham (that’s what he called himself), his mannerisms were not just affectations—he couldn’t help them, he insisted. They never overshadowed his musicianship, and they also helped to deflect closer scrutiny of his personality. Desperately private, Gould could, as it were, hide behind his reputation, which distracted the public from himself.
Columbia publicized Gould as an oddball, but before it was acquired by Sony, it was an enlightened company, giving Gould first the liberty to gamble on an obscure work for his debut album and then in later years letting him record whatever he wished. It helped that his records sold. Still, Gould was treated with a respect that would be nearly unimaginable for a classical player in the recording business today.
It also helped that Gould arrived at the right moment. What would become the modern era’s early-music movement was in its infancy, thanks to groups like Virtuosi di Roma and New York’s Pro Musica Antiqua, when Gould came on the scene. The long-playing disk was just coming into its own. Before Gould, the lengthy Goldberg Variations was an obscure work studied mostly by musicologists; in playing it, Gould exploited this new technology brilliantly. It turned out to be one of those rare pop monuments, as if there had been a huge, previously unrecognized desire for a young piano whiz to resuscitate Baroque music, and it landed Gould in the pages of Glamour and Vogue. Based on its success, he toured Western Europe, where the conductor Herbert von Karajan was so staggered by his playing that after just a few notes at the first rehearsal of Bach’s D-minor Concerto, Karajan left the podium and listened dumbstruck from the auditorium.
In Moscow and Leningrad (this was before Van Cliburn), Gould’s playing, along with his endorsement of Bach, an ecclesiastical composer, and of Schoenberg, defying atheistic, anti-modernist Soviet officialdom, inspired an almost religious veneration in young Russian musicians; it awed colleagues like Sviatoslav Richter, who thought Gould a genius but, being even more of a fanatical musician, privately questioned whether Gould truly loved Bach sufficiently. If he did, Richter wrote in his diary, he would have played the repeats in the Goldberg recording.
The more Gould performed, the more miserable he became. “At live concerts I feel demeaned, like a vaudevillian,” he announced. “I detest audiences. I think they’re a force of evil.” He said he equated the concert hall with “a comfortably upholstered extension of the Roman Colosseum” and he preferred that audiences not applaud—he considered the automatic ovation after a performance “an easily induced mob reaction,” which of course it can be.
He wanted to quit performing. He developed a fear of flying. He banned friends from concerts, saying they made him nervous. He canceled months of engagements, meanwhile devising bizarre ways of behaving, as when he sprawled across the piano lid while giving a lecture in Canada. When a technician at Steinway in New York patted him on the back, he sued for damages, claiming injury (the case was settled out of court). Then came the flap over the Brahms D-minor Concerto with the New York Phil-harmonic, when Leonard Bernstein announced to the audience, good-humoredly, that while he disagreed with Gould’s interpretation, he would go along with it anyway, “because Mr. Gould is so valid and serious an artist.” Newspapers twisted this into a feud and mocked Gould’s playing. “Between you, me and the corner lamppost, Ossip, maybe the reason he plays it so slow is maybe his technique is not so good,” wrote Harold Schonberg in The New York Times, stupidly. Gould became fed up. On April 10, 1964, he gave his last recital, in Los Angeles. He would be offered huge sums to perform again but he never did. He had given fewer than two hundred concerts in his career; some colleagues, Claudio Arrau, for example, played more in a year. Gould retired from the stage at thirty-one, the most famous and influential pianist to emerge during the second half of the twentieth century.
About Gould’s stage mannerisms, Bazzana cites an annoyed music reviewer for Le Soir in Brussels who wrote: “His orang-utang style may please admirers of Elvis Presley but it irritates or leastwise fatigues a classical audience.” On the other hand, his unconventional manner pleased a generation of jazz musicians and beat poets, who hung out at places like the Purple Onion and the Co-Existence Bagel, and claimed him as a kindred spirit. Tim Page, in liner notes for the most recent Goldberg reissue, compares Gould’s musical personality to the “tough/tender dichotomy [of] Marlon Brando and James Dean,” adding that
if you were young in the 1950s, and you attended the films of Bergman and Fellini, were hip to the Existentialists in Paris and the “Beats” on the road, and followed the daunting stylistic twists and turns from John Coltrane, Miles Davis and other modern jazz artists, it was more than likely that you were a Gould fan as well.
