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The Idea of Gould

by Rhona Bergman

Interview with Timothy Maloney

"There was greatness in the room"

I looked out at the vast expanse before me as I sat working in the Music Division of the National Library of Canada. Large windows, extending along the length of one wall, gave me a magnificent view of eight tall Canadian flags flapping wildly in the breeze, overlooking the Ottawa River. The city of Hull, in the next province of Quebec, stood just beyond the river, with the Scott paper factory billowing smoke in the distance.

On the table, in front of me, was a cardboard box of twenty-four inches or so in length stuffed with manilla folders. A folder might contain several typewritten pages or long sheets of yellow legal pad with black markings written in a nearly illegible scrawl. These were Glenn Gould's documents.

After his death, Glenn's estate had designated a "freelance librarian", Ruth Pincoe, to go through and catalogue his numerous belongings which included over 220 boxes of written documents, photographs, newspaper clippings, recordings, books, printed music, awards, compositions, video recordings, tapes, and personal belongings. One box was of particular note as it contained a sampling of Gouldian memorabilia: one pair of light brown woollen gloves, a Donegal brand tweed sportscap and a dark blue scarf. Two or three pairs of thick brown rimmed glasses, with a rather strong prescription were also in this box.

On this afternoon, I was scheduled to meet with Timothy Maloney, Director of the Music Division, which holds custody not only of the Gould papers but of the archives of other Canadian musicians as well. Maloney had chosen the audio-visual studio in the Music Division as the place for our interview and, as we seated ourselves, he began to tell me something about himself.

Having received a doctorate degree from the University of Rochester, Maloney was performer and founder of the Aulos Trio, which has performed in Ontario and Quebec and recorded a CD. Maloney also has performed with several orchestras and played the solo clarinet portion of Leonard Bernstein's 2nd Symphony, under that conductor's baton.

The reason I wanted to talk with Maloney, however, was because he had played first clarinet on the only commercial recording that Glenn Gould ever made as a conductor, Wagner's Siegfried Idyll.

Although he appeared formal, almost elegant in his reserve, Maloney's smile was engaging and I felt comfortable as I began my interview.

"How did you come to work with Glenn Gould?" I asked.

"Well," Tim began, "in the summer of 1982, I happened to be in Toronto doing research on my dissertation and I was contacted by Victor Di Bello, who was the project manager for Glenn on this recording. I had originally been hired by Di Bello to play at the Stratford Music Festival here in Ontario, in the late '60's, when they had an extensive program of opera and orchestral concerts.

"Victor told me that he was putting together a group of musicians who would eventually make the recording of the Siegfried Idyll. There were three recording sessions in all which took place in late July and early August. We met at St. Lawrence Hall on King St. in the historic St. Lawrence Market district of downtown Toronto. These evenings were long ones. Glenn tended to chop things up into segments and he'd want to do and re-do each part with different tempos and articulations. He'd want to look at it from many different perspectives.

"None of the takes were anything approaching quick, you understand – they were all variations of slow and slower. Glenn had often said that the music he liked the best, he liked to hear played very slowly. In fact, he told us before we started that this was going to be the slowest Siegfried Idyll on record. He actually exceeded in length of time his own piano transcription of that same piece."

(This was quite true. The recording of his piano transcription of the Siegfried Idyll, done in 1973, ran for 23 minutes 31 seconds while the ensemble version was 24 minutes and 28 seconds.)

"The speed was so slow that the string bowings needed to be re-thought and the winds had to breathe in places we never had to breathe before because we couldn't last that long on single breaths! But, you know, he was a consummate musician. As I've said and written elsewhere, the music making was of the highest quality and the experience was certainly one of the high points of my life. Every musician can count on one hand the really special events or concerts in a career. And that was very definitely one of them for me. We were in a room with greatness and everyone of us knew it. He was so easy to work with. He had taken the time to learn all of our names before our meeting and wanted us to call him Glenn. He made us all feel like partners in this endeavor."

"How many of you were there?"

"Thirteen, in all. A string quintet and one of each of the winds.*

Note: 2 violins, l viola, 1 cello, 1 bass, 1 flute, 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, and 1 trumpet.

