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Biography & Autobiography Composers & Musicians

The Great Gould


by (author) Peter Goddard

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Aug 2017
Composers & Musicians, Individual Composer & Musician, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2017
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Aug 2017
    List Price

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A startling new portrait of Gould, including never-before-seen material.

Glenn Gould’s astonishing recordings deliver that unmistakable jolt of genius to each generation newly discovering the great Canadian pianist. With the support of the Glenn Gould Estate, Peter Goddard draws on his own interviews with Gould and on new, and in some cases overlooked, sources to present a freshly revealing portrait of Gould’s unsettled life, his radical decision to quit concertizing, his career as a radio innovator, and his deep response to the Canadian environment. Sci-fi and hi-fi, hockey and Petula Clark, Elvis, jazz, chess, the Beatles, and sex — all these inform this exploration of the pianist’s far-reaching imagination. There is even a touching account of the only piano lesson Gould ever gave.

This is the perfect gift for anyone new to classical music and those already immersed in it, for those with an interest in Canadian music, in Glenn Gould himself, and in what led to The Goldberg Variations, one of the greatest recordings in music history.

About the author

Peter Goddard (1944–2022) was the music, film, and visual arts critic for the Toronto Star (and a winner of a National Newspaper Award). He is the author of The Sounding, a novel, and multiple musical biographies, including those on Ronnie Hawkins, Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, and the Rolling Stones. Trained as an ethnomusicologist, Peter played piano for rock and blues bands.


Peter Goddard's profile page


  • Short-listed, Heritage Toronto Award, 2018 Historical Writing

Excerpt: The Great Gould: Remix (by (author) Peter Goddard)


