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Gould, the Communicator

Panel discussion held at the National Library of Canada
Wednesday, May 25, 1988


Margaret Pacsu


R. Murray Schafer

Vincent Tovell

John Roberts


My distinguished colleagues have allowed me to go first, which is very kind of them. I have a few thoughts to share with you that occurred to me a few months ago when I was asked to participate in this evening's discussion.

Someone mentioned recently that it's been six years since Glenn Gould died. Six years! Surely not! Anyone who knew Glenn at all seems to feel, as I do, incredulous that it's been that long. Why, it seems just yesterday, I walked in on him in Studio L at CBC, sitting with his stocking feet up on the mixing board, note-pad on his knees, singing along blissfully while conducting his own solo performance of the first movement of Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony. And a while before that, I saw him shuffle through the CBC cafeteria and heard a technician with a strong Scottish brogue call out loudly over the heads of the assembled diners "there goes that rinky-tink piano player." True to form, Glenn fixed him. The incompetent radio technician Duncan Haig Guinness lives forever on the Silver Jubilee Album.

So Glenn has been dead for six years. The news of his death evoked, at the time, the same disbelief among friends and complete strangers as on hearing about John Kennedy and Martin Luther King or, for some, John Lennon. A stone was dropped into a pond, but the ripples keep on in ever widening circles. There is, in fact, a growing group of fans who refuse to accept that Glenn has left us for good. Apparently, I'm told, John McGreevy has said: "that was actually one of Glenn's fantasies: just close up shop, just go away".

On hearing of Glenn's death, a friend of mine, a well-known jazz pianist and teacher in Toronto, Michael Coghlan, was inspired to come up with a suspiciously Gouldian scheme. Michael writes:

"July. It was hot. Heading north on the 400 for a cottage getaway, I got this uncontrollable urge for a Hires root beer. Subliminal advertising aside, it is hard to explain these things. My wife, after listening to my complaining and lamenting the lack of roadside pop machines, suggested we find a suitable corner store in the rapidly approaching Orillia, so that I would get some satisfaction and she could get some relief. It seemed like a good idea.

After a time, we were able to locate a suitable commercial outlet of the milk store variety and, as I pulled into the lot, I was slightly surprised to see a very large, ultra-greasy, multi-studded, "Don't mess with Jim" Harley-Davidson parked just in front of the door. The fifties live! Small town Ontario never gives up her dead. Oh well, let's get the root beer and get to the lake!

Inside, at the counter, the owner of the Harley was paying for his stuff. He struck me as being slightly odd, well past 40. He certainly didn't look very tough, or big, or intimidating, the way bikers are supposed to look. The leather and the studs were all there – the boots and the jeans, the hair slicked back, what was left to slick anyway. But he wasn't sporting any "tatoos". He moved in a rather strange way graceful almost, measured, relaxed. He seemed – well – familiar. There are times when you meet someone for only a couple of moments and, although you don't even talk, an impression is made which remains for years.

This was one of those times. He left. I paid for my root beer, took a few glorious swallows and started out.

We were stopped at a light, when the guy on the Harley goes by. "Why are you turning right?" Myra asks.

"No reason". She gives me that look I have come to know so well, that "here we go again" look, that "I-am-married-to-a-crazy" look. I make up some excuse about a shortcut. I follow him, staying well back, and watch as he pulls into the drive and quickly walks into a rather smallish bungalow with overgrown landscaping and badly in need of maintenance. I pull up and shut the engine off.

It's still hot. The window is open. Everything is quiet except for the music coming out of the house. Music! Piano music! A biker who likes Bach! We wait. Thirty minutes go by. Bach, Grieg, Bizet, the Berg Sonata, Wagner. Wait a minute. Wagner all on the piano! My career as a peeping Tom started and ended that hot day in July. But the shock of what I saw, as I looked through that open window, is enough to last most peepers a lifetime. Even to this day, I puzzle over the sheer mastery of the thing. The real truth dawned on me with all the force of the Valkyries' ride. I realized that Ambrose Small had shown him the way. Glenn Gould is alive and well, living in Orillia."

This was written by my friend, pianist Michael Coghlan, a few months after Glenn's death, and he had never met Glenn. The impact of this curious personality, the eccentricities, the genius touches an ever-growing audience. But above all, I think 90% of Gould's importance in the world is as a great pianist, and we must try not to explain him too much. This tendency apparently reached its climax in the occasional encounters between Glenn and fellow communicator, Marshall McLuhan. They liked to get together and communicate at each other, and both subsequently made it clear that they couldn't understand one word of what the other was talking about, possibly with good reason.

So, while all of us are joined here tonight to remember and celebrate Glenn Gould, the communicator, I would like to end with a quote from my 84 year-old mother. I am not a musician but she is, a graduate of the Franz Liszt Academy who has devoted her life to music and is still teaching piano full-time to young students.

"I found Glenn Gould's greatness mainly in his Bach interpretations. It is true that Wanda Landowska and Rosalyn Tureck went before him and, no doubt, inspired him. But he did not imitate it. His interpretations seemed more intimate, some of the slow movements in the partitas almost like improvisations, as if the music just grew out from his fingers on the keys. They sometimes had the effect of a discovery for the listener, especially to those of us who studied and knew this music. Yes, yes, this is what Bach meant! This is what he wanted to hear and say. His spirit seemed to be recreated much more than by all the harpsichordists and Baroque instrument players with their imperfect instruments. Technically, Glenn Gould could do anything he wanted to do, but he never used his formidable gift for empty virtuosic displays. His Bach-playing became a concept."

Finally, may I remind you that Glenn's recording of the first Prelude and Fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier is sailing out into space aboard Voyager VIII. It was supposed to leave our solar system this past fall and will reach Taurus in something like 500,000 years. Now, whatever will he do for an encore!

Thank you very much.

I would like to turn our discussion over now to John Roberts who has, I'm sure, a great deal to say.


Thank you.

First of all, perhaps I should just say that Glenn was a great admirer of Rosalyn Tureck, but something less of an admirer of Wanda Landowska. A mention of Marshall McLuhan reminds me of something which Glenn once said to me. I knew him extremely well. I knew him for a very long time, and we were taking about Marshall, who was a mutual friend, and he said: "You know, I somehow think Marshall is more connected with the medium – somehow I feel I'm closer to the message".

