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Gould, The Packrat: His Papers at the National Library of Canada

by Stephen Willis
Head (1977-1994), Manuscript Collection, Music Division

Many of us are familiar with Glenn Gould, the performer, but a glance through the documents which were left at the time of his death reveal that this was almost a minor activity during his adult life. The majority of his time was spent in research and preparation of radio and television documentaries, of articles for periodicals and newspapers, and of liner notes for sound recordings and lectures for various special occasions. Performing, especially in front of audiences, belonged to his youth. By the time that he was 33, his exploits at the keyboard were confined to the camera or the microphone. Annotations in the published scores of works which he recorded after he left the concert stage reveal his concern, not for interpretive detail but for mechanical aspects of recording techniques.

When Gould died so suddenly at the beginning of October 1982, the Music Division of the National Library of Canada was immediately aware of the need to preserve his unique contributions to the Canadian and international music community. From the beginning, we were in touch with the executor of the Glenn Gould estate regarding the disposal of the contents of Gould's apartment and hotel suite. The executor had already engaged a Toronto freelance librarian, Ruth Pincoe, to establish some order in the chaos of documents left by Gould. With the aid of various catalogues and lists prepared by Pincoe and independent evaluations by three different people, terms were arranged and preliminary steps undertaken for the transfer of the Gould papers to the National Library.

At this juncture, two problems became evident, both arising from the fact that Gould was such a well-known musician who had died at a comparatively young age. First, we had our choice of many items which would normally be unavailable to an archival institution, namely artifacts such as furniture and clothing. It is an extremely fine line between the need to preserve for future knowledge and the desire to create sensationalism. After much debate, we decided to keep a half-dozen items of furniture for possible use in future exhibits and to preserve one pair of the famous gloves, one scarf, one hat, one topcoat and a very few other items of clothing.

The second problem is still in the process of resolution. The death of a youthful public figure leaves many friends, relatives, associates and possibly enemies who are less than enthusiastic about the diffusion of too much information which might reflect on their relationship with the recently departed. Should the restriction of the use of certain documents be decided by these interested parties, by the archivist, or by a committee of both? Should the diffusion of the archive for purposes of exhibits be controlled by anyone other than the repository? These questions are especially complicated when the funds used for the purchase of such an archive are obtained from the public purse. Our experiences to date indicate that the curator of such a collection is capable of making the necessary value judgements to the satisfaction of all concerned.

We quickly decided that we were not interested in making the more than 200 boxes of papers a shrine to the memory of Gould. Our purpose was to contribute towards future research on the life and career of this internationally acclaimed artist. With this in mind, we went about the usual task of separating non-archival and archival materials. In the past, this has always been the first step in organizing someone's papers and the criteria have long been established. After preparing a list, we withdraw any published items not by or about Gould, which are not annotated; music and books about music are transferred to the Printed Collection and other books are transferred to the main collection of the National Library. If any of these items are already in our collections, the duplicates are sent to the Canadian Book Exchange Centre. In the case of Gould, all books not being kept with the archive were stamped as being "from the collection of Glenn Gould" on the assumption that this information might be of interest to the lucky recipient of any of these items. The same process was undertaken for recorded sound documents.

Some researchers were aghast when they found out what we had done. In their minds, anything that had belonged to Gould was sacred and should have been preserved intact with the papers, whether it had ever been used or was simply a present which Gould may or may not have been glad to receive. Our defence of our actions is threefold: 1) our lists of transferred items are complete and include a physical description of each item so that the researcher has some idea if Gould ever read the book or played the music listed; 2) as the National Library would keep at least one copy of each item which it did not already possess, the researcher should be able to see any book or score from Gould's library, even if it is not Gould's own copy; 3) the space problem is so acute at the National Library (as elsewhere) that we cannot afford to preserve numerous copies of hundreds, if not thousands, of publications solely because they belonged to renowned Canadian musicians.

The organization of Gould's papers was undertaken by Ruth Pincoe on contract. She was simply continuing the work which she had begun for the estate shortly after Gould's death. Apart from dealing with the extreme chaos of such a large quantity of paper, her job was made even more difficult by the somewhat illegible handwriting on some of the documents. In fact, we still have two small units of documents to be deciphered at a later date by interested Gould historians!

Progress in the classification of the papers revealed that the major portion of the collection dealt with other Gould activities than actual performance at the keyboard. There are about 120 boxes in total of which approximately 10 contain documents dealing with his concert career.

Three aspects of Gould's career appear to be attracting the most attention from our clients to date. The first aspect concerns the radio documentaries, the majority of which were prepared for the CBC. Gould treated the spoken word as a composer would a musical composition, and discussed his work in this medium in terms of musical forms, such as counterpoint, rondo form, etc. Secondly, Gould conceived some of his programs from the viewpoint of the actor, especially the comedian. His period as music director at the Stratford Festival undoubtedly influenced him in this aspect of his career, although he had thespian tendencies even as a young student. Thirdly, the many out-takes which Gould kept from his numerous recording sessions are going to furnish musicologists with ample material for comparison for many decades.

Before concluding this brief glance at the Gould papers, it would be appropriate to comment on the final step which we have undertaken in order to ensure adequate access to the documents. After the organization and classification processes were concluded, and after more than 40 000 catalogue cards were processed, we felt that various indices were needed. At this juncture, Ruth Pincoe suggested that the most efficient and rapid means of accomplishing this was by using a computer. As the National Library has been expanding its activities in the field of microcomputers, it was decided, after much searching and comparison, to adapt INMAGIC, a file management system with bibliographic possibilities, to our needs and use it on an IBM-PC AT with PC-DOS. We hope that the various indices produced by the automation of the Gould Finding Aid will reveal a veritable potpourri of information on the life and career of Gould, much as Gould loved to create musical potpourris.



  1. Writings
    1. Drafts and published articles (19 boxes)
    2. Manuscript Pads – to be deciphered (2 boxes)
    3. Manuscript Fragments – to be deciphered (2 boxes)
  2. Compositions – including arrangements (7 boxes)
  3. Correspondence
    1. outgoing – largely typewritten (2 boxes)
    2. incoming (4 boxes)
  4. Clippings
    1. Periodicals about Gould (7 boxes)
    2. Newspapers
  5. Programs (1 box)
  6. Photographs – covering whole life (4 boxes)
  7. Promotional Records – including biographical data (1 box)
  8. Awards – three-dimensional as well as paper (4 boxes)
  9. Official Papers – certificates, etc., as well as CBS papers (2 boxes)
  10. Financial Records – stock market and banking information and contracts (restricted use) (5 boxes)
  11. Medical Records – restricted (1 box)
  12. "Keepers" – called such by Gould (2 boxes)
  13. Realia – three-dimensional objects - clothes, artifacts, etc. (ca 12 boxes)
  14. Printed Music – annotated scores (46 boxes)
  15. Books – annotated, including about Gould (ca 150)
  16. Sound Recordings
    1. Records (ca 240)
    2. Tapes – 7" and 10" and cassettes (ca 1530)
    3. Goldberg – still with CBS (ca 360)
  17. Video Recordings of Gould and of programs he kept, as well as movies for which he conceived music (ca 150)

Source: National Library news. Nouvelles de la Bibliothèque nationale
Ottawa, Library and Archives Canada. -- v. ill., ports. 23-28 cm. -- Vol. 24, no. 7 (September 1992). -- ISSN 0027-9633. -- P. 8-9
© Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of the Estate of Glenn Gould and Glenn Gould Limited.

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