The story of the Glenn Gould Steinway piano in studio Q

Gould believed an old piano was better than a new one, and took a particular liking to the one that currently resides in the Q studio.

Gould believed an old piano was better than a new one

Glenn Gould's practice piano, a Steinway D #271146, currently resides in the Q studio. (Vivian Rashotte/CBC)

Originally published on March 29, 2019

When most people think of famed instruments, their mind generally goes to guitars. The custom guitar that Prince used in Purple Rain or the Fender Telecaster that Robbie Robertson used on The Last Waltz are examples of famed instruments whose stories continue to evolve.

In the case of the piano, there is no more famous than the ones that were played by Canada's own Glenn Gould. The most famous of which would be his beloved Steinway CD 318, which currently resides at the NAC in Ottawa, or his childhood piano, the Chickering, that lives in Toronto at Glenn Gould Studio.

The heritage and folklore surrounding a vintage instrument grows with time and the Steinway model D grand piano that currently resides in the Q studio is no exception.

Throughout his life, Gould would have played on many different pianos, but none as much as the famous CD 318. However, the piano that is still in regular use today as the studio piano for Q also played a key role in Gould's life.

The 'Old Steinway'

That piano, Steinway D #271146, is the oldest piano still owned by CBC and was the first Steinway Model D Grand Piano that CBC Toronto purchased back in June, 1945, for $2,000 from the T. Eaton Company. For decades, the piano was simply referred to as the "old Steinway" by CBC staff.

Here's what we know about the old Steinway, and how it became Gould's go-to practice instrument. Construction was completed on the piano on Sept. 15, 1930, at Steinway New York, and was then delivered to Paul Hahn & Co. on March 9, 1931. It's the second last entry in the hand-written ledger that Paul Hahn & Co. kept of every Steinway that was sold in Toronto from 1879 to 1931. Upon delivery the piano was valued at $2,290.

Glenn Gould's practice piano, which currently resides in the Q studio, was at one point ordered to be destroyed, but after a fierce fight by CBC recording engineers and a local pianist, it was refurbished instead. (Vivian Rashotte/CBC)

In 1931, the T. Eaton Company took over the Steinway dealership and the piano would have been moved to the Eaton building at Yonge and College in Toronto. This building, now known as College Park, was home to the Eaton's department store and more famously the Eaton Auditorium, where in his later years, Gould recorded the majority of his albums. From 1931 to 1945, the ownership of the piano is not exactly known but it is assumed that the piano spent its life in Eaton's piano department.

The piano was then purchased by CBC Toronto in June 1945, and it's been serving Canadian radio listeners ever since. The piano and Gould no doubt crossed paths many times over the years as it was CBC's travelling remote broadcast piano. The piano was specifically purchased with live performances in mind and went wherever a concert grand piano was needed for radio broadcasts.

Gould's go-to practice piano

But it wasn't until the 1970s that Gould became very familiar with our old Steinway. The home base for the piano was CBC's music library, where it was stored between engagements and made available for rehearsals. Gould had an office in the old CBC Radio building on Jarvis Street and he was spending many nights sleeping in a hotel on Carleton Avenue. He seemed to want to be close to his work at CBC, and found travelling to his apartment across town a trip he wanted to avoid. With so many days being spent away from his apartment and his own Steinway, Gould took up residence in the CBC music library rehearsing on the old Steinway whenever possible. While it is impossible to say exactly how often Gould played this piano, it is safe to estimate that he probably spent hundreds of hours with it.

In a 1978 letter to CBC from Steinway & Sons, they state that "Mr. Gould has suggested" that our model D Steinway "be rebuilt." Gould was so fond of practising on the instrument that he had requested some modifications. (CBC)

By late 1978, Gould had grown quite fond of the piano, as he requested that Steinway in New York be employed to rebuild it. In a letter dated Dec. 19, 1978, Steinway New York, on the behest of Gould, wrote to inform the CBC that they could not rebuild the piano as they do not provide rebuilding services. They then suggested that the piano be rebuilt in Toronto. So at Gould's behest, Lowrey Music ended up rebuilding the old Steinway in the summer of 1979 for a fee of $5,850.

It was around this time that Gould's Steinway CD 318, after years of repairs trying to mend damage made when the piano was dropped on a trip to Cleveland in 1971, was deemed unsuitable for recording. Gould was at a crossroads and was on the hunt for a replacement.

Perhaps he had his eye on CBC's Steinway, as he had a fondness for older Steinways (his CD 318 was built in 1945). It was a fact that infuriated Steinway in New York, as they were in the business of selling new pianos, not repairing old ones. Whatever the case, Gould ended up choosing a CFII Yamaha concert grand piano, which is now at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. Had he chosen CBC's old Steinway, chances are guests like David Foster, Diana Krall, Rufus Wainwright and so many more wouldn't have had the opportunity to play it while appearing on Q.

Interestingly enough, after decades in use, the CBC's Steinway D was almost ordered sold or destroyed in order to be replaced by a new one. After a fierce fight by CBC recording engineers, as well as Toronto pianist Mark Eisenman, the piano was refurbished.

Sometimes an old piano is better than a new one, a sentiment Glenn Gould could appreciate.

Glenn Gould's practice piano in the Q studio. (Vivian Rashotte/CBC)

Produced by ​Frank Lockyer Palmer. Written by Ron Skinner.


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