Glenn Gould From A To Z (by Michael Stegemann)

Don Hunstein / Apr 58


Each time Gould set foot in a studio, he took with him three indispensable accessories: his stool, a briefcase containing his music – and a suitcase full of medicine. His hypochondria sometimes assumed the features of a psychosis, causing him to seek professional help as early as 1955. It is impossible to say just how many doctors he consulted in the course of his life, but one of them was the psychiatrist Peter E. Ostwald, who in his biography The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Genius published a list of the pharmaceutical remedies that the pill-popping Gould essayed: Largactil (marketed in the United States as Thorazine) for sleep disorders, Serpasil for restlessness and anxiety states, Aldomet, Valium … The list goes on. “So it was just a question of tranquillizers – bigger and better pills.” During a crisis in 1977, Gould kept a meticulous daily record of his blood-pressure readings, sometimes at fifteen-minute intervals: “3:15 – 102 (after an animated conversation) / 3:30 – 94 / 3:45 – 96 (animated conversation).” Persecution mania, hallucinations, panic attacks – just how ill Gould really was remains a mystery.


Anyway wanting to know more about Gould’s sense of humour could do worse than start with his “Gould Plan for the Abolition of Applause and Demonstrations of All Kinds, hereinafter referred to as GPAADAK”, a plan he developed in 1962 in an article “Let’s Ban Applause!” that he published in Musical America: wherever we turn, we find the same allusions and ambiguities, the same abstruse leitmotifs that turn up at every possible juncture in his published writings and appear to be part of some speciously logical line of argument, and a high-wire act revealing both intelligence and intellect that would do credit to any of the great satirists of world literature. In a fictional interview, “Glenn Gould Interviews Glenn Gould About Glenn Gould”, that he published in 1974, Gould dreamt up the career of a “prisoner” locked up for a crime he did not commit and incarcerated in a “battleship gray” cell, a colour he described as his “favorite”. And the humour becomes altogether priceless when Gould slips into other roles and dons masks in his writings and radio plays, investing each of his characters with its own particular accent. These are witty and crazy games of hide and seek with himself, but as with all great humorists, their basis is always deadly serious. If he had not been such a gifted musician, he would undoubtedly have been one of the world’s best comics.