I think there can be little doubt that Glenn Gould was an extraordinary communicator and that his communications took place at different levels and at different degrees of profoundness. I can still see him bounding up the stairs of our house in Toronto to tell bedtime stories to our children, stories which flowed spontaneously from his imagination. Our only problem was shutting off the communication when it was time for the children to go to bed and the moment to turn out the light.

I think it is true to say that something has developed as a result of Glenn's power to communicate through music and the electronic media, which I call the Glenn Gould phenomenon. During his lifetime, Glenn touched the hearts and minds of literally millions of people around the world. However, in spite of his death almost six years ago, thanks to the electronic media, Glenn's power of communication is continuing and expanding in an astounding manner. His records, which sold extremely well in his lifetime, are now selling in greater numbers as a whole new generation who never heard him perform in the concert hall fall under his spell. In Japan, admiration for Gould's recordings has turned to veneration. Indeed, some Japanese admirers turned up in Toronto with the express purpose of sitting on his grave, something which was obviously culturally important to them. In France, Glenn has become a cult figure. I am told that CBS records cannot ship his records to France fast enough to meet public demand. The Glenn Gould exhibition at the Centre culturel canadien last year in Paris was probably the most successful cultural project ever undertaken by Canada in France. There was an enormous queue outside before the opening. At the Glenn Gould Video Festival in New York, there was a queue which stretched for several city blocks before the opening. In Germany, the same intense devotion to Glenn is in evidence, and I could go on and on citing country after country. Furthermore, there is now a Glenn Gould Society in Amsterdam with a branch in Tokyo.

Numerous books have been written about Glenn, some reproducing his writings, and another one was published last month which consists of a collection of papers given at the International Glenn Gould Symposium in Montreal last October. The books in existence have been translated into other languages, and further translations of them are now taking place. Otto Friedrich's biography of Glenn is expected to be released in the near future and there is great anticipation as to what it will contain. "Le Cycle Glenn Gould" on television in France – something that lasts for more than 20 weeks – was launched with such publicity and fanfare that, in France, 1988 is becoming a special Glenn Gould year. And, of course, in Canada we have had some of the new series "Glenn Gould Plays" put together for TV by Vincent Tovell, who is sitting here to my left, and now, of course, we have this exhibition in Ottawa.

All this underlines that Glenn was not simply another in the crop of remarkable pianists this century has produced. Through the freshness and originality of his performances and because of his ideas, Glenn was described by the great pianist Gina Bachauer as a "once in a century phenomenon".

Glenn was a communicator involved in pushing back the frontiers of music and the electronic media. This he was able to do through his radio documentaries and recitals for CBC radio, as well as in other CBC programs such as his 1967 series which was called simply "The Art of Glenn Gould". In his radio documentaries and, in particular, in three known as the "Solitude Trilogy", he developed something which he called "contrapuntal radio" in which several characters spoke simultaneously, forming an oral counterpoint. This shocked a great many people and placed new demands on listeners. I think it is true to say that, in Glenn's radio documentaries, he followed structures which were really derived from music, except in a very few cases. Glenn's programs – his documentaries in particular – were extremely demanding for audiences. But because of its mandate to address minority audiences, the CBC went ahead and produced them anyway. Certainly Glenn, like other documentary makers, including Murray Schafer on my right, realized that documentaries are made not just for the public of the moment, but for the publics of the future too.

In addition, Glenn was offered a prime means of communication by CBC television. For example, in 1968 when he presented "The Subject is Beethoven" on television, the audience response was overwhelming; so much so that the program had to be repeated shortly afterwards. The response from the audience was quite extraordinary. Many people wrote to say that they had never encountered so-called concert music, classical music, or whatever you want to call it, before. They hadn't encountered it at school; they hadn't encountered music at home and, by chance, they'd found it on television. These people went on to say that through one means or another, such as going to the local record store and seeing what was there, they were beginning a whole new exploration of a new world which they didn't realize existed. And I remember one letter which said: "Mr. Gould, you have changed my life". And he was very touched by that indeed.

As we know, Glenn was able to communicate with millions of people through his recordings. In 1955, he signed a contract with Columbia, now CBS records, [Later Sony Classical: ed.] in New York and recorded the Goldberg Variations of Bach which, up until that time was considered to be a fairly recherché piece. Well, over a million copies of this recording were sold worldwide. All in all, he produced more than 80 recordings for CBS records, more than a few of which began as CBC radio recitals.

Glenn received an enormous amount of fan mail from all over the world and was an idol for countless people, something which he abhorred in a certain way. He felt individuals should mine their own inner resources and not live in an essentially vicarious way through the talents of others.

Glenn was able to sharpen his communication talents because of his association with two organizations; the CBC and CBS records. The CBC realized that Glenn was a lot more than a staggeringly brilliant pianist. I believe that it was in 1965 or 1966, when I was Head of Music for the CBC, that I provided him with an office in the CBC radio building on Jarvis Street in Toronto. As a result of this action I was quite criticized, because Glenn wasn't a staff member. What was important about it was that it allowed him to hob-nob with CBC producers and technicians. I believed that Glenn would be able to acquire essential technical knowledge from technical staff, and I hoped that some of his enthusiasms and brilliant insights into music would be beneficial for my producers and that equally some of their ideas would be very stimulating to Glenn. The result of all this was, of course, a whole series of radio documentaries, recitals and other programs that are now an important part of the Gould legacy. Clearly, with CBS records, as Glenn was present at editing and mixing sessions, he was able to determine the ultimate outcome of his recordings. In other words, he was their true creator.

It needs to be understood that Glenn's concept of communications in radio, television, recordings and the written word were concerned with an extraordinary vision of the future. Glenn was well aware that through the onrush of technological progress, the world was passing through the greatest cultural change ever experienced by humankind, and he wanted to be sure that music would have a place in whatever future materialized. Undoubtedly he was certain that the future would be very different to the present and past. He saw music as a composite art, something that stretched from the composer to the performer to a recording or radio and television director as well as to technicians and on to the audience.

Another point I would like to throw in is that Glenn's genius as a communicator sprang from his role as a type of a co-creator with the composer. I think this is what Aaron Copland meant when he said to me that the "unnerving thing about Glenn playing Bach was that it was as if Bach himself was performing".

