Canadian pianist Glenn Gould was one of those child prodigies whose spectacular talents were matched by some serious eccentricities. As an infant, Gould reportedly hummed rather than cried, he had perfect pitch at age 3, and he graduated at the age of 12 from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Unlike just about every other musician on the planet, Gould reportedly didn’t seem to need to spend hour upon hour practicing his instrument. Instead, he had the enviable ability to practice in his head. His interpretations of Brahms, Beethoven and especially Bach were hailed as genius.
Gould also tended to dress in a winter coat and gloves no matter what the temperature was outside. This resulted in Gould getting arrested in Miami for being a suspected vagrant. While performing, he would fall into something close to an ecstatic state, shaking his head and twisting his torso in a manner that raised more than a few eyebrows in the buttoned-down world of classical music. But perhaps his most famous eccentricity was that, like Jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, Gould had a habit of humming along as he played.
Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor made a pair of gorgeously shot documentaries about the pianist in 1959. Glenn Gould – Off the Record, which you can see above, shows Gould relaxing at his lakeside cottage north of Toronto. In the movie, we see that he leads a solitary life – his only companions are his piano and his pet dog – where he can focus completely on his music.
In Glenn Gould – On the Record, below, Koenig and Kroitor show Gould in the studio trying to get a recording to match his precise vision. It also focuses on the harried recording engineers who struggle to record the music coming out of Gould’s piano and not his mouth. Both films released by the National Film Board of Canada will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, part of our larger collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.
Glenn Gould Explains the Genius of Johann Sebastian Bach (1962)
Glenn Gould Offers a Strikingly Unconventional Interpretation of 1806 Beethoven Composition
The Art of Fugue: Gould Plays Bach
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.
As a teacher/composer/pianist I have been asked
“what did I think of Glenn Gould?”
It is irrelevant what I think, was my reply.