GLENN GOULD by Peter F. Ostwald


The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Genius
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 One of Gould's friends memorializes the virtuoso pianist. Ostwald, a psychiatrist and violinist who died last year, met Gould in 1957, when both were in their 20s, after Gould's California debut, when the awed Ostwald rushed backstage to congratulate him. Out of that impulsive gesture came an unusual friendship based on Gould's high-speed monologues and Ostwald's sympathetic ear. His book, a hodgepodge of reminiscence and speculation, is not really a biography but rather an affectionate, sometimes clumsy montage. Some of the highlights: the adult Gould's fondness for inventing ``imaginary dialogues in which he talked to himself'' about aspects of music and other topics, at times inhabiting ``make-believe characters'' given names like Thornwaite, Chianti, and Klopweisser; and an image of the boyish Gould, observed singing to cows at pasture in rural Ontario. His oddities get an airing here: The hypochondriac performer often traveled with ``handfuls of assorted pills in his coat pockets, which sometimes led to unfortunate results when he had to cross the border from Canada to the United States. Often he would be detained by suspicious customs officials.'' Also celebrated is Gould the animal lover, who left a large part of his estate to the Toronto Humane Society when he died in 1982 at the age of 50. But of course, Gould's eccentricities are already well known, and one flaw of Ostwald's book is a lack of new material. Also, it is marred by awkward writing, a tendency to philosophize turgidly about music and the state of Gould's mind, and excessive documentation of such matters as Gould's blood pressure and pulse rate. Indeed, Ostwald's professional interest in the pianist's medical worries tends to go overboard. Still, a poignant figure emerges (how could it not?) of the musician as a willing martyr to his talent, drive, and obsessions. (60 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-393-04077-1
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1997