Indeed, with his photographic memory, Glenn's view of all the scores with which he was concerned was always x-ray. By that I mean he not only understood structure, but sub-structures, right down to the most minute intervalic relationships, with a perspicacity that was quite awe-inspiring. With his radio documentaries and other programs, he was a creator. Indeed, Glenn considered that his radio documentaries, which though largely concerned with the spoken word, were "composed" and a form of music. In as much as he could control the situation, the same thing can be said of certain of his television programs. His vision of the future was that music and electronic technology would become increasingly entwined.

However, like another Canadian visionary, the one I've already mentioned, Marshall McLuhan, his vision was not based on research, but rather on a sort of inner sight or intuition. This of course means that there were gaps or flaws in what he had to say. I think he knew this, but, he was in such a hurry to articulate a certain view of the future, he would not allow himself to be undermined by concerns about certain gaps in his thinking. Glenn's most controversial CBC radio program was his "Dialogues on the Prospects of Recording", in which he expressed a view that the concert hall as an institution would die out within a hundred years, and that the future of music lay in it being developed as a hybrid art within the electronic media. As a communicator, Glenn knew very well that, in order to receive attention, one had to sometimes overstate the case, and this broadcast was certainly no exception.

It has to be understood that Glenn Gould saw music, indeed all art, as having therapeutic value and as an all-pervasive force. And these facts are central to all his communications. Glenn believed that through the electronic media, he could communicate on a one-to-one basis with individuals rather than address mass audiences. Glenn cared very much about people, people as individuals, and he was an extraordinarily compassionate and caring individual.

For him, in a quest to muster his inner resources, solitude was essential. Indeed, to find inner strength, it was essential to come to grips with solitude. For him, the idea of north, which he spoke about so often, and which eventually took the form of a documentary, was about solitude, not so much the solitude of the vast geographic expanse of this marvellous country, but a certain solitude of the mind. In other words, solitude was a leit-motif in some aspects of his communications and, perhaps, one to which we might return in the course of this evening.

In closing, I think, perhaps, one other thing might be added, that is, Glenn always thought of himself as being a Canadian. Now, this did not mean that he didn't have an international perspective on things, but I think he realized very well that he was very much a product of this country, and the fact that he was able to develop his skills and to branch out into new careers through the facilities of the CBC, an organization that is a unique Canadian institution. Let us not forget that because of the spirit which abounded at the CBC in those days, a spirit of experimentation, of really trying to do daring and innovative programming, Glenn was in the right place at the right time. In fact, he often said that "Canada is a very special place where there are spiritual values which are tremendously important to me and, without them, I couldn't be what I am".

Thank you very much.


Thank you very much John. Vincent.


Thank you Margaret and thank you John. This is an occasion for me to thank John Roberts for having introduced me to Glenn in the late fifties, which led to a personal friendship which has remained in my mind as one of the most important in my life, and an intermittent professional relationship which was never less than fascinating and challenging.

Our subject is Glenn Gould, the communicator. The question is: what is it that Glenn communicated?

I have just come back from Amsterdam where there was a Glenn Gould Manifestation. Of course, Glenn did not appear, but he was very much with us. It was a symposium – 2 1/2 days – at which his quartet was played twice, once in a public concert and once within the symposium. About two hundred people came, mostly from Northern Europe. It had been organized in part by the Glenn Gould Society in Holland, an international society based in Holland which has, I'm told, some three hundred members. One of their Japanese members was with us. So was a young lad in his early twenties, from Northern Alberta, who had put some money together and had come to Amsterdam to learn about Glenn Gould.

What is it that draws people to Glenn and to any gathering about Glenn? Obviously, there is the man of mystery; there's nothing like a little withdrawal – Garbo learned that years ago – to provoke questions which people go on and on asking even when there are no answers.

Obviously, there is Glenn's music. And there are also qualities in Glenn's personality, as I know from personal experience, that remain fresh and vivid. He was one of the most vivid human beings I have ever met. But, in the last four or five years, I happen to have spent a great deal of time with Glenn's audio and video material, his printed material, his recordings, and a good deal of material in this National Library of Canada collection. In a sense, I have a feeling that Glenn is still very much alive.

It is curious. When you're working long hours, day and night, editing his video material with people who knew and worked with Glenn and so came to love him as many of his technical colleagues did – because he was such a fine technician and wonderful companion at work – it is astonishing to find how he jumps off the screen. He's with you while you're working. Very few people have that quality.

It is one of the mysteries of what we call "genius" that it can arrive too early or too late or it can come on time. It is my view that Glenn came on time. He was a man for this century. In many respects, his complex career, his complex life, have the quality of a fugue with its intricate, overlapping subjects, no part of which can be separated from the others. And a fugue is, I'm told (I'm not a musician), a process, concerned with process, something that is capable of any evolution and has no specific, arbitrary end. It is infinite in its vitality.

I think it's important to distinguish between the reputation that Glenn has acquired as a profound "philosopher", which implies some careful discipline of organized ideas, and his particular qualities of personality which have significant force. I think it's unjust to think of him as a philosopher in the formal sense, though he read a great deal of philosophy, particularly in his later life. I do think we can speak of his particular attitudes and qualities. And when I ask myself, as I've been doing a good deal of late, what it is that Glenn communicated, I can identify three attitudes, three qualities.

The first is commitment. Commitment to what? First of all: to fulfilling himself, that is, becoming what he was meant to be. Robert Fulford grew up with Glenn as a next-door neighbour. He was with him at school and knew him through his early life. He has said that Glenn sensed and accepted very early that he would move among the great. He didn't see this as something to boast about, simply as something that had happened. It was for him to measure up to it, to grow and live accordingly. Far from conceit, it was something mixed with a sense of duty and responsibility. Not for nothing did Glenn define himself as the last puritan.

Commitment then, first, to music – to fulfilling himself through music and to pondering the ultimate mystery of music: what is it? why is it? and what is it becoming in this age? A commitment to music as something self-exciting and totally unpredictable, which is how some have described the universe.

He was also committed to moral inquiry – to a profound search for right action, which led to a good deal of confusion among Glenn's friends and to many in the media. His notions of what is wrong – violence, competition, the circus of public performance, the long list is so familiar – are considered among his eccentricities but they are not at all eccentric to somebody searching deeply for a life commitment and a notion of right action.

He was also committed to an understanding and a proper use of new technologies, particularly the new technologies of remembering and dissemination. Now there is something here that connects Glenn to a very long and important tradition in Canadian political, economic, artistic and scientific life. And Glenn was acutely aware of these Canadian traditions.

