Glenn Gould: Off and On the Record: Two Short Films About the Life & Music of the Eccentric Musician

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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.


by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.