"This was done in the original chamber version as Wagner did it on the day he premiered it for his wife, Cosima. Wagner had written this piece as a gift for his wife following the birth of their first son, Siegfried, which took place just before Christmas. As the story goes, early on Christmas morning, Wagner invited all thirteen musicians to his house and lined them all up and down the staircase and the hallway, outside Cosima's bedroom. And she tells of waking with the child in her room and hearing this celestial music outside her door. This is a pastoral piece, very lyrical and unlike much of Wagner's other music. And that's how we performed it, in the original." Tim leaned back in his chair.

"Gould was not a schooled conductor. He didn't use a stick or a baton, as almost all instrumental conductors do and he conducted left-handed. But he made very clear what he wanted. Don't forget, he had played under some of the greatest conductors in the world, Stokowski, Kripps, von Karajan, Bernstein.

"It certainly wasn't one of those sessions where hardly a word is spoken. When I was trained, for instance, I learned to actually get up in front of a group and never speak while conducting a piece. Well, that could never happen with Glenn.

"He had to explain himself and his way of going through the music was very personal to him. But, you know for those few hours, he was the epitome of grace and cameraderie. And when it was late and we were getting tired, he devised a game to name our ensemble. Some of our contributions were 'Gould's Ghouls', the 'Siegfried Idyliers'; Glenn thought of 'The Academy of St. Lawrence in the Market', a take-off on the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.*

*A well-known British ensemble group specializing in Baroque music

"Of course, Glenn died just about nine weeks after that. I later learned that he had created a rough master in early September and had planned to do further refining of it. I was able to hear it, however, because I was back in Toronto the following summer, continuing my research, and Di Bello had assembled the group for a little memorial tribute to Glenn. Sony did eventually release the work on CD in early 1991, along with Gould's piano transciptions of some other Wagner pieces.

"He had wanted to make more recordings, conducting various sizes of ensembles, various kinds of pieces. We have lists in his archives of pieces he had planned to conduct."

Some of these pieces included Schoenberg's Transfigured Night, Mendelssohn's 3rd and 4th Symphonies, Beethoven's 2nd and 8th Symphonies, Bach's B minor Mass and Strauss' Metamorphosen, among others.

Glenn actually had conducted on several occasions in the past. Aside from the conducting motions which were an integral and probably uncontrollable part of his performance at the piano, he conducted orchestral concerts in Vancouver and Toronto, in 1957 and again at the Stratford Festival, from the keyboard, in 1962. However, because his back and arm muscles had grown into a forward slouched position, Gould suffered physically from the expansive arm gestures he employed while conducting an orchestra. He had difficulty getting back to the piano for a couple of weeks following such performances and said, throughout his career that when he 'retired from the piano' at age 50 or so, he would try his hand at conducting once more.

I asked Tim what Gould had thought of the experience.

"Well, when we were all through, Glenn appeared pleased and shook everyone's hand. And the following summer, Victor Di Bello told us that Glenn had had happy memories from the event and he and Victor had even started planning an ensemble for the next piece.

"But then, of course, he died." Tim appeared thoughtful for a moment.

"Gould had already meant something very special to me by the time this opportunity had presented itself. I loved his piano playing and had been collecting his recordings ever since I was a student. He was an icon in Canada – and abroad too.

"I say that and yet, I also have to say that we Canadians are hard on our heroes. We don't easily put our own people up on pedestals. We do it to foreigners far more easily."

"In a way," I said, "it is quite admirable that he identified so much with his country. So many foreign artists and performers become assimilated into American culture and society. He could have easily done this and become more rich and famous than he was, if he had accepted offers to live in America. For one thing, he would have been more popular with mainstream American culture than he is now. But it's difficult to lead a solitary life in my country when you're a great talent or a public figure. And that was the life he was after.

"The differences between Canadians and Americans are interesting and very subtle. The people that I've come in contact with here, and I'm talking about the people literally, on the street, appear to be less aggressive than at home. There seems to be a genuine respect for others, perhaps for the privacy of others. People are quieter here."

Tim laughed. "I call it our colonial mentality. I don't think we've ever divested ourselves of feelings of inferiority regarding larger, more established countries.

"Our first constitution was enacted in 1867 by the British Parliament and that was a totally non-violent affair, very much the Canadian way. It wasn't until 1982, when Prime Minister Trudeau 'patriated' the constitution from England and enshrined a Charter of Rights, that we began to think of ourselves more as an independent country, although we are still a constitutional monarchy. The Queen of England is still our titular head of state. It wasn't until 1965 that we got our own flag, the red maple leaf that you see everywhere.