A second quality, I would suggest, was his intense power of concentration. In Amsterdam, Bruno Monsaingeon played the videotape of the Goldberg Variations on two large monitors, to about 150 people – it is the last video Glenn did. It was not a perfect place to hear or to see it – but nobody moved for some 48 minutes. Glenn's concentration becomes our concentration as we listen and watch. Now for some, his visual performances in the concert hall – or on television – were a distraction. Yet they seem to have had no ill effect whatever on his reputation as a pianist or as a musician. Glenn frequently said he wished he would not hum and he fought hard not to, but it was a part of his nature and that was that.

But that concentration as a performer! Technicians who worked with Glenn, will tell of his ability to sit down at the piano at a recording session and re-do just three bars, having chatted quite amiably meanwhile. Record light on! Do it! Done! And he might do it three ways! And each time, when it came to the editing, he would have remembered precisely the three different ways he had done those extra little bits and say, "let's use that one first". He'd drop it in. It would fit. Then he would say he wanted to try one of the others. It would be perfect too. That sense of rhythm, his exact sense of the possibilities of tape editing, was a wonder and a joy to those he worked with. He learned a great deal from them. Of course, he taught them a great deal too.

This gift of instant immersion has been described, in an odd use of the word, as a form of ecstasy. But his quality of the ecstatic had nothing to do with hysteria or euphoria. It had to do with total concentration.

You also see something of these powers in his brilliant uses of stereophonics, of human voices combined as musical instruments, in the radio documentaries of which John Roberts spoke. Over time these will become better known. Because they are in English, they have not been released widely.

We all recognize our capacity to drive down a crowded street in rush hour, sorting out all the information that comes to us visually. We manage to stay on course, stopping when we have to, starting when we have to, turning when we must. This is what Glenn did with four and more voices in his "Solitude" documentaries. He challenged our listening skills, as driving does our watching skills. Heard appropriately in the right context with the right machinery, it all comes clear and you marvel at your own focussing of attention, as if listening to a fugue. It is cunningly and constantly shifted. You are caught up by the intermingled thoughts and the music of human voices – sopranos, contraltos, tenors, and basses. These are Glenn's "operas" – in essence.

His third special quality is the most difficult to pin down, I would call it courage. Commitment, concentration and courage. Glenn had the courage to reflect deeply on the modern world, on all aspects of life. His library will show you that. I think his music expresses it. It took courage to detach himself from the easy attractions of life in order to do what he felt he had to do and what he could do. He wasted no time on what he could not do. He chose to be detached, apart, to resist what comes easily, and to take on what must be faced, sooner or later. To be, in short, as he was meant to be.

It can be said that twentieth-century music has no establishment to tell us what we should expect in music or of musicians. We could certainly not have anticipated Glenn Gould. He was both a radical and a conservative, and it is important to see this if we want to understand his temperament and contributions. He was characteristically a Canadian too. One can identify several links with other Canadian artists and writers in his thinking and in his way of seeing the world. Like McLuhan, Northrop Frye and others, he chose to live not at the vortex but on the margins and he saw life in wide perspectives of space and time, not as one does at the vortex, but as one can do, distanced.

There is somewhere in outer space, you may recall, a Voyageur spacecraft. It has in it, a disc. By now it will be – I don't know how many billions of miles away; it will travel on for more billions of years. That disc includes one of Glenn's recordings, a Bach Prelude and Fugue, and, in its aluminum cover, those sounds will not disintegrate in any imaginable span of time. On that disc, there are certain words. They're not Glenn's, but I think they're worth noting here tonight. They say: this is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our times so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope, our determination and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe. That, I think, is Glenn's voice.


Thank you very much, Vincent. Murray, would you like to have a last word?


Well, I'll bring it back to a more domestic scene.

I cannot speak personally of Glenn Gould. I met him twice only; briefly both times. The first was when we were each in our teens in the cafeteria at the old Royal Conservatory on College Street in Toronto, when we discussed the opposing merits of Franz Kafka and Thomas Mann, Gould taking Kafka's side, I defending Mann. (Curiously, these predispositions were soon to be reversed as Gould came to know and admire Mann's Doctor Faustus, with its rich musical theme, and I became acquainted with Kafka's masterpieces, The Trial and The Castle.) But I recall nothing of our discussion other than the bewilderment of the other music students, literature not being customary table talk.

The second time was a few years later after I had returned from Europe. Gould was then looking for a "roadie" to travel ahead on concert tours and minimize whatever aberrant surprises might be awaiting him. We were both in our early twenties, he now famous, I still an undecided composer. He refused to shake hands. He was living in an elegantly messy penthouse apartment on St. Clair Avenue near Avenue Road. In keeping with our disproportionate celebrity, he did most of the talking, disagreeing with everything I said, or at least that is how I recall it. I had the feeling that he loved to hear himself speak, loved to feel the words rush out and kiss him. It was almost as if I wasn't an antagonist worthy of his voluble intelligence, a situation which seemed recurrent with him as evidenced in his frequent habit of dialoguing with himself or of scripting his own dialectical companionship. Anyway, I didn't get the job.

Our paths never crossed again. I never heard him in concert and since, in the days when I still owned a record player, I had very few of his recordings, I really don't feel qualified to discuss his pianism; but since his genius in that area is undisputed, it seems unnecessary. Recently (actually as a result of this invitation) I read The Glenn Gould Reader with interest and admiration. Let me make a few observations based on that encounter.

First of all, as a composer I'm bound to say how appreciative I have always been of Gould's devotion to the texts of music and to their study. His essays on composers (occupying precisely half of the contents of the Reader) are quirky but penetrating and his analyses of their works exemplary. Perhaps the fact that many of these pieces were liner notes for recordings or articles for popular magazines accounts for their superabundant enthusiasm and the German habit of hyperbolizing: viz. Richard Strauss is "the greatest musical figure who has lived in this century"; Schoenberg is one of the greatest composers who ever lived"; Alban Berg's Piano Sonata is "one of the most auspicious Opus Ones ever written"; and Ernst Krenek's Third Piano Sonata is "one of the proudest claims of the contemporary repertoire". Like Schumann or E.T.A. Hoffmann, Gould was determined to restructure musical history with his pen, apotheosizing unpopular figures and dethroning reigning giants – in his case Mozart and Beethoven. He had also the unusual capacity of devoting considerable time and energy to analysing works of more contestable merit (Bizet, Grieg, Hindemith); trying to locate their deficiencies in order to attempt repairs in his recordings of them. He was always in search of what Ezra Pound called the "absolute rhythm" of the work of art. Sometimes his finical intelligence revealed it; sometimes it obscured it.

