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Glenn Gould: A Life in Pictures.

Glenn Gould: A Life in Pictures. By Tim Page. Richmond Hill, ON; Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2007. [192 p. ISBN: 9781554072897. $29.95.] Illustrations, facsimiles.

Billing itself as "the first photographic treatment of the life of one of the greatest and most fascinating musicians of all time," this book was conceived to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of Glenn Gould's birth, and was first published in hardback under the same title by Doubleday in Toronto in 2002. The current edition is a softcover reprint published in 2007, which presumably makes it a seventy-fifth anniversary tribute, though no changes were made to the original texts.

A brief foreword by the 1999 laureate of the Glenn Gould Prize in Music and Communications, Yo-Yo Ma, extols Gould's "ability to create breathtaking new sound worlds from his own deep understanding of the abstract," and lauds the "legacy of his imagination." A lengthier essay by the Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic, Tim Page, provides a biographical sketch of Gould and attempts to interpret and place into a broader context the salient features of his career. For example, after asking, "Has anybody ever possessed ten fingers with ten such marvelously independent lives?" (p. 14), Page suggests that Gould "made some of the best recordings of his time and ... a few of the worst" (p. 15).

Interspersed as marginalia throughout Page's introductory text and occasionally thereafter are images of some of the thousands of documents preserved among the Glenn Gould Papers at the Library and Archives Canada. Gould was a pack-rat who kept everything from shopping lists, broadcast scripts, and drafts of outgoing correspondence (sent and unsent), to blood-pressure logs, tour itineraries, baggage tags, and hotel and rental car keys. Included in this selection are a Mother's Day card hand-made by the youthful Gould, a letter from Queen Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting acknowledging the Queen's interest in "the little Canadian boy who is such a clever musician," images of the covers of his first keyboard tutor and various recordings he made, concert programs and publicity flyers and posters, his lifetime membership card to the National Anti-Vivisection Society (attesting to his great concern for animals; he eventually left half his estate to the Toronto Humane Society), and the mimeographed note he displayed in his dressing rooms and handed out to fans during his nine-year career as a touring artist discouraging them from trying to shake his hand.

Among the over 200 black-and-white photos that make up this Life in Pictures are many previously unpublished images of Gould, ranging from family snapshots to candid and formal publicity photos by Don Hunstein, whose portraits graced the covers of the ninety-plus Gould LPs issued by Columbia Masterworks (now Sony Classical), by Harold Whyte and Herb Nott for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and by other Canadian photographers, including Robert Ragsdale, Paul Rockett, Henri Rossier, Dan Weiner, and Gaby, who were engaged at various times by Gould's own management or by a succession of concert societies, festivals, newspapers, and symphony orchestras. They are organized into four chronological sections entitled "Overture," "Bursting Forth," "New Horizons," and "Envoi." Acknowledgements, sources, and a listing of permissions follow a five-page chronology of the major points in Gould's life and career that rounds out the volume.

Missing from this collection are photos of Gould by Yousuf Karsh, presumably because his estate tightly controls all use of his photographs by third parties, and by Jock Carroll, whose own book, Glenn Gould: Some Portraits of the Artist as a Young Man (Toronto: Stoddart, 1995), sparked a lawsuit brought by the Estate of Glenn Gould, which claimed copyright infringement based on its assertion of complete control of all usage of the name and likeness of Gould. The Estate lost both the original trial and the appeal, and one senses that this Life in Pictures publication, a project officially underwritten by the Estate, may have been its attempt to head off additional photo books that might be contemplated by any of the above-named or other photographers.

Notwithstanding the many high-quality images of Gould showing him at work and at play over most of his life, and documenting many of the high points of his career, the heart and soul of this book to me lie in the meticulously crafted captions and the artfully placed quotes from Gould and from various colleagues and biographers that accompany individual photos or groups of photos. From them we gain significant insights into the pianist's mind, an appreciation for the impact he had on those around him, and a sense of the esteem in which he is still held.

Renowned particularly as a Bach interpreter, though his repertoire was remarkably broad, he had the following, among other things, to say about the late-Baroque German master: '[T]he great thing about the music of Sebastian Bach is that it ... presents to us an example of a man who makes richer his own time by not being of it" (p. 131). Could there be a more fitting metaphor for Gould himself, given his retirement from active concertizing at age thirty-two and his subsequent withdrawal into ever deeper seclusion, eventually communicating with the world only via disc, radio, television, film, and telephone? And speaking of not being of the world, Gould puts his self-imposed isolation into context by explaining, "For every hour you spend in the company of other human beings, you need X number of hours alone ... isolation is the indispensable component of human happiness" (p. 6).

Elsewhere we learn that Leonard Bernstein "admired [Gould's] intellectual approach ... his constant inquiry into a new angle or a new possibility of the truth of a score" (p. 3), and Robert Silverman felt that "[Gould] had more understanding of what he was playing than 99 percent of pianists" (p. 146). Kevin Bazzana, a Gould biographer, explains that "[f]or Gould a musical work was an abstract entity that could be fully comprehended in the mind in the absence of performance" (p. 146), while Leonard Rose felt that "he was simply capable of doing things where other great pianists would not dream of wandering so far afield" (p. 163). Bruno Monsaingeon, who filmed Gould's 1982 Goldberg Variations recording sessions, points out: "He did not seek approval. ... Indeed he thought the artist should be granted anonymity. In this quest, he was reaching back to the status of the Medieval illuminators and cathedral builders who served a purpose larger than themselves" (p. 168).

Though the world knows Glenn Gould to this day mainly as an iconoclastic pianist of consummate artistry, Canadians were long aware of the many programs he conceived for CBC radio and television, and of the extended documentaries he produced about such figures as Stokowski and Casals, Schoenberg and Strauss. His "big three" documentary triumphs, "The Idea of North," "The Latecomers," and "The Quiet in the Land," explored variations on a theme of intense interest to Gould, the human condition in the state of isolation, and did so employing non-narrative techniques developed by Gould himself. In the writer Howard Fink's way of thinking, "Gould's contrapuntal documentaries are ... his greatest creations" (p. 153).

The endless variety of photo sizes and placement, the choice of typefaces and layout, and the generous allotment of margins and empty space, all match from a technical perspective the quality achieved on the visual and intellectual fronts. It is altogether a highly successful undertaking and a fitting and respectful tribute to its subject. Although it seems almost a shame to have published this book in paperback, the lower price should make it affordable to many more individuals than those who purchased the original hardcover version, and that would be all to the good. I wholeheartedly endorse it as a must-have addition to the collections of Gould fans and libraries everywhere.


University of Minnesota
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Author:Maloney, S. Timothy
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2009
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