GLENN GOULD: A Life and Variations by Otto Friedrich

GLENN GOULD: A Life and Variations

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A thin biography of the eccentric but undeniably great Canadian pianist; by Time senior writer Friedrich (The End of the World, 1982; City of Nets, 1986; etc.). Anyone who has ever listened to a recording of Gould will remember the continual buzz of Gould's voice as he hummed along with his playing. Those who saw him live or on TV will recall the knee flung over knee, the waving scarves, the twitching tuttis, and the anguished flailings that accompanied his performances. And here Friedrich has attempted one of the most difficult feats of literature: to essay a biography of a reclusive eccentric, whose every mortal moment was an attempt to preserve his privacy. Those fans of the late pianist (Gould gave up concertizing at the age of 31 because he couldn't endure "tubercular" audiences) who crave any morsel of info on their idol will probably be satisfied with the author's result. In the end, however, Friedrich's biography is simply a pastiche of reviews, conversations, interviews, and hearsay that leaves Gould as much an enigma as ever. One of Friedrich's most egregious habits is to interpose questions and answers from interviews into the middle of perfectly good narrative. For example, when describing Gary Graffman's meeting with Gould (as both practiced in the Steinway Building), he interjects: "Q: But he often said that he practically never practiced at all. A: He was practicing a lot. Q: He was practicing a lot? A: He was practicing a lot." Similarly aggravating is that, aside from a paragraph or two about Gould's mother dying, he includes precious little about any personal relationships in Gould's life. One doesn't learn about the man, but only about the performer. All Friedrich finally gives us, then, is a very evocative portrait of Gould at work on the stage and in his beloved recording studios. Still, it's an improvement on Geoffrey Payzant's Glenn Gould: Music and Mind (1978), which suffered from a lack of access to Gould's private and unpublished papers. (A concert and radio/TV chronology, as well as a complete discography, round out Friedrich's volume.)

Pub Date: April 28th, 1989
ISBN: 394-56299-2
Publisher: Random House
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