Glenn Gould From A To Z (by Michael Stegemann)

© Glenn Gould Estate


Did he have one? “I think I would have pitied the woman he was married to,” declared his cousin, Jessie Greig, “because he was really married to his music.” Animals such as his English setter Nick always played a greater role in Gould’s life than human beings. With the exception of his long-standing relations with Cornelia Foss, who left her husband, the composer Lukas Foss, and moved to Toronto with her two children to be with Gould, the pianist was long regarded as asexual – here, too, he was “the last Puritan”. Not until 2009 and the release of the film Genius Within was it possible to identify a whole series of other women with whom Gould had affairs. Even so, he admitted that “I am a very private person, I think, I’m alone, or quasi-alone, a lot. […] I very rarely go to bed until five or six o’clock in the morning, and it’s not unusual for me to hear the headlines on the Today show before turning in. I tend to get up around three in the afternoon.” Who would have been willing or able to share this private life in the longer term?”


Gould’s parents lived at 32 Southwood Drive in The Beaches, a well-to-do quarter of Toronto that exudes solid middle-class values. His father, Russell Herbert Gould (1901–96), was a successful furrier, as his father had been before him, while his mother, Florence Emma Gould (1891–1975), was a well-trained musician. Even before Gould’s birth – after several miscarriages, his mother produced no more children – family lore has it that she had already decided that her son would become a musician. What is beyond doubt is that Gould’s mother left a profound mark on his childhood both musically and emotionally, leaving her husband, her junior by ten years, a relatively marginal figure. (When Russell Gould remarried five years after Florence’s death, Gould effectively broke off all contact with his father.) To what extent his alleged Asperger’s syndrome can be traced back to a genetic predisposition remains uncertain. Within the context of a small and strictly puritanical family, Gould’s maternal grandmother, Mary Catherine Greig, also played a certain role: “The view of art as an instrument of salvation, of the artist as missionary advocate: it was a notion to which my grandmother wholeheartedly subscribed.”