"So, it has been difficult for us to find our own identity. And it doesn't help, I suppose, to live next door to this giant, a thriving country with ten times our population. The United States has been a nation for over 200 years and you have a definite sense of what you are and who you are in the world."

I thought for a moment.

"You know, that leads into something I've been pondering regarding Gould's identity as a Canadian. Because, I think this is a very important element in coming to an understanding of him, and I'm beginning to think that not addressing it is missing out on what he was trying to say. And I'm not talking about the music, because that is universal, but in his radio documentaries, of which he was so proud.

"In 'The Solitude Trilogy', he deals with issues of isolation or separation; first within the self, in 'The Idea of North,' then within the isolated society of Newfoundland, in 'The Latecomers;' and finally, with one's relationship to God, as illustrated by the Manitoba Mennonite community in 'Quiet in the Land', Gould's favorite of the three.

"In each program, Gould not only deals with the concept of solitude, which was dear to his heart, of course, but aspects of the life, culture, and particular geography of each of these communities. I think he was trying to educate Canadians about these societies and perhaps, subtley [sic] instill a sense of pride or at least awareness of what it means to be Canadian. To explore that sense of separation which arises out of the great geographic space that is Canada and to struggle with issues of identity, within oneself as well as in the world.

"It also seems to me that he was almost selling this concept of the north, not only in the writings and radio works but in the many photographs of him, where he is bundled up against the elements. Everytime you see him out of doors (or often even indoors), he is wearing his sportscap, scarf, gloves, overcoat, and sometimes galoshes. In a way, circulatory problems and phobias aside, his physical appearance was a constant reminder of the north which is cold, which is Canada. My perception is that he was selling that concept all of the time, in those pictures, whether he himself realized it or not."

"You know," Tim said, "I have given this one talk for the last three years on Marshall McLuhan, Northrop Frye and Gould. I call it 'Three Canadian Legacies to the World of Ideas'.

"All three were deeply concerned with communication, in one form or another, and each attempted to articulate a humanistic vision. Frye and McLuhan, by the way, taught at the University of Toronto, with Geoffrey Payzant.

"Now, McLuhan believed people are conditioned by their cultural environment. That we are, in effect, what we use (i.e. television, computers, video games). He predicted we would become a violent society due to the depersonalization or 'mass' sensibility which technology imposes upon us. Gould, of course, believed that technology was inherently benign with a humanistic element but he was usually referring to its artistic contribution.

"Frye was an English theorist – grammarian who considered himself a literary critic. And he was one of the best in the world. Some of his greatest work had to do with the poetry of William Blake in a book called Fearful Symmetry, published in 1947. He also wrote an epic study of the Bible as literature, The Great Code, published in 1982.

"Frye talks about moments of epiphany which are possible through the exercise of our creative powers. He believed that an awakened imagination is a link with the divine. His basic premise was that there are certain elements or myths which inform of all literature.

"You're smiling," he said to me, "I can see this is touching on something."

I certainly was smiling. Long before I had heard of Glenn Gould, I told Tim, I had been fascinated with the ideas of Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist who had taught at Sarah Lawrence College in New York from the mid '30's to the late '60's. He studied and wrote about the major myths, cultures and religions of the world and found that there were similar patterns and themes which informed all of them. Frye's work sounded a familiar tune to my mind.

Campbell's first major work was a book called The Hero of a Thousand Faces, published in 1949. In it, he wrote that the hero was the most powerful force in any culture and that each culture had their own form of the hero, specific to the rules of that society.1

"I believe Gould is such a hero," I said.

Campbell wrote, that the hero usually hears a call of some kind or feels him or herself to be different and set apart from the mainstream of the culture. The hero must follow that call for the good of the society in which he or she participates. Or, as Joseph Campbell was fond of saying, "The hero must say 'yes' to the adventure."2

"If you think about the way Gould lived his life," I said, "you have a typical hero's adventure."

Born possessing extraordinary gifts, his parents had the understanding and financial capabilities necessary to nurture those qualities. By virtue of his talent, he was separate from the other children of his group. And though he studied with a master, Guerrero, a good deal of that time was spent arguing theory.

At the age of 19, Gould ended studies with his teacher and all other formal course of study (he had not yet completed his high school education). Now, his time was spent at his parents' cottage on Lake Simcoe playing the piano, his Chickering, walking with his dog, Banquo and thinking through scores of music. This is probably the period where he learned most about the value of solitude.