Gould's devotion to the composer was, in a curious way, contradictory to his insistence that the future of music rested with electroacoustic technology; for this very technology is threatening the existence of the composer. Surely Gould must have realized that the authority of the printed score is sinking in favour of the interpreter's art just as surely as the novelist and poet are being replaced by movie stars. Authors of paper compositions are becoming increasingly abandoned in the age of the second illiteracy. Today there are even instances of performers demanding a share of composers' rights on the grounds that their special interpretations make them co-authors. Living on the knife edge between technologies, Gould must have sensed this shift in evaluation, yet he always remained humble before his printed texts, just as that other Torontonian media enthusiast, Marshall McLuhan, continued to write books forecasting their demise.

McLuhan called the era we now live in "audile-tactile." Such an era is characterized by denser human settlement and a replacement of visual communication systems by auditory. The theme of touching and listening is one which is also taken up by B.W. Powe in his recent book The Solitary Outlaw, which groups together chapters on Gould, McLuhan, Trudeau, Wyndham Lewis and Elias Canetti. In Powe's opinion, modern life has been musicalized by pulses and vibrations under the fingertips of social and political engineers. The figures he has chosen to study elected to ride these acoustic waves as heroes and scapegoats.

"Audile-tactile." In the lower frequencies, sounding and touching are physically related and an age stressing infrasound, as ours does, fuses the sensations in a way that Mozart's age, with its soundscape of mid and high frequencies, did not. In popular music, listening is often synonymous with touching; and I am sure it has not escaped your attention that in places where human crowding is most intense, music is found functioning as social mucilage. This is the retribalization that McLuhan spoke of, for aboriginal people the world over have practiced music-making in close quarters, where the bodies of the drummers and dancers often make physical contact.

Here we find a paradox in Gould's behaviour, for his well-publicized aversion to physical contact with others seems inconsistent with his intense musicality. I know of no instance of physical injury resulting from a handshake but Gould even had cards printed to protect himself from this unlikely hazard. Although he longed to be the centre of social attention, smiling, gesturing, incessantly talking, he took extraordinary pains to encloak and englove himself against all forms of human pollution. In his interview with Arthur Rubenstein, he insists that public performances never gave him pleasure. Rubenstein: "But was there never a moment when you felt that very special emanation from an audience?" Gould: "There really wasn't". And so he hid behind the prophylactic window of the recording and TV studio, where he could display his very winning personality, free from all contamination – bacterial or critical – becoming, like the modern politician, an image on a screen or in a bullet-proof vehicle.

Elias Canetti, in Crowds and Power, stresses how fear of being touched is a person's guarantee of individuality and how its opposite, the surrender to the pressure of other bodies, particularly in dense crowds, removes the will for independence, replacing it with crowd will. The man who refused to touch others confined his touch to objects: his piano, his Lincoln Continental, feeling the vibrations of each as they responded to his finger pressure. "On écoute avec les mains", is a charming saying of Pierre Schaeffer I recall from many years ago. One listens to the shape of music through the fingers. Each object, turned and touched, returns its vibrations; but these are merely sympathetic, and the performer at last comes to realize that what he possesses is no more than the ventriloquist's art, the trick of arousing the semblance of life in a dummy. Gould cajoled his piano into greater fulmination by crooning to it as if it were a woman, an excitable mistress.

I have no idea what Gould thought about sex. Certainly the Reader is unscuffed by any allusion to the erotic, except for one veiled and whimsical account from early in his life. Baudelaire wrote: "Foutre is the desire to enter another and the artist never goes outside himself". The parallel between Gould and Baudelaire may not be so far-fetched as you think. Both lived alone in the centres of great cities which they loved above all others. Both were terrified of public contamination, sought to protect themselves from exposure but nevertheless dreaded the loss of human contact even for a few hours, so long as it could be kept at a distance. We are even told that he insisted on making love with his clothes on. Gould too was a flaneur, taking great pleasure in driving about Toronto and its environs, especially at night; and his well-known after-midnight telephone friendships were obviously a substitute for more fleshly companionship. Both Gould and Baudelaire had strong-willed mothers with whom they maintained an uneasy love-hate relationship. They were also, each in their own way, fetishists, and though the objects they adored were different, I cannot help thinking that the cold, sterile and metallic world of Baudelaire, free from all bacteria, even spermatozoa, which resulted in a brilliant, luminous, but fundamentally infertile life has some correspondence to Gould's life as well. Neither had children; neither had pupils nor even, in the true sense of the word, disciples.

The people in one's life: an index of names. The index of The Glenn Gould Reader contains hundreds of names from the world of music, entertainment and letters, but no names of relatives, teachers, or student friends. Gould lived in isolation, cut off from neighbours by six inches of plaster and wallboard. Most of the time he found it satisfactory, but occasionally he sought relief in the Canadian countryside. In this sense he differs from Baudelaire, who never deserted Paris and detested the restless intractability of nature.

It was the summers Gould spent at the family cottage in southern Ontario that kindled his appreciation of the Canadian wilderness. Later he became particularly fond of the north shore of Lake Superior. "I go to a motel there", he told Arthur Rubenstein, "and write for a few days, and if I could arrange it, it's really the sort of place in which I would like to spend my life". The latter part of the statement is self-delusion. Like most Canadians, Gould saw the north as an intriguing myth: vast, pure and temptationless. He never experienced enough of it to understand its brutality, the way it can destroy a sensitive temperament by the harshness of its physical and social life. Nor did he rage against the way its resources are being plundered (the appearance all Canadians have seen from the air of huge tracts of denuded forest, ingrained with the wormlike crisscrossing of logging trails) or the manner in which its native people have been disenfranchized and morally destroyed by white intruders. Gould was never what the French call an engagé artist. He did not take up ecological or social causes and use his art or his ability to attract the press to draw attention to them. His radio program "The Idea of North" was a tall tale such as one might bring back from an exotic holiday anywhere. If the program succeeds, it is because of the careful attention he gave to the material in the cutting room – the famous contrapuntal technique with spoken voices (which incidentally he was not the first to use) – rather than the authority of the document as a truly northern experience. Personally, I miss any trace of the authentic northern soundscape, for which a Sibelius Symphony and a railroad train are not acceptable substitutes, and merely demonstrate how little distant from civilization their maker strayed.

