Truly, Madly, Deeply | The Nation


Truly, Madly, Deeply

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Of these last there were many. Having a horror of catching cold, Gould wore winter clothing at the height of summer, would leave a restaurant at the faint suspicion of a draft and dosed himself liberally with whatever medicines he could persuade his several physicians to prescribe. (By a painful irony, it seems to have been an ordinary cold that brought on the stroke that killed him.) While playing the piano, he used a little chair his father had adapted for him in 1953, from which he could hunch over the instrument. This chair traveled with him to Russia in 1957, shuttled back and forth with him on the train between Toronto, his hometown throughout his life, and New York, where he regularly recorded in the late 1950s and '60s, and was still in use, almost seatless, when he died. He ate only one meal a day, otherwise sustaining himself with cookies, crackers, tea, coffee and soft drinks. Usually he would eat by himself. He needed friends, but much preferred them at the end of a telephone line, over which he might read a lecture he was preparing or play a tape he was editing, in calls lasting hours.

About the Author

Paul Griffiths
Paul Griffiths is the author of several books on music, including, most recently, The Penguin Companion to Classical...

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Bazzana concludes, from his comprehensive study of the archives and from interviews with numerous friends, colleagues and acquaintances (appropriately conducted mostly by phone), that Gould was aware of the cachet of being labeled an eccentric. He attracted publicity. He also diverted curiosity. Behave like a recluse and people will steer clear. Act normal and they will start to ask questions about how you relax and--as happened to the young Gould--whether you have a girlfriend. (On this matter Bazzana deduces that Gould did have a few intense relationships with women, but with such women, he remarks ruefully, as are least likely to confide in biographers.) This does not mean that Gould's oddity was put on (though it could, on occasion, be put off): His hypochondria and summertime overdressing went back to his childhood, and surely caused him more inconvenience and even discomfort than mere affectations would have merited. But if he was indeed wondrous strange, he was also wondrous logical. His peculiarities, and the advertising of his peculiarities, all helped him satisfy or validate his most pressing need from the world: isolation.

Logic, too, determined his most crucial act of separation, from the concert platform. His Goldberg recording made him a star at the age of 23, and during the next three years he was on the international circuit. He may have canceled more concerts than he gave, but, quite apart from his Russian tour, he appeared at the Salzburg Festival, elsewhere in Europe and in many North American cities. Then he let his engagements dwindle. Then he stopped taking any. On April 10, 1964, in Los Angeles, he shuffled off the stage after a recital of Bach, Beethoven and Hindemith, and never returned. Henceforth he would be heard only through loudspeakers, and seen only as an image on an LP cover.

He may have removed himself because of personal fears--of crowds (and their germs), of unknown hotel rooms (and their drafts), of air travel (so productive of both)--but he had, too, an artistic rationale. Recording had changed the nature of music-making. Not only could musicians now give their very best to an almost unlimited audience, but listeners could choose when to hear a recording, and could do so repeatedly, in privacy. Musical communication had become more elevated, more secure and more intimate. It was also more permanent. Recordings could and should now be judged on their own merits, not as approaches to some ideal of performance under the defunct conditions of the concert hall. By 1964 there were already several different versions of any standard piece, and so new recordings would have to justify themselves by their novelty, even their eccentricity, always provided there was some musical reason for doing things differently (and Gould was a master at finding wild purposes). Also, there was no reason for performers and record producers not to use the medium creatively, in editing and even in manipulating the acoustic. Exactly as film had developed its own techniques, aesthetics and personnel, branching away from the theater, so recorded music would become an art form in its own right.

It has not quite worked out that way. The number of front-rank musicians who have withdrawn from live performance in favor of recording is still what it was forty years ago: one. Recordings made as studio composites, from manifold takes, are in retreat; many musicians and record producers prefer the "live recording," conveying a performance, notionally unedited, that was given in front of an audience. So bent on seclusion, Gould has remained alone on his career path.

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