On today’s date in 1982, famed Canadian pianist Glenn Gould died in Toronto, Ont.
It was Sept. 27, only a few days after Gould’s 50th birthday and about a week after the release of his best-selling second recording of the Goldberg Variations, when he suffered a massive stroke. He died a week later.
“Mr. Gould was always an unorthodox pianist, choosing isolation over society, recordings over live concerts and idiosyncratic reinterpretations over respect for musical ‘authenticity,'” reads an obituary published by the New York Times soon after Gould’s unexpected death, which made international headlines owing to the late pianist’s eccentricity.
BACH’S GOLDBERG VARIATIONS
Gould originally catapulted onto the world stage at the age of 23, when he released his initial recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which is considered among the most difficult pieces ever composed on the piano.
“He arrived at the recording studio wearing a winter coat, a beret, a muffler and gloves,” reads another 1982 New York Times story.
“He carried a batch of towels, bottles of spring water, several varieties of pills and a 14-inch high piano chair to sit on. He soaked his arms in hot water for 20 minutes, took several medications, adjusted each leg of his chair, and proceeded to play, loudly humming and singing along. After a week, he had produced one of the most remarkable performances of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on record.”
Nearly a decade later, in 1964, Gould quit performing live and declared “the concert is dead,” shocking international audiences.
“He said he considered the concert form an ‘immensely distasteful’ musical compromise that leads to ‘tremendous conservatism’ in musical interpretation. Mr. Gould contended that the concert’s aura of commerce, its performing stage and its listening audience interfere with music, turning the artist into a ‘vaudevillian,'” reads the New York Times obituary.
“For him, the recording represented the musical future. Mr. Gould was also among the first classical musicians to treat the recording as a distinct art form, with its own possibilities and requirements. The phonograph record, for Mr. Gould, was no more a ‘record’ of an actual continuous performance than a movie was a record of actual continuous events. It was a spliced construction, edited from recording tape.”
1999 GOULD STAMP
On Dec. 17, 1999, Canada Post commemorated Gould on a 46-cent multi-coloured stamp (Scott #1820b).
Printed by Ashton Potter on Tullis Russell coated paper using offset lithography, the stamp was issued as part of a four-stamp pane celebrating “Extraordinary Entertainers,” which also included Portia White (SC #1820a); Guy Lombardo (SC #1820c); and Felix Leclerc (SC #1820d).