Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Glenn Gould

A new and fascinating documentary, Genius Within, the Inner Life of Glenn Gould, was aired at the film festival last night. Gould has already been well-served by the film Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould (1993), but this one has more original footage and extensive interviews with other musicians, Gould’s friends, engineering assistants, and the woman who seems to have been the love of his life, the German-American painter Cornelia Foss. Foss was married to composer, pianist and conductor Lucas Foss at the time she met Gould. The daughter of two art historians, she had studied at the American Academy in Rome, where composer Aaron Copland introduced her to Lukas. Gould was attracted by Cornelia's breadth of intelligence as well as her striking looks. She left her husband at the height of the affair and moved her two children to Toronto to be with Gould. A year before the move, Gould had asked her to marry him.

We all knew that Gould was not only an intense performer but also an intensely private man. All the same, it’s remarkable in this age of journalistic prying and exposé that the man considered by many to be the greatest piano virtuoso of the twentieth century could still, 25 years after his death, have an untold story to tell. These revelations make Gould a more interesting and appealing figure, I think, and the descriptions of Gould that Cornelia and her two children share in the course of the film add a good deal to our understanding of his personality, beyond the trademark gloves, overcoat, and incessant humming.

But that is only one of several aspects of Gould’s life that were new to me. One of his fellow-pupils as a teen describes how they were taught their staccato technique by a Chilean pianist named Alberto Guerrero. His long-time studio engineer describes how on one occasion, Glenn, an only child, asked if he could become the man’s brother. (The man replied that he already had four brothers and a sister.) From start to finish the film is full of interest, wonder, rare performance footage… and of course, music.

I have long been a Gould fan, though I would hesitate to describe him as the century’s greatest piano virtuoso. Gould’s technique is suitable for some composers and not for others. He can trash the fast movements of a Mozart sonata while wringing infinite pathos out of the adagio sandwiched in between them, for example. And beyond such diaphanous creations as Ravel’s Gaspar de la Nuit, I can’t imagine him getting very excited about the modern French piano repertoire. Of late, I’ve been listening to Murray Perahia’s version of the Goldberg Variations, rather than either of Gould’s. But this morning, inspired by the film, I checked his second, slower, rendering out of the library, and sometime soon I’ll give it another try.

For more about Gould and Foss click here.

No comments: