Fans celebrate Glenn Gould anniversary worldwide

Classical enthusiasts the world over are celebrating the life, music and genius of Canadian legend Glenn Gould on the 80th anniversary of his birth.

Canadian pianist's life, legacy honoured by Lang Lang, fans around globe

Legacy of Glenn Gould

9 years ago
Acclaimed pianist Lang Lang and music technology expert Paul Théberge talk to CBC News about the enduring legacy of Canadian piano virtuoso Glenn Gould. 5:19

Classical enthusiasts the world over are celebrating the life, music and genius of Canadian legend Glenn Gould on the 80th anniversary of his birth.

Tuesday marks 80 years since Gould's birth. Concerts, seminars, exhibitions and film presentations about the idiosyncratic musical virtuoso have already begun and will continue through the fall.

"He's one of the most unique pianists that I've ever heard in recordings. His personality is so incredibly strong and everything that [he produced]," famed pianist Lang Lang, who is taking part in the Gould celebrations, told CBC News.

Sunday Edition on Gould

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The Chinese star pianist stopped in Ottawa where he got a chance to play Gould's early piano — a Steinway CD 318 — at the National Arts Centre.

"It's a real honour to touch his early piano," he said. "It's very magical...It's really inspiring to play The Goldberg Variations on this piano."

Lang Lang was also among a host of cultural figures who took part in a creative summit in Toronto over the weekend that presented new work and collaborations inspired by Gould. He joined other high-profile guests such as Norman Jewison, Atom Egoyan, Chilly Gonzales, Bob Ezrin and Marie Chouinard.

"The interesting thing about Gould [is] we all know him through his recordings. And his interpretations are actually assembled — they're edited together after the fact. They appear to us as performances because they're finished projects, but in a certain sense, there's a way in which he went about constructing his work that was more cinemagraphic in intent," according to Paul Théberge, music technology researcher for the Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture.

In his fascination with multi-track recording, Gould was a musical pioneer in the 1960s, Théberge said.

Glenn Gould celebrations are taking place around the globe. (CBC)

"The recording industry and the media industries and television were kind of at their height at that point and he tapped into something that was going on all around him. People in popular music were using multi-tracking and finding a new way to perform in the studio, a new way to kind of assemble their performances... Gould was part of that movement of trying to push that technology in new directions and kind of do something that had never been done before."

Lang Lang noted that from his own experience, sometimes recordings aren't able to capture the essence of what was performed live.

What's exciting about Gould's recordings then, was that he worked hard in studio to ensure the final product sounded exactly as he intended.

"Gould was at one moment a pianist, and then the next minute he'd put himself in the position of the listener. He'd go in the studio and have a more objective kind sense of what he'd achieved there at the keyboard and think about 'OK, now what does this sound like?'" Théberge said.

"He was, in some ways, using the recording to achieve a sound that couldn't, that wasn't just produced by the piano, but actually using the microphones to find a new kind of way to get a kind of clarity and texture that wouldn't have been there even in his playing... He had a concept of what he wanted it to sound like and he needed the sound recording technology to get it."

Other Gould anniversary celebrations this fall include:

  • The September issue of Gramophone magazine dedicated to Gould's life and legacy.
  • A performance by Canadian pianist Angela Cheng on CD 318 with Pinchas Zukerman and the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa on Monday.
  • Other exhibits, seminars, concerts and film presentations in Rome, Greece and across Canada in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal and Regina.
  • A Glenn Gould Birthday BACHanalia program at his alma mater, the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, beginning Monday that will feature a mix of classical, jazz, bluegrass and South Asian artists playing the music of Bach.
  • The launch of Piano Invention, a Gould-inspired music composition app, on Tuesday.
  • A discussion, exhibition and concert performance by Canadian classical pianist Jan Lisiecki and jazz pianist Chihiro Yamanka at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo on Sept. 30.
  • A concert performance by Icelandic pianist Vikingur Ólafsson inspired by Gould's radio broadcast The Idea of North, in Reykjavik on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the Glenn Gould Foundation is also opening up nominations for the 10th Glenn Gould Prize, which honours an individual for his or her "unique lifetime contribution that has enriched the human condition through the arts."

Each laureate also chooses an outstanding young artist or group to receive The City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize. Past prize-winners have included conductors Yehudi Menuhin and Pierre Boulez, music education champion José Antonio Abreu, composer R. Murray Schafer and musicians Oscar Peterson, Leonard Cohen and Yo-Yo Ma.

A statue depicting Glenn Gould seated on a park bench is located on Front Street West, in front of the CBC Broadcast Centre, in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)