He was a great success across Canada, concertizing since 1945 at the age of 13 and had made his debut with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1946. Glenn first performed at the Stratford Music Festival in 1953, was 'artist-in-residence' in 1960 and (with violinist Oscar Shumsky and cellist Leonard Rose) co-director of the music programs from 1961-1964.

He made his American debut on January 2, 1955 in Washington D.C. at the Phillip's Gallery and then at Town Hall in New York City, nine days later. His performance in New York was such a stunning success that Glenn was offered an exclusive recording contract the following day by David Oppenheim of CBS Masterworks.

In 1957, following the previous year's successful release of the Goldberg Variations, Glenn became the first North American artist to play in Moscow and Leningrad, where he is still revered today. In the ensuing years, Glenn went on to make several European tours and to tour Stockholm and Israel, where a reporter from the newspaper Haaretz, compared his playing to "...religious music ... Gould's playing comes nearest to the conception of prayer."3 He toured the US and Canada extensively throughout his concertizing career.

Wherever Glenn went in the world, his concerts met with great success, although critics were often less than generous concerning his unusual mannerisms while playing. Not only did he sing, loudly, along with his music (something his mother had taught him to do at a very young age) and conduct himself with whichever hand was not in use at the piano, but the upper portion of his body swayed – vigorously in a circular motion – while he was seated on a little bridge chair with sawed-off legs that his father had altered for him. Glenn was consistent in the use of this chair, which afforded him a very low seating position at the piano so that, at times, his face was inches from the keyboard. His trancelike expression and body movements were somewhat reminiscent of American pianists Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, who are blind.

After nine years of concertizing, Gould retired from the stage, performing in public for the last time at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles on April 10, 1964. He had had enough and he would keep his word never to return. A strong fear of air travel, frequent illnesses, and an abhorrence of crowds amassed a toll and Gould once more found solitude at Lake Simcoe. And though critics warned of a short-lived memory on the part of a fickle public, Gould put himself before the world on his own terms. For the remainder of his life, he would become more and more reclusive while producing an abundant body of work in print, recordings and for radio and TV.

Over 50 articles were published on the state of music and technology (many more remained unpublished) and he provided many of the liner notes to his more than eighty recordings. Gould wrote and performed prolifically for CBC radio and television. Up to the time of his death in 1982, he had numerous musical and written projects in various stages of completion or initiation.

A lifelong dream to become a composer never reached full fruition beyond Gould's main contribution to written music, his String Quartet in F minor, Opus 1. It premiered in 1956 in Montreal and has since been released by Sony on CD with some of his earlier compositions. In 1963, So You Want To Write a Fugue, a delightful piece of fugal invention, which Gould wrote for four voices and a string quartet, premiered on the CBC television broadcast of 'Anatomy of a Fugue'. His piano transcriptions of Wagner's Prelude to Act I from Der Meistersinger, Dawn, Siegfried's Rhine Journey and Siegfried Idyll were initially released in 1973, then re-released by Sony with the instrumental version of the Siegfried Idyll on CD, which he conducted.

Gould considered 'The Solitude Trilogy', for which he devised the phrase 'contrapuntal radio', a major offering to his body of compositions, along with the four excellent documentaries on the life and artistic contributions of Stokowski, Casals, Strauss and Schoenberg. The experience of conducting for the recording of the Siegfried Idyll was the realization of another life long dream.

In speaking with Bill Moyers in the 1988 highly acclaimed PBS broadcast, 'The Power of Myth', Joseph Campbell says of himself, "My life has been one of a maverick ... I would not submit." Much the same could be said of Gould. Campbell used to tell his students to "follow your bliss"; clearly Glenn had been doing just that for fifty years.

"Follow your bliss?" Tim wanted me to explain.

"If you follow your bliss," I said, "life opens up to you in a way that it never would have before. To follow your bliss means to find that one thing, in your heart, that you love. To pursue it, regardless of convention or argument if it feels like truth to you.

"When Glenn plays, the listener can experience an awareness of self which opens that person up to their own inner voice. Glenn helps people to discover their deeper side and this, in turn, can introduce one to what their particular 'bliss' might be."

"Well, along that line," Tim commented, "Frye spoke of 'moments of epiphany'. I'm convinced that Gould not only had them, but provided them for his listeners. Aaron Copland, the late American composer, said that when he heard Gould play, it was as if Bach himself was performing.

