Glenn Gould: The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Genius by Peter Ostwald
Wednesday 08 October 1997
Glenn Gould's eccentricities were as famous as his playing. Indeed, they contributed to making that playing famous. He was a pianist with a unique, extreme style who gave up public performance to present himself solely through recordings. In the age of mechanical reproduction, Gould encouraged listeners to interfere with his recorded performances. To twiddle our dials, he said, would be to assert the value of "aesthetic narcissism".
"Gould managed to create a living legend of himself," the author of this new biography promisingly writes. Any writer on the Gould trail needs a touch of their subject's savvy and scepticism to get at all close. Peter Ostwald is aware of the complexities. But the symbolic frisson - the case of the real Gould, the virtual Gould, the disappearing Gould - is not his field. The solution to the Gould problem is to combine biographical data with "personal knowledge".
They first met backstage after a concert. "He was ill-at-ease, his face tense and there was some mild twitching of the muscles around his right eye, which detracted from an otherwise youthful, handsome appearance". Ostwald, who died shortly after completing the work, was a psychiatrist. His style, like Gould's polio, can be distinctly sub-clinical. The work's polemical edge is partly responsible: the author hoped his work might stimulate interest in the new speciality of of performing-arts medicine.
Gould was a deserving case, certainly. The name of every doctor, physician, chiropractor and even optician he consulted is dutifully recorded. Medical and psychological "postulations" are scattered through the text. Was Gould's crazy posture at the piano due to his sitting closely with his mother at the piano in early years? It seems plausible until Ostwald reveals that Gould's piano teacher, a Chilean of rigid habit, taught the position. Gould a case of Asperger's Disease? Perhaps. This variant of autism is associated with people gifted "in music, mathematics, drama, athletics, or art".
Ostwald considered Gould his friend but friendship, it seems, was not a Gould speciality. For 10 years the two did not meet. Shortly before Gould's death, aged 50 in 1982, there was one brief encounter, but the atmosphere was sour. Gould's sole communication thereafter was his Christmas card, which "always arrived late". The note of wounded amour propre is unsettling. The revelation that author and subject met just once in the last 15 years of the subject's life is rather more so.
WW Norton, pounds 20
Life & Style blogs
Hair loss explained: How and why men go bald
What do the emojis on Snapchat mean?
Everyone should watch this boy's reaction to learning he will be a big brother
Ashley Madison hack: Just three in every 10,000 female accounts on infidelity website are real
A pint of water every day is the key to losing weight, scientists say
Dresden riots: Protesters in Germany attack refugee buses shouting 'foreigners out'
France train shooting: US soldiers speak of the moment they stopped gunman and 'beat him until he was unconscious'
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs
- 1 Hair loss explained: How and why men go bald
- 2 Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe the Stark may have a twin sister
- 3 Artist takes LSD, draws herself over different stages of the 9-hour trip to show its effects
- 4 A pint of water every day is the key to losing weight, scientists say
- 5 Russia 'accidentally reveals' number of its soldiers killed in eastern Ukraine
£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...
£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...
£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...