I often wonder about what people new to Glenn Gould, or those who only know his name, think when they come upon the life-size sculpture of the pianist outside the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto for the first time. Perhaps they wonder what exactly the artist is saying about him as they observe how the afternoon light on the folds of the surface make Gould’s clothing look as sleek as silk. This part of the city is about crowds and conventions and baseball fans and fun and chain restaurants. It’s not designed for thoughtfulness. Still, it’s possible. Me, I can imagine the unthinkable stretches of empty space beyond this point as I hear the trains heading east and west; once that was about all that brought anyone down to this part of town — the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways. Those who know about such things know that the CN and CP were Canada’s first radio broadcasters and aired the first music show back in the days when the CBC was still on a drawing board.
I also think about the father of the jazz great Oscar Peterson, who was once a porter on one of those trains running out of Montreal. I remember also the Festival Express, the mobile Canadian Woodstock with car after car jammed with rock stars and wannabes heading out of town, one great collective raggedy-ass party, going west and even deeper into sixties mythology.
Gould and Peterson never played together, although both said they thought about it. But Gould knew about Janis Joplin, who was on the Festival Express. He included her song “Mercedes-Benz” alongside Bach and simple hymns in The Quiet in the Land, his 1977 radio documentary about Mennonite life.
I think of my father, stopping a bit west of here with me, so that I could get out of the car to see a bit of the city before I went on to my piano lesson at the Royal Conservatory of Music, then at the corner of College Street and University Avenue, since moved to Bloor Street.
Canadian sculptor Ruth Abernethy’s Glenn offers up a solid, hand¬some icon that reminds us that the slumped figure was taller in life than is often remembered. The work catches many signature Gould tics: he seems bent into the bench itself just as he melded with his piano stool; his right hand on his cap gives the impression it might fly off at any moment in a gust of Front Street wind; and his expression proclaims a stagey seri¬ousness that might be, maybe, just a little over the top. “Hmm, yes, but, ah, speaking, as well one might, in Schoenbergian terms …”
You can practically hear a professorial Gould muttering on and on pedantically like this as visitor after visitor sits next to the master, deliciously aware that their rendezvous is a camera-ready setup.
Theatre is the key. It’s my theme, in a way. It was Gould’s theme, too. Media awareness: the star knowing where the camera was, where the microphone was. A familiar enough figure on Toronto streets back in the day, Gould could be found performing his own hobo lumpy young/old guy act, padded against the wind as if in a wintry battle scene in a vintage Soviet movie. Walking can be a subversive act, particularly if done with intent. And it certainly was for Gould, private and purposeful all at once. Where’s he going? What’s he thinking? might be questions people asked as he passed. What’s that he’s humming? This memory is now only the property of old-timers, and they’re unlikely to be walking those same streets as often — if they still exist at all, those streets.
Glenn Gould is always in motion in my lasting memories of him, although these images are always in black and white, like the National Film Board newsreels we were shown at school before any of our parents had a TV. Film rolling from the early fifties, when I might see him charging through the halls of the old Royal Conservatory of Music — “the Con,” as my father, a teacher there, called it. He was hugely famous just about everywhere in the world already, but not here, not really, as the rest of us struggled away with our iffy talents in cold practice rooms. I remember seeing him in the Con’s tiny cafeteria arguing away with someone, people coming up and talking to him. It’s still black and white in my memory from almost twenty years later, in the early 1970s, when I’d find myself crossing Glenn Gould’s path late in the afternoon around the old CBC building on Jarvis Street, where I worked for some years. In these memories, and in retelling them, I can’t simply say “Gould” — it’s too detached from the way one felt about him — but certainly not “Glenn” as in “Hey, Glenn.” It had to be Glenn Gould.
We met a few times — he remembered I’d interviewed him on more than one occasion — and we’d stop on the street or in a hall and talk for a bit about what he was doing. One really late night at the CBC he appeared at the door of the second- or third-floor editing room I was using, startling me — “Like a ghost,” I told him.
I bet he liked that. The setting was right. The top-floor rooms in the old CBC building — offices, edit suites, storage, whatever else was there — had the murk and crannies found in attics in horror flicks. This added a little extra frisson for those lovers creeping upstairs for a late-night boff.
“And what are you working on?” he asked, moving close enough to peer over my shoulder. I don’t remember now — probably a segment of a breezy morning show, The Scene, he himself would contribute to.
I flattened a length of tape against the tiny metal block, cutting it at an angle with my razor blade, in the narrow slot provided. After another cut in different place on the tape, I brought the two pieces together.
“You realize, of course, that process will be taken over by a machine,” Gould said, straightening up.
“Probably,” I said. “But it won’t be as much fun.”
Tape splicing — replaced now by the digital edit suite, the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and other goodies — had its own set of quirky tools, including a marker of some sort to indicate where to splice a tape as well as a razor blade held in a special metal clamp to do the splicing, plus tape to piece the parts together. Veteran editors with eyes as sharp as diamond cleavers could fuse together two halves of the identical note recorded at different times with one of their fine tape splices. Gould’s editing prowess was a legend around the CBC. Indeed, as the years went on he seemed far more interested in extolling some frightfully complex bit of tape splicing he’d finished than his latest recording. A listener asked by Gould to guess the number of edits or splices in a finished documentary would inevitably guess far fewer splices than were there.
I now realize that Gould probably did little actual cutting on his own, especially after Columbia producer Andrew Kazdin’s revelations years later that he did the actual editing when recording with Gould, with Gould hovering around in an advisory capacity.
With me, though, Gould seemed stalled on the word fun.
“Less fun maybe,” he said, “but a logical step, a very human step, too — the step toward perfection — if you think of it.”
We talked a bit more and then he drifted away, leaving me to whiz strips of magnetic tape backward and forward, searching for the right spot to splice.

Editorial Reviews

An interesting supplement to the Glenn Gould craze still surrounding us.

We owe Peter Goddard for his informed, insightful, and well-researched insights into a great Canadian thinker.

The Tyee

Goddard’s portrait is informative, engaging and full of entertaining nuggets about our country’s classical music genius.

Winnipeg Free Press

Goddard has drawn a comprehensive portrait of the many faces of Gould, from dude to icon, and given us a tour of a life of such protean productivity that one can only be in awe.

Literary Review of Canada

An interesting personal account of the pianist’s career by one of Canada’s noteworthy music critics … I warmly recommend this book to Gould aficionados.

CAML Review

Brings a new perspective to the subject.

International Piano Magazine

Reading Goddard on Gould is like the happy accident of encountering a guy in a bar who can speak with equal ease and authority about pop culture and philosophy, who slides from lowbrow to highbrow in a sentence and who, as it turns out, knew Gould in person and over many years

The Globe and Mail

Perhaps no other Canadian cultural figure who gained international status as an artist remains as elusive as Gould (myth obfuscates as much as it contextualizes), but Goddard tracks him down at the cottage, on stage, and in the studio (real and of Gould’s mind) as none have done before.

J.A. Wainwright, PhD