"And that's how I've always felt. I know it's not necessarily true to the performance practice of the historical instrument movement – but I don't care! He reveals so much of the structure. On a practical level he had no students so no one plays the piano like Glenn Gould – but in the larger sense, by showing the world the genius of this music that he was making and his own genius as an interpreter, he pulls people in.

"He does it through the absolute honesty of his performances. He gave a new definition to the idea of re-creation. Anybody's music in his hands was brought to life in a stunning fashion. This wasn't just a guy playing someone else's notes. He was certainly one of the two greatest pianists of the second half of this century, Horowitz being the other. But if you look at the whole century, he is still a giant among giants such as Rachmoninoff, Rubinstein and Paderewski. They were all crowd pleasers but not he; Gould played the way he wanted to play, even if he knew it would incur the wrath of the critics.

"He was a consummate teacher with an innate ability to capture the essence of a piece of music and to project that essence as purely and as intimately as he could. Now, he was very clever in the way he achieved this intimacy through his recordings. For one thing, he had the microphone placed five feet or so from the piano and he was very careful about negating ambient echoes or resonance from the studio.

"He wanted to draw the listener into 'an intensely shared attentiveness to the music,' as Geoffrey Payzant wrote. He was, in effect, building a partnership between each individual listener and himself as performer of the music. But it's definitely from him to you, via the recording. He needed that remove which technology was able to grant him, in order to do that. And that's why he was so indebted to technology."

"And the humming which can be heard on some recordings only adds to that," I said. "There's this ethereal presence… "

"It's almost as though he is crooning to his listeners," Tim added. "I see these qualities as being so overwhelming that he cannot but speak to anyone who will open their ears.

"Of course, not everyone agrees with his approach. When I spoke at the University of Western Ontario recently, a woman in the audience, who was a Baroque harpsichordist said that she found his interpretations offensive, particularly his ornamentations. Which brings up a funny story.

"I visited a well-known musician last year in Toronto, Greta Kraus, who is a harpsichordist and expert on Baroque ornamentation. Glenn knew Ms. Kraus for many years (his teacher Alberto Guerrero had invited her to his home to hear Glenn play while he was still a student) and the two of them often got together at her home to play the piano and harpsichord. She told me that on one particular occasion, prior to making his beautiful recording of the early seventeenth century English composers, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, Glenn came to consult her on ornamentation.

"Well they sat down together at the harpsichord and he said to her, 'How would you do this?' Then she would play the proper ornamentation for him, giving him example after example of the way to play the repertoire, all of the things that she would do. She said he thanked her very nicely and left. When she had occasion to hear the recording, after it was released much later, in every instance Glenn had done the opposite of what she had told him to do! She said it was as though he had deliberately done it differently!" Tim laughed.

"This is what I call the Peter Pan aspect of Glenn Gould. He was just a willful little boy, at times. Although, to be fair, he was coming out of that Romantic tradition of the first half of the 20th century where one played Bach like Wanda Landowska with all sorts of sweep and grandeur on the harpsichord. Well, Glenn wanted none of that! And he wanted to be noticed! But it's true that he wasn't authentic."

"But this puzzles me," I said. "We talk about his not being authentic, about his being a re-creative performer giving his own interpretation to the music, and then you have someone like Aaron Copland saying he was the voice of Bach. Explain that to me."

"Bach's music is highly structured in its design and Glenn played the music that way. It was as though Glenn put himself inside the mind of Bach and played it the way Bach meant it to be played. But Glenn was not from any tradition. He wanted to start one.

"One could argue that with Glenn everything was sublimated but the essence of the music. However, you can't really insist on that either because you have the notion of ego and the strength of his interpretation – you hear a few notes and you know it's Gould."

"But despite this, I'm still inclined towards the view of him as someone who not only brought out the absolute, unadulterated essence of the music but had the courage and the wisdom to go against everyone and follow his ... what was it?"

"Follow his bliss," I said. And I smiled.


1. Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1949) p. 30

2. Ibid, p. 35

3. Otto Friedrich, Glenn Gould, A Life and Variations, (New York, Random House Press, 1989) p. 82

Source: The idea of Gould
by Rhona Bergman 1st Lev Pub. ed. -- Philadelphia, Pa. : Lev Pub., 1999, c1997. -- iv, 226 p. [8] p. of plates : ill., ports. ; 23 cm. -- ISBN 0967336708
© Rhona Bergman. Reproduced with the permission of Lev Publishing, the Estate of Glenn Gould and Glenn Gould Limited.

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