To teenagers and technophiles, in particular, he became a peculiar sex symbol because of his apparent (but, in fact, misperceived) sexlessness, a nerdish symbol of rebellion, defying the stodgy music establishment, and a moralizing missionary for new media. By choosing to leave the stage and live more or less monkishly, he became, as it were, classical music’s New Age yogi, and Toronto became his ashram. Disdaining the gladiatorial stage and all forms of competition also put him in harmony with Sixties peace and love culture.
“I sought to challenge the zeitgeist,” Gould insisted. But really he encapsulated it, as much as any other classical musician had, at the same time that he was a throwback to Romantic pianism. This combination, above all, was what distinguishes him. He “was a rare, fascinating case,” Bazzana writes, of someone “who combined high-modernist traits” with “an utterly Romantic approach to interpretation.” The Beatles shared his enthrallment with the technological possibilities of recordings and his being fed up with the stage. “Bless Glenn Gould for throwing the concert audience into the junkyard,” wrote McLuhan, who happens to have been a friend of Gould’s.
Gould’s attitude toward his recordings, as Bazzana points out, was actually akin to McLuhan’s toward his books, which McLuhan once described to Playboy as “the process rather than the completed product of discovery; my purpose is to employ facts as tentative probes, as means of insight.” Likewise, Gould approached the studio, or at least liked to say that he approached the studio, without fixed ideas about a performance, trying out different approaches—this is what he enjoyed about recordings as opposed to concerts, notwithstanding that his various takes might be nearly indistinguishable to anyone except him—while he regarded the finished album as something listeners could modify according to their whims by fiddling with the hi-fi. “Dial twiddling,” he pointed out, is “an interpretative act.”
He imagined producing kits of variant recordings for listeners to assemble their own preferred version of a performance. He had the Brechtian idea of recording Scriabin’s Fifth Sonata with pairs of microphones around the studio in order to produce an album in which the sound would be perceived as shifting from one place to another, as if to simulate someone moving through the room, making the physical space of the studio part of the recording.
He compared this concept with a filmmaker’s mixing of long shots, close-ups, and zooms. But this was also the era of Conceptual art, of Rauschenberg’s collages, of Fluxus and John Cage. Sol LeWitt was devising works consisting merely of instructions for other people to follow. Donald Judd was asserting the inextricable relationship between sculpture and the space around it. Jim Dine and Claes Oldenburg and Yoko Ono were staging happenings. Gould, enough aware of what was going on in the art world, called the performance in which he sprawled across the piano lid the first happening in southern Ontario.
Like pianists of an earlier era, he composed and, like them, felt he therefore could take liberties with other people’s music. “You play like a composer,” Aaron Copland once told him. Copland added, after hearing Gould play Bach, that it was “as though Bach himself is actually performing.” To Gould, performing Bach’s music invited splicing—the music consisted of what he regarded as changeable parts, voices, tempos, dynamics, instruments. He treated it almost like collage. Other pianists at the time were playing Bach with verve and distinction: Wilhelm Kempff, Richter, Rosalyn Tureck, Kapell, Lipatti—and who knows, by the way, how different the piano landscape of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s would have looked had the last two not died young? But Gould was still different. He made Bach sound like a new composer.
Walter Benjamin predicted that the proliferation of reproductions of art would eradicate the aura of the original. Following Benjamin, Gould believed that musical recordings would vitiate the public’s longing for live performance. “When Aunt Minnie can turn on her four-screen television and watch the Berlin Philharmonic we will have reached total inwardness on the part of the audience,” he told a reporter in 1962.
Just a few months after Gould left the concert stage, Horowitz ended a dozen-year sabbatical and made a widely publicized return, at Carnegie Hall, after which Columbia Records, which was also Horowitz’s producer, rushed out a “live” version of the recital. Gould disdained everything about Horowitz’s recital and the recording—he despised the Horowitz cult, Horowitz’s choice of music (Scarlatti, Mozart, Chopin, Rachmaninoff), not to mention the spectacle of his return. For some years he pondered making a parody album of Horowitz’s comeback. He speculated about his own historic return someday being a recital filmed in an empty Carnegie Hall. He felt live recordings mixed up the art of performing with the art of recording. The two were distinct. The recording studio, Gould said, had “its own laws and its own liberties, its quite unique problems and its quite extraordinary possibilities.” It even had, he believed, a higher moral purpose than a concert, which celebrated a player’s ego. “I think that the finest compliment one can pay to a recording is to acknowledge that it was made in such a way as to erase all signs, all traces, of its making and its maker”—which of course applied to no recording ever made by either Horowitz or Gould.
