Twenty-Eight Cullings on Glenn Gould from Kevin Bazzana’s Wondrous Strange–The Life and Art of Glenn Gould

I believe in God—Bach’s God.
Glenn Gould


  1. Stayed out of the public eye, maintained his presence through a conspicuous absence. 9 Gould’s personality has certainly fueled his posthumous appeal. His eccentricity made him fascinating, his isolation made him mysterious, his personal modesty made him lovable, and his apparent sexlessness paradoxically gave him sex appeal among some female (and some male) fans… 10
  2. He was a powerful communicator of deeply personal, sometimes shocking and subversive, but always compelling and entertaining interpretations, which he put across with great conviction. 10
  3. Question Authority: His eccentric interpretations, his garish on-stage demeanor, his abandonment of concert life, his dropout lifestyle—all imply a stubborn resistance to authority and conventions that makes him an immensely attractive figure, even a role model especially to young musicians engaged in their own battles with teachers and traditions and clichés of classical-music business. He was refreshingly irreverent in a business whose conservatism and formality and pretentiousness have always alienated many people, especially the young. 11
  4. In some quarters he is received as a kind of guru or monk, a holy man, a Platonic ideal—the posthumous reception really does get this airy. 11
  5. For all his originality he was identifiably a product of the country, the province, the city, the very neighborhood—and the times—into which he was born…In fact, he remained, all his life, in fundamental ways, an Old Toronto boy—he never did leave town—and his work incarnated Canada in unmistakable if sometimes unusual ways. 13
  6. Both of Gould’s parents came out of traditions that were steeped in the social gospel and that stressed personal faith and morality, respect for the authority of the Bible, community service, and the belief that God should be manifest in all aspects of life. 28
  7. By the time he was ten, he could play all of the preludes and fugues in the first book of Bach’s WTC… 48
  8. As his teen years progressed, his Puritanism yielded an increasingly rational and idealistic approach to music. 87
  9. He liked to talk about “ecstasy” as the highest goal of playing or listening to music, and he meant not exultation but the sense of standing outside oneself, of stopping time, of being in touch with an otherworldly realm. 87
  10. It was interpretive wisdom beyond his years that most impressed his listeners as a child, not bravura technique. 104
  11. He was thinking, about matters theoretical and practical, about morals and aesthetics, about music and interpretation, about the piano and performance practice, about the future direction of his career and his adult relationship to the world of music. 135
  12. His was an exhilarating, modern Bach. 171
  13. His objections to the concert hall were ultimately moral: it was simply immoral to demand that someone display his wares in this way in front of a ravening public. 179
  14. Gould was not interested in money as source of status or luxury and was willing to maximize his income only in ways compatible with his lifestyle and artistic goals. 241
  15. In a recording he saw a permanent document in which he could leave a fixed, definitive statement of an interpretation, and he accepted the responsibility of that position. 260
  16. As a conversationalist he was animated, engaging, provocative, witty to the point of riotous, and usually dominating through the electricity of his ideas and sheer volubility. 271
  17. The lifestyle he cultivated was all about eliminating contingencies and distractions, maximizing opportunities, relating to the outside world on his own carefully controlled terms. 318
  18. He lived alone and guarded his privacy jealously, giving out his unlisted address and telephone number only to a trusted few. He was a classic introvert, drained rather than energized by prolonged contact with others, especially crowds, and he discovered early that isolating himself from society was essential to his happiness and security, and to his art. 320
  19. Often he would have, say, a TV and two different radio stations (news and music) playing in different rooms of his apartment, and he would keep them on while working or talking, reading or practicing. (He read several newspapers a day and a handful of books a week.) 322
  20. He did not smoke and drank nothing stronger than coffee. 325
  21. Gould had no denominational or even well-defined religious beliefs, though he was fascinated by religion and indeed by all sorts of otherworldly phenomena. 333 His appreciation of the Bible seems to have been more ethical and even aesthetic than doctrinal, but he took comfort from certain Biblical texts. 335
  22. Gould’s God was not the fire-breathing law-giver of the Old Testament, but something more akin to the transcendentalist or pantheist or Spinozist God, a timeless spiritual ideal, and like many mystics he worshipped, in some ways, the centrality and restorative power of nature. 336
  23. Gould manifested a variety of obsessional, schizoid, and narcissistic traits, too, hardly surprising given his frailty, sensitivity, and advanced intellect 370
  24. He had a sharp intellect and a quick wit, but his humor, unlike that of many intelligent and witty people, was without cruelty or spite; he used it to relax, occasionally to provoke, never to wound. 389
  25. Fugues and twelve-tone works have pleasure to Gould’s puzzle-solving brain because they need to be analyzed, figured out, to be fully appreciated, while more intuitive types of music—fantasias, aleatory pieces, jazz improvisations—disturbed him the way an unmade bed disturbs a neat freak. 401
  26. There are Bach recordings from his last years in which his control of touch and tone is so immaculate as to be almost superhuman. 427
  27. With his mother’s death, his hand problems, his family troubles, the various losses of his later forties, his apparently worsening health, and probably the realization he would never enjoy a long-term romantic relationship, it is no surprise that Gould became more introspective in his later years. 483
  28. Acquaintances that saw him in his late forties for the first time in years were shocked at his deterioration. His complexion was sickly, his hair was thinning and graying, he was paunchy and wrinkled, he was more stooped than usual. 484

—Kevin Bazzana, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould

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