Geoffrey Payzant, in Glenn Gould, Music and Mind, argues that his subject is really a philosopher. Certainly he possessed a much more enterprising intelligence than most of his performing colleagues, arguing his way through some of the most enchanting and some of the most bewildering performances ever put on record. Above that he was a person of profound inquisitiveness for whom playing the piano was not enough. Towards the end of his life he expressed a desire to write fiction and make films. Like many Canadian intellectual celebrities, he was part of a tradition which calls for adaptability and resourcefulness rather than strict professional excellence in one field. He achieved that of course, but his other interests and involvements should not go neglected or uncriticized in any full assessment of his career. He was and remains a controversial figure. Only such artists are worth sustained study.


Thank you very much, Murray. Let's let the three of them have a "go" at each other for a few minutes. I don't know who would like to begin. You have an entire list with four pages of things there.


Tell us about Gould's sexual life, John; you knew him so well.


I can't tell you about his sexual life; I'm the wrong sex for one thing. But, I should say that, this afternoon, when I saw Murray, I said: "Well, I bet what you're going to say is controversial"; and he wore an innocent expression. But, I think what he's said is absolutely excellent, and it would have been a very dull evening if he hadn't come out with his remarks and his views and his perceptions which are from someone, as he says, who really didn't know Glenn at all.

I suppose we seem to be as we are perceived to be, but in truth we're as we are. Now, that's perhaps a dicey thing to say. And I was quite fascinated as I heard Murray speaking about the conclusions he had arrived at, because, in knowing Glenn, they certainly never came to me. He's touched on so many things, it's very difficult to deal with them all, at least very quickly.

My experience with the Gould family was close. I used to go there for Christmas sometimes, and I was a frequent visitor in their house. Glenn's mother was, of course, a very strong and highly intelligent lady with a mind of her own and an excellent musician. She had been Glenn's first teacher.

Mrs. Gould was, in fact, responsible for Glenn's penchant for singing along with his own performances. It's not so much that he was crooning to the piano, but a reflection of the fact that he was taught to sing everything he played as a child. The problem was that later in life he couldn't stop. And I think that's the origin of his singing at the piano. But he used to have, on occasion, a kind of, how can I put it, rather prickly sort of relationship with his mother. He said things to her with little barbs in them. They were not hurtful but they were things which he knew would perhaps rouse her ire. It was really a form of teasing. So I think that one reads into things that which, perhaps, one perceives but which are nevertheless superficial. Obviously, Glenn was very fond of his mother and he had a profound respect for her. Certainly as an adult he lived apart from his parents and he was not dependent on their approbation.

As far as physical contact in concerned, it's true that Glenn had a terrible fear of catching cold, a terrible fear of getting sick. I think perhaps this came from his childhood, because I remember him saying that his parents discouraged him from going to the Exhibition in Toronto because they thought that one picked up viruses in crowds and it was perhaps not a good idea to go, and he was making fun of it at that time. I think, perhaps, that's where it came from. But, I'm not sure that everyone realizes that Glenn in fact did have an injury. He got whacked on the shoulder in New York by a Steinway technician, and something happened to his shoulder and to his spine, which put him out of commission for a year. And he was in total despair during that time, because he was very afraid that he would never be able to play again. And there are accounts actually, well documented in Canada, of him talking about this. At a certain moment, Glenn was starting to play again and he thought perhaps that he was recovering, and it turned out it was not so, and he had to stop again. I remember this very painful period in his life well. He was in really total despair about ever being able to play the piano again. And particularly after that, he was very leery about physical contact.

I found Murray's comments about Gould and Baudelaire extremely fascinating, and I am rather interested that he sees what he sees, and feels he can draw the conclusions he has. I would simply need to talk to Murray more about them and question him much more rigorously about the parallel he believes he has found. Certainly, at this moment they elude me. But, perhaps I have said quite enough and I would think that my colleague Vincent would like to comment.


I have a bad, bad habit, I confess, and I've demonstrated it – I'm fond of alliterations as a way of organizing my own thinking. I spoke of commitment and concentration and courage – the three "C's". May I add a fourth? Glenn was extraordinarily canny. I don't think I have ever known anybody so canny. Now, it could become extreme at times, to a degree of – well, anxiety or suspicion, whatever word you want to use about the possibilities of mishap or whatever it might happen to be on the negative side. Hence! Stop flying.

I had an extraordinary experience of that. In the early sixties, I had occasion to go to Montreal for a couple of days of work, and Glenn knew when I was going and where I would be staying. You may recall that in the early sixties Air Canada had a most terrible crash, just outside Dorval. I was scheduled to be on that plane. Glenn knew that. As it happened, I had got caught in downtown traffic and heavy fog and didn't get to the airport; I returned to the hotel where he knew I was staying. As it turned out, the news of the crash soon got on the air. It was a fatal, ... 100/200... I don't know how many people. That news got out at ten or eleven at night. But no lists. Then I got a call in my hotel room at three o'clock in the morning (I had by that time gone to sleep having watched on television what there was to see) and it was a very angry Glenn. It is the right word. Angry. Glenn, rarely if ever in my experience showed anything that I could call anger. He was angry with me. Because he had warned me never to fly. He had given up flying by then. And he had his reasons. Now, driving in a car with Glenn, believe me, was far more frightening to me than any plane ride I have ever taken, and I've flown since I was twelve (which is a long time ago – in the middle thirties). But in a certain sense, he never forgave me. I said to him ... well I'm here. It has happened. It is a tragedy. But, by chance, I had missed that plane. Some part of Glenn was profoundly disturbed by that. Not unreasonably. And his reaction was compounded by the fact that somebody with my surname – by pure chance, a distant relative – had been on that plane, and the name had been announced but with no initial on the three A.M. radio news. That incident has stuck in my mind because it showed me something about Glenn that I could not forgot [sic].

If I may be personal again, for just a moment. Glenn was ten years younger than I. I was aware that there were many things I had had experience of which Glenn had not experienced. To some extent, I became conscious that he lacked an older brother. Perhaps more than one older brother. He lacked people who had gone a little ahead of him through certain kinds of experiences, with whom he could share some of his own anxieties, his own experiences. He would share his pleasures joyfully, exuberantly, as John will testify, but...