Like Benjamin, Gould was wrong. That live recording of Horowitz’s return was itself a technological fiction. In the studio Horowitz rerecorded passages he had muffed on stage. But now Sony has reissued the album and restored the mistakes, arguing that the public wants the real experience, the authentic performance. The aura of the original, it turns out, has only increased, not diminished, with the proliferation of reproductive technologies.
“Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it,” Max Frisch once observed. At home or in a car or on an iPod, we listen to recordings differently from the way we listen in a concert hall, where the collective task at hand is to listen. Listening to recordings is often a solitary pastime. Recorded music is a companion for when we are alone or, with headphones on, when we wish to feel alone. For Gould, solitude was clearly part of the allure of recordings. Isolation, which included the relative isolation of the recording studio as opposed to the bustle of the crowded concert hall, was to Gould almost a form of ecstasy. He wrote in a letter to a friend in 1971 that “for me all music which lacks that ability to isolate its listeners from the world in which they live is intrinsically less valuable than that which manages the feat.” Once, Bazzana relates, while touring during the late 1950s, Gould was laid up with a fever and convalesced for weeks in a hotel in Hamburg, alone. It was, Gould later recalled, the best month of his life, and he happily compared himself to Hans Castorp in the sanitarium. About recording, he also remarked:
I discovered that in the privacy, the solitude and (if all Freudians will stand clear) the womb-like security of the studio, it was possible to make music in a more direct, more personal manner than any concert hall would ever permit.
In later years, he increasingly preoccupied himself with television and radio features for the CBC, projects as technically virtuosic as his piano recordings and which he regarded as quasi-musical compositions. They allowed him to live his life away from live audiences, mostly in privacy. He produced shows about Newfoundland, the Mennonites, Richard Strauss, Stokowski, improvisation, all subjects that in the end were really about him. He used montages of sound and voices, contrapuntal radio, he called it, a new kind of radio art, a documentary cross between Bach and electronic music.
The last chapters of Bazzana’s excellent book recount the years of dwindling health and solitary life. Selfish but endearing, sweet-natured but increasingly fearful, fragile, for several years he carried on an affair with a married woman, who left him. Shy and alone amid the unstudied clutter of his apartment, he kept himself busy watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show, brooding when his father remarried after his mother died, nervously preparing notes for conversations with friends on the telephone, obsessively recording his ailments in a diary. He was a narcissist, Bazzana writes, but he also declined to play the prima donna; he enjoyed the company of many colleagues, and he liked making people laugh, as long as he controlled the relationship. He once told the filmmaker and musician Bruno Monsaingeon that he planned to stop making records by 1985, quit the city for the country, and communicate with people only by telephone.
Bazzana suggests that he became stuck in his ways, rehashing the same bugaboos, complaining about having “done all that.” He was at a turning point when he died. He talked about trading the piano for conducting, although he didn’t know how to conduct. His hands had begun to fail him, he felt. People who had recalled him as a handsome young man found he had become paunchy and wrinkled, with a pasty face and bloodshot eyes. He complained of musculoskeletal pains, hypertension, gastrointestinal problems. He popped Valium, Aldomet, and Librax. Bazzana has discovered receipts for more than two thousand pills Gould ordered from a local pharmacy between January and September 1982, when he died.
He had been a superstitious man. He always believed in omens and telepathy and ESP. That his last album, like his first, was of the Goldberg Variations was a twist of fate, a fluke. He did not mean for the work to end his career. He didn’t even like some of it. He found parts of it silly. “As a piece, as a concept, I don’t really think it quite works,” he told the writer Joseph Roddy at the time of his second recording. His playing is nonetheless exalted, ecstatic. This time he takes a few of the repeats.
“He said ridiculous things,” Rudolf Serkin once remarked, “but then at the end he played, and everything was all right.”
October 7, 2004