Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Glenn Gould’s Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano

by Katie Hafner

Pub Date: June 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59691-524-4
Publisher: Bloomsbury

A pianist’s love affair with his instrument, and the blind man who enabled it.

Glenn Gould (1932–82) was one of the most respected artists of classical music’s modern era. Piano tuner Charles Verne Edquist, on the other hand, is known only to a handful of music buffs. Both men were still boys in 1942, when the designers and manufacturers at Steinway & Sons began work on CD 318, a concert grand that Gould would one day conclude was the perfect instrument—and that Edquist would spend two decades tuning and revivifying from the pianist’s hard use. It wasn’t until 1960, four years after Gould became a classical bestseller with his recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, that he sat down to play CD 318 in a concert hall on the top floor of Toronto’s premier department store. It would be two more years before Gould connected with Edquist, who spent much of the next two decades adjusting CD 318 to meet the pianist’s demands for “hair-trigger action and lightning-fast repetition.” Plucky New York Times correspondent Hafner (Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet, 1996, etc.) weaves together three stories—of the pianist, the tuner and the piano itself—into a single cohesive narrative, the musical version of Seabiscuit (2001), as it were. She’s not distracted by Gould’s legendary quirks (the germ phobia, the grunting and whistling while performing) or his formidable loquacity. Drawing on hours of recorded interviews, she filters out the redundant and inconsequential to lucidly grasp the essential: the complex interaction among an artist, a craftsman and the precious tool they both revered.

Written with authority and enthusiasm, a treat for armchair musicologists, Gould fanatics and even those who never heard a note he played.