My mother died rather suddenly, and Glenn was very upset by this, on my behalf. He had not met her, but we had talked about her, and as a matter of fact it is pity that they didn't meet because they would have got along extremely well. And he knew that. But it hadn't happened. I will never forget his solicitude. It was in a sense as though he were sharing in an intimate family experience which had been denied him. That exposed to me a part of Glenn I never forgot: how vulnerable he was to the ordinary vicissitudes of life; how anxious he could be; how deeply concerned he was about what went on around him – about people he knew and the world he was living in.

Glenn's three o'clock telephone conversations (three a.m. that is) were a form of exuberant interchange. But, I think, they were also a form of reassurance for him, because he was not detached from the world. He needed to be detached to understand and to see and to do what he felt he had to do. But, he wanted to share. Perhaps, as he got older, that became more difficult for him, as his public life and his career commanded more and more of his energies and time.

I think anybody who came to Glenn's memorial service, which John Roberts had so much to do with organizing, will never forget that most of the people in that huge church in Toronto (some three thousand people) had never seen Glenn. Yet, they had shared something with him. The mystery of his power of communication has stayed in my mind, ever since I first met him. I've simply never known anybody with that extraordinary capacity to arouse your interest, your curiosity, to involve you with argument, with concern and with deeply felt passions of one kind and another about the more intangible issues in life.

It is a pity, in a sense, that I'm making this sound so solemn, because, if Glenn heard this he would say something ridiculously funny and send the whole thing up. Glenn was deeply and profoundly serious about many things, felt pain. Nonetheless, he had an irreverent uproarious sense of the ridiculous. We haven't emphasized that tonight.

But anybody who knew him, I think, could confirm that. Go into a television studio with Glenn and watch his switches of moods, his enjoyment of working with people, his bringing a stray dog into the control room because he had seen it on the street and got a hamburger for it – because the dog looked hungry. He'd brought it in for company with the technicians, and thought it the natural thing to do. You don't leave a stray dog wandering around! You all know that two of Glenn's major bequests were to the Salvation Army, for those who need help, and the Humane Society, for those who need help.


Could we talk a little bit about a word that you have all mentioned, that is the need to control situations. Now, you just said exuberance, and joy, and those are very positive qualities. However, this man was the most controlled human being I have ever run into in my life. And when that control started to slip, then, it seems to me, there was a worried little boy that emerged.

One instance comes to mind – a curious situation in 1977. We did a radio interview at CBC, a comedy sketch. Once again, I was the "straight" man. Now, this was a taped situation, not live; you knew nothing could go wrong because we could correct any mistakes. We could redo it a hundred times. Thirty seconds before we were about to tape the sketch, Glenn excused himself, went to the men's room, came back, and his hands were bright red. I asked: "Glenn, what did you do to your hands?" And he said: "Well, my hands were cold and I ran them under hot water". I replied "But you're not playing the piano. We're doing a radio sketch here; we're talking". And he said: "I suppose that is sort of odd, isn't it?" I made no comment. It was not the moment to say, "Yes, that is very odd". But, there was an instant when he was no longer going to control the situation. There was a technician on the other side of the control booth and he couldn't totally run my performance. And suddenly, here was a person who was momentarily very anxious. He had dashed out and held his hands under burning hot water and I didn't quite know what to make of it.

This need to control; it seemed to me it was there all the time. Now, you gentlemen knew Glenn far better than I. But, I certainly was aware of it in doing the Silver Jubilee album for CBS. We went over and over every phrase until it was the way he wanted it and I never knew what way was going to be the right way. I believe he tried to control people's behavior by talking all the time. Yet here was this very warm spontaneous person who was trying to burst out of all these control mechanisms.

Anybody have anything to say about that?


Well, he had a problem with blood circulation; and I know it seemed very eccentric, but he sometimes just did that. He would just disappear and come back, and his hands would be red or pink, and it was quite obvious that he had been soaking them in hot water. And, of course, he eventually died of a stroke; well a whole series of strokes. It was an illness of which there was a history on both sides of his family and he knew it.

But, while I think that it is very interesting and fascinating to perhaps pursue the byways of people's lives and to explore their idiosyncratic selves such things are really side issues. In the case of Glenn, I think he managed to achieve very great distinction by doing important things that were central to his life. He managed to make more than eighty recordings. As a visionary, he projected a whole new future for music in the electronic media, and, to try to answer Murray further, I think he saw that, whether we like it or not, people are now very absorbed with the electronic media. They are watching television for twenty-four hours a week. In addition they are listening to radio for twenty hours a week. Furthermore, they are listening to recordings on top of that and watching videos. While we may be appalled, it cannot be denied that statistically, the greatest cultural activity of Canadians – their greatest activity after work and sleep – is watching television. Bearing this in mind, it is not surprising that Glenn came to the conclusion that music and the other arts too, were losing or might lose contact with emerging generations of young Canadians, and that worried him very much indeed. Obviously Glenn felt it was extremely important that ways and means had to be found to present music in the electronic media and his whole life was an exploration of just that; trying to find appropriate ways and means. Naturally, some projects were more successful than others but it can hardly be denied that he has left us an extraordinarily important legacy as a result of his use of electronic technology.

As Vincent said, I think it took a lot of daring to do that.

Exploring the piano repertoire was a major occupation, but Glenn ironically was conservative in his choice of works for his recordings. We find him playing mainly Bach but also Beethoven and, as Murray has suggested, some other composers of less renown like Bizet and Sibelius and Grieg and so on. But Glenn dared to look at the standard repertoire and approach it in quite an untraditional way, indeed, in quite a new way. For instance, Glenn said that music teachers were always shocked at what he did because his technique and manner of performance seemed wrong to them. And he felt when he played, for instance, the Goldberg Variations, as a performer in a hall it was absolutely necessary to adjust it in such a way that it would carry better. This meant that tempi might have to be changed and other things as well, such as his execution of ornaments. With his recordings, Glenn tried to encase a variety of works in such a way that they would have relevance to a lot of people. He was not at all afraid for instance, to perform the Bach Preludes in B Flat Minor and E Flat Minor, which are often thought of as nocturnes, in quite a radically different way. And this, of course, scandalized a lot of people. His Mozart sonatas were also unorthodox as far as tempi are concerned. Take Koechel 333, for instance. He frequently said unkind things about Mozart, but it is very difficult to believe that someone who plays that music so sublimely and with such conviction really dislikes Mozart. If you review very carefully some of Glenn's comments, you will find that he does have some kind things to say about Mozart. Glenn was not always consistent in everything he said and did.


