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The Secret Life Of Glenn Gould

Michael Clarkson

ECW Press £17.99

The Secret Life Of Glenn Gould

The legendary Canadian pianist Glenn Gould died in 1982 at the age of fifty. Gould's immune system had been weakened by prescription drug abuse and an unhealthy lifestyle. The cause of death was given as a stroke and a blood clot. By the late 1970s the pianist was paying $503 per month for prescription drugs - almost the same as his telephone bill!

Some of Gould's eccentricities were charming, some perplexing. He sang Mahler to cows in the fields. He called his cat 'Longfellow'. His heroes included Howard Hughes and Petula Clark. He suffered from aviophobia (fear of flying). He disliked the music of Mozart. A Daily Express headline in 1959 announced: “There's Ills in That Thar Gould.” The pianist was concerned about germs, but allowed the poodle of mezzo-soprano Joan Maxwell to lick his face.

The vault to Gould's private life has been locked since he died. Now, nearly three decades later (2007 was the 25th anniversary of Gould's demise), Clarkson's book unlocks some of Gould's secrets. A possible cause of Gould's death is suggested: heart sickness. Several amorous and secret affairs are detailed, particularly Gould's long relationship with Cornelia, the wife of Lukas Foss. The composer behaved like a saint. Cornelia Foss returned to her husband in 1973. They remained married for nearly six decades, until Lukas died at the age of 86, in 2009.

Gould had a penchant for dumping friends. Not surprisingly, many of Gould's circle were angry at getting dumped. The list was long; nobody was given an explanation. Violinist Morry Kernerman was so upset that he moved his family from Toronto to Montreal to avoid running into Gould again.

One possible explanation for Gould's behaviour is that Gould - like Albert Einstein and Bill Gates - exhibited some of the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