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"Obviously a must for any fan of this great pianist, but it is more than that: Kevin Bazzana deserves all praise for producing a study worthy of its subject--expertly paced, admiring yet sensible, touched with wit and intensely readable."--Washington Post Book World "Gripping.... This book is a model of what a thoughtful assessment of a major artist and his work can be: coherent, complete, fair, and above all readable."--The Washington Times "Marvelously readable.... Bazzana removes the mystification, clarifying not only Gould's drive and musical taste, but also what came to be regarded as his eccentricities." --Toronto Star "It's difficult to imagine anyone doing a better job of writing the life story of Glenn Gould than Kevin Bazzana has done in Wondrous Strange.... This superlative biography covers all the important, and many of the trivial, aspects of the Canadian pianist's relatively brief life, drawing a definitive picture of an unusual musician. --Chicago Tribune
|Postlude (in the form of a Prelude): A Posthumous Life||1|
|Pt. 1||Beach Boy: The Prodigy, 1932-47||15|
|Pt. 2||National Treasure: The Young Professional, 1947-54||83|
|Pt. 3||Vaudevillian: On Tour, 1955-64||145|
|Pt. 4||Renaissance Man: A Higher Calling, 1964-75||231|
|Pt. 5||A Portrait of the Artist||315|
|Pt. 6||The Last Puritan: In Transition, 1975-82||405|
|Notes on Sources||491|
When Gould entered the Toronto Conservatory, his schooling – and everything else in his life – already took a back seat to music. As early as January 1943, the Conservatory was in contact with his school to ask for special consideration in accommodating his musical studies. Bert eventually made arrangements with Malvern's principal and the board of education for the boy to attend school only in the morning and to devote the afternoon to music, either taking lessons or practising at home, and to work with tutors in the evening to catch up on the schoolwork he missed. He maintained this split schedule to the end of high school, and later remembered the "enormous goodwill and generosity of the staff" at Malvern, where, he knew, some regarded him as a nuisance. Though he was often absent in high school, he never dropped out; he was enrolled and studying to the spring of 1951 – that is, to the end of Grade 13, then the final year of high school in Ontario. He did not, however, complete the requirements for formal graduation, because, he later told a friend, he refused to take P.E. In fact, Gould spent more time in high school than most. Though he skipped Grade 3, he did not finish Grade 13 until he was almost nineteen. He took six school years to complete Grades 9 through 13 – which is to say he required two years to finish one of those grades (probably Grade 11, in which year his professional career began).
At the conservatory, his progress was swifter and more exceptional. On June 15, 1945, at the age of twelve, he passed, with the highest marks of any candidate, his examination in piano for the ATCM diploma (Associate, Toronto Conservatory of Music). Hepassed his written theory exams a year later, and was awarded the Associate diploma, with highest honours, at a ceremony on October 28, 1946. Thus it is not literally correct, as is always reported, that Gould became an Associate at the age of twelve, but we can at least say that the conservatory considered him, at twelve, to have reached professional standing as a pianist – which is impressive enough. On November 29, 1945, in a conservatory recital, he played the first movement of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, with Guerrero accompanying, and he played the movement again, on May 8, 1946, at one of the conservatory's Annual Closing Concerts in Massey Hall, this time with the Conservatory Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the principal, Ettore Mazzoleni – his first performance with an orchestra. He "had to keep the conductor waiting while he fumbled with a bothersome button on his doublebreasted coat," Fulford reported in the 9-D Bugle, but the local critics were mostly impressed. One pronounced him a genius and compared his singing tone to that of de Pachmann; another noted a narrow dynamic range and phrasing that was "a little choppy" – all of which sounds like the pianist we know.
Gould first appeared in a music competition as a five-year-old, on August 30, 1938, at the CNE (he won no prizes); otherwise, his experience in competitions was limited to appearances in the first three annual Kiwanis Music Festivals. Events of this kind, involving thousands of children, had been fixtures on the English-Canadian music scene from the beginning of the twentieth century, and many people perceived them as a healthy force for cultural betterment (they encouraged young people to play "the right kind of music in the right way," Ernest MacMillan said). The model, once again, was imported. "The music festival is a peculiarly British institution," Geoffrey Payzant wrote in 1960; "in our time only the British could make a virtue out of music-making in public under the conditions of an athletic contest. Love of competition and the fair-play tradition are components of the image we all have of the typical Briton." As in the annual Dominion Drama Festival, most of the adjudicators were imported from England, and their condescension was sometimes palpable. (As Payzant wrote, "There is one detestable type of British adjudicator that has become a stock figure in this country" – namely, the colonialist who "arrives with the intention of being a light unto the Gentiles.") The goal of such events was reinforcement not just of British ideals of music, but of British manners and values. Deportment was a priority. In the 1966 article "We Who Are About to Be Disqualified Salute You!" Gould parodied the "superannuated British academicians" he had encountered at the festivals, with their "aura of charity and good fellowship": "I say, that's jolly good, Number 67 – smashing spirit and all that. Have to dock you just a point for getting tangled at the double bars, though. Four times through the old exposition is a bit of a good thing, what?"
Posted May 27, 2004
Born in 1932 in Toronto, Ontario, Glenn Gould is surely one of the most enigmatic and celebrated musicians of our time. According to biographer Kevin Bazzana, it's almost as if Gould's gifts were too many for one man to pursue. Bazzana has spent some two decades studying his elusive subject. Given free rein to explore Gould's papers and granted interviews by any number of the artist's friends and colleagues who were once reluctant to speak, the author is able to shed light on many questions that have piqued the interest of Gould fans. We are privy to much of his family history (the original family name was Gold), and the health problems that plagued him. Precocious? Yes, indeed. Readers learn that at the estimable age of 3 his talents were obvious. Perfect pitch was but one of them. As a child he was publicly performing on both piano and organ. His musical education was completed in Canada, and although known throughout Canada he did not make his American debut until 1955. His programs were unorthodox and his behavior on stage often very odd. To say Gould was an iconoclast is an understatement, but such a talented one. He was also an industrious writer, and later in life began conducting. It was in 1964 that Gould deserted the concert stage to perform solely for records, radio, television, and film. His last recording was made in 1982, the year that he died. Like some before him Gould's fame has grown since his death. Today many visit Toronto, paying their respects to a man who is arguably one of the greatest contemporary musicians.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.