Well Murray, it is your turn.

Also, it is coming up to 9:30, so maybe we should end this discussion, Murray after you have a final say.


Maybe we should end it before.


I am sure there are people in the audience who would like to ask questions. Did you have some pointed remark?




So, if somebody has a question? Si vous avez des questions en français ou en anglais, on voudrait bien commencer, n'hésitez pas.


As a boy, I recall my music teacher pointing out with glee how Glenn Gould sang on his recordings. I wonder Mr. Tovell, if you have any anecdotes of the lengths and measures which producers and technicians and engineers took to get him to stop.


Well, I would imagine the people at CBS would have a catalogue of those. All I know is that Glenn, frequently, and at least on one occasion I know of in public (in the Telescope series), spoke of how unhappy he was that he did this. But, as John said, he grew up singing. And, you see, I think – if I can offer, for what it's worth, a personal impression, and I would be interested in Murray's thoughts about it because I sense that Murray's views on this are worthy of a lot more exploration than we have had time to go into tonight – I think, deep down, Glenn was a singer who happened to play a keyboard instrument and he was a terrible singer, like many musicians. He really was!

It was like listening to Toscanini singing when he conducted! I mean, is it coming from another room? What has that to do with what the musicians are playing? But the fact is that Glenn was, I think in his sensual nature, if one can speak of such a thing, a singer, and he couldn't stop singing. Now John explained that it was partly the way his mother had taught him. She taught him for the first years. It was partly that. But I think it was something in his nature, and the sound of the human voice, that fundamental instrument, was enormously important to Glenn.

I think Glenn was an oral person, not a visual person. It is curious that, if he was not colour blind (and I am not suggesting that he was), colour was certainly not a major part of his sensory life. In fact, he.preferred the greys as we all know, greys and blues, which is fine. Nothing wrong with that. But, the fact is, that he didn't like bright colours. He said so over and over again. But he was a singer, even if he didn't like Italian opera. He loved German opera, however. And Murray, I don't know if you ever heard Glenn singing Richard Strauss, do a whole performance of Elektra from beginning to end! An extraordinary experience! And Glenn was not improvising, but singing all the parts! That I think was something very fundamental in his nature. And perhaps it is that quality, expressed through the instrument, that speaks above all other qualities. I think of Glenn as a singing pianist. I don't mean singing with his voice. Something happens. You hear some spirit moving through it; it comes out, something deep inside him which is not just in the fingers. It is something else in his nature. That is my own totally non musical way of thinking about it. But I don't think I quite answered your question.


Murray, did you have a comment?


It is just to say that the vibrations of making music are most intimate in the throat before any other form. And when I talked about Gould's tactility, I meant that the tactile sensation is something one experiences as a singer first of all and secondly when one picks up an instrument. And I'll repeat that statement of Pierre Schaeffer's: "On écoute avec les mains". He meant that unless you have an actual feel for the sound, you don't understand the sound. You do not understand music unless you make music, unless you play it, unless you can actually hold the music in your fingers somehow, or in your throat. And, possibly, the reason that today we've sunk into the kind of lassitude which permits MUZAK, relaxed music that has no strength to it, no colour to it, no vivacity whatsoever, is that people have stopped making music themselves. And, yes, I think Gould was very much a person with a deeply personal sense of music making. He was a soloist after all.

I think that is another thing one should remember about him. It hasn't been mentioned, but he was not a musician who made music with other people. He made music on his own. He didn't co-operate very well with other people. That's well known too. I am not trying to criticize him in that respect. It was a deeply personal thing, the kind of music that he made. He was not noted for his chamber music repertoire. He abhorred concertos. He didn't like playing with orchestras. He quarreled with conductors, largely, one may assume, as to who was going to have the last word in the interpretations. Because this is a general situation that arises when you have two musicians of great power bidding for supremacy on the podium. Who gets their own way, the soloist or the conductor? He was a soloist very much and an egocentric.


I think we have another question, Murray, over here, if I may.


I wonder if any of you up there could help me? Either you Vincent, or you Murray. About twenty-five years ago I had a fascinating conversation with Glenn Gould on the subject of audience development which in retrospect must sound a little strange, seeing as he had given up on audiences and he did not want to perform anymore. He knew that I was then very much involved in bringing music to young people, and getting music and children together. And for a half an hour, he propounded on how essential it was to develop an audience. Now this must just have been at the beginning of his decision not to play in public anymore. Unfortunately, I didn't make any notes at the time, but I would love to know, can I find out anywhere, in any article that he wrote, or anything, whether he really put his thoughts to paper, because I am very sorry that I cannot, I can only in the broadest of strokes recall what the talk was all about. But it was instructive; it was, of course, brilliant, and for somebody who then, pronto, gave up playing in public, rather fascinating. Can any of you help me?


I think that Glenn felt that, because of what had happened in terms of technological developments, the explosion in the use of recordings which seemed to be continuing into the future, that the way to develop audiences was to try and reach them through the electronic media. Murray will be very shocked to know, if he doesn't already (maybe this is in one of his articles) that Glenn secretly thought that, if one could invade MUZAK that maybe MUZAK could become a rather useful thing. MUZAK of course, is full of clichés, and he thought if, subtly, one could get rid of the clichés and put other things in, this would be a wonderful way of educating people's ears and minds and avoiding the mental laziness which comes from listening to MUZAK in stereotype form.


There is a serious examination to be undertaken before too long of the links that connect the work of Murray Schafer, Harry Somers, Glenn Gould, Marshall McLuhan, Northrop Frye, Harold Innis… you can go on, you can make a list. And you could include some in Montreal (I happen to have mentioned Toronto figures) and other parts of the country; the far west and the prairies, they have all expressed in their personal ways questions which seem to me to be very central to our time in Canada.

Source: Library and Archives Canada
© Margaret G. Pacsu, John Roberts, Murray R. Schafer and Vincent Tovell. Reproduced with the permission of Margaret G. Pacsu, John Roberts, Murray R. Schafer, Vincent Tovell, the Estate of Glenn Gould and Glenn Gould Limited.

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