The Variations of Glenn Gould

Legendary, Eccentric Pianist Launched His Career by Playing Bach

Listen: Part I - Elevating the 'Goldbergs'

Listen: Part II - Comparing Recordings from 1955 and 1981

Listen: Part III - Gould's Odd Behavior

Glenn Gould became famous in the classical music world largely through his performance of an obscure group of pieces by J.S. Bach. At the time of Gould's American debut in January 1955, the "Goldberg Variations" were mainly known to musicologists. (Gould too was unknown to American audiences.) But the 22-year-old Canadian pianist’s performance was so energetic and captivating that he became a classical music superstar. The popularity of the "Variations" skyrocketed.

Eventually, Gould became a legend - partly for his playing and partly for his lengthy catolog of eccentricities. Gould often dressed in a hat, goloshes and a winter coat while in the recording studio. He hummed along as he played and, fearing injury, he refused to shake hands with people. He made long road trips in the middle of the night.

A year after Gould's debut, Columbia Masterworks released his recording of the "Goldberg Variations." In 1981, Gould recorded them again in a radically slower, more deliberate interpretation. In an interview, he denounced his earlier version as mediocre. Gould died of a stroke the following year.

For the 70th anniversary of Gould’s birth, Sony Classical released both recordings of the "Goldberg Variations" - along with critic Tim Page's interview with Gould weeks before his death.

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