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Five Things Everyone Should Know about Glenn Gould

My Introduction to Music professor always started class with a video relating to music to get us talking about that day’s lesson. I remember walking into the room last October, watching that day’s video for a few seconds, and thinking, “What is that guy doing with his jaw?.  

 

I had been a music student for the past six, going on seven years at that point. I had also been a part of my high school’s top band as well as performing with both the top orchestra and choir; but, I still had absolutely no idea who this dude was. After my initial moment of confusion, I became fascinated with this man’s passion for the music he was making, and I wished that I had even half the dedication to the art as he did.

 

That video was of The New York Philharmonic playing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto in D Minor with Glenn Gould as the pianist (you can watch the performance here). That day started my obsessive research about this man, and I’ve found a few interesting facts and achievements about him, so in honor of Gould’s 86th birthday on September 25th, I wanted to share his existence with those who may not have known anything about him, just like me.

1. His mannerisms

I’m just going to get this one out of the way: the man was a little… odd, to say the least. Some of his eccentricities include: singing as he plays (you can hear his voice in a lot of his recordings, hence my previous comment about his jaw moving); conducting himself as he plays; sitting in a special chair 13 inches off the ground (only this chair, all others were a no-go); and wearing a jacket, gloves, and a hat in even the warmest weather. Musicians know that sitting up straight with uncrossed legs is the proper way to sit or stand (a straight back leads to a better tone and more lung capacity for wind instruments, producing a richer and more vibrant sound), but not Gouldaudience members often watched him perform with the worst posture and crossed legs. It’s a good thing he knows what he’s doing!

2.  Sick? Probably not.

Gould was known to carry a briefcase full of assorted pills that were used to treat various things such as sniffles, headaches, “cold hands” (because wearing gloves is too mainstream), indigestion, and other minor symptoms. Many of his friends also described times where they coughed mid-conversation, causing Gould to flee the building where he finished the conversation from a phone in his car. He was a hypochondriac, which is someone who obsessively believes that they have a severe illness. For Gould, this obsession forced him to take many medications to treat illnesses that he did not have, ultimately leading to the degradation of his body and organ symptoms. In the months, even years before his death in 1982, he suffered from stomach ulcers, extreme joint pain, numbness in the fingers, extreme gas, and loss of bladder control before he succumbed to a fatal stroke that took place the day after his 50th birthday.  

 

Was his death caused by the dozens of pills he took? Maybe, maybe not. But it sure did wear his body down.

3.  The Goldberg Variations… The Gouldbergs.

In 1955, Gould recorded the album that would cause him to become a household name. This album was Bach’s Goldberg Variations. There were few recordings of this album before Gould released it, and over the next 27 years before his death, it sold 140,000 copies before reaching 2.1 million in 2000. This work of musicincluding 30 different pieces (or “songs” as all of you non-musicians would call them)was considered to be so technically difficult for most experienced pianists to play that the fact Gould had completed them flawlessly launched him into fame seemingly overnight. Gould re-recorded the album again just before his death, and, in my opinion, it is really awesome to play while you’re trying to study.

4.  The Voyager

In 1977, NASA launched a space probe to explore the solar system. If you don’t think that’s cool just on its own, it also included a “Golden Record” on board that served as a greeting for any other life form that might stumble upon it. This record has different pictures of things, people, and places, and recordings of songs and greetings that could all-in-all sum up what life on earth was really like. On that record is a recording of Gould playing Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, which is supposedly one of the first pieces any pianist will learn; though, I wouldn’t know because I only played flute (and three years of triangle in high schoolbut that’s besides the point).

 

Besides this man being extremely talented at such a young age, his talent is also continuing to live on in outer space. Although, I don’t know how any other life form will be able to listen. Do aliens even have record players? If not, now you know something that even an alien doesn’t!

 

And finally…

5.   “Puppy Farms” used to be considered good?

If there’s anything you and Glenn Gould (probably) have in common, it’s that you like animals more than people. When my family got our puppy this summer, I couldn’t wait for my shift at work to be over so I could pet my dog (true story). Gould had the same idea, except his thinking went more like this: “I can’t wait to retire so I can open a puppy farm!” (also true story). Remember how I mentioned his anxiety about other people’s coughing and sneezing? Well, his friends mentioned on more than one occasion that Gould would roll around on the ground with a sneezing dog and would not care at all. Can you blame him? Sneezing, fuzzy, cute dog > sick, gross human any day. My message here is that he loved animals. Nothing significant, but I love people who also love animals.

 

Glenn Gould was a man of many talents and joys; however, he also had many quirks. We all know someone who was just a little weird, but sometimes those eccentricities make them so much more loveable. Happy birthday, Mr. Gould!

Sources

https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/

https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/glenngould/028010-1010.01-e.html

Photos

Allie is a senior at Winona State, majoring in Social Work and minoring in Child Advocacy Studies. If a professional were to ask her what her goals in life were, she'd probably tell them that she wants to work in a high school helping teens. However, her less-professional goals are to own a Tesla and to shop exclusively at Target and Ikea. In her free time, Allie can usually be found scrolling through TikTok and fighting social injustices, both of which are known to make her late to work.
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