Sunday mornings are sacred to me, but not in a religious fashion. Nearly three decades ago, the cable channel A&E had excellent programming, and I used to enjoy Breakfast with the Arts, hosted by Elliot Forrest. It was broadcast on Sunday mornings, and it offered varied viewing related to fine arts and performance. There were documentaries about great artists, writers, and musicians, as well as video recordings of live performances of plays, orchestral concerts, and operas. By the late 1990’s, the channel began its commercialistic devolution, and modern pop performers began to appear on the show before it was cancelled altogether.
With the departure of that program, I took up my own effort at home to listen to music or watch an opera while I made brunch. This lasted some years, then I would occasionally observe the ritual with a frequency of once every few months.
This morning, I felt the need to start again, and I had my breakfast in front of a fascinating documentary about the great Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould. I had first learned of this musician’s idiosyncrasies when I was in college, and my interest in classical music began to deepen. I would listen to recordings of Bach’s piano music, and when Gould was the pianist, I giggled at the humming and noises he made that bled into the microphones and made it onto the record. I remember reading articles about his eccentric habits, his hypochondria, and his wearing of coats and gloves in the summertime due to his fear of catching a cold. His genius, I concluded, came with the quirks that we hear of so often in connection with minds that make great contributions to the world.
The documentary I viewed this morning first aired on PBS in 2010. Entitled Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould, it chronologically traced his life and career, intertwining his family experiences, his development as a musician, his friendships and collaborations, and his love life–all with commentary from people who knew him and worked with him. This included artist Cornelia Foss, who was married to Lukas Foss, a pianist and conductor whom Gould admired immensely. When the Fosses’ marriage ended, Cornelia and her children moved to Canada to live with Gould.
The film devoted considerable attention Gould’s intriguing and abrupt departure from live performance when he was only 31. He had experienced enormous success in North America and abroad, creating controversy along the way. In one instance, conductor Leonard Bernstein announced to an audience at Carnegie Hall, just prior to Gould’s arrival onstage, a strong disagreement he had with Gould regarding the pianist’s interpretation of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1. The difference between these extraordinary musical minds was amicable, however, and Gould even commented for years after that Bernstein had spoken in respectful terms in making a disclaimer to the audience that night. But Gould had grown tired of performing in front of audiences. After 1964, he spent the rest of his career in the studio, producing revolutionary interpretations of Bach and Beethoven, chiefly. He also wrote and presented numerous documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Gould’s defining characteristics of musical interpretation developed directly from the influence of Alberto Guerrero, who taught Gould at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Gould started with the mechanical techniques he learned from Guerrero and took them in revolutionary directions, creating opportunities for himself and all performers of his era to apply fresh and aggressive approaches to performance and to recording.
Sadly, Glenn Gould died in 1982 at the age of 50 from a series of strokes. This film, directed by Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont, brought me closer to a musician whose recordings I have long admired. Not a bad way to spend my Sunday morning.
Photo credit: Bryan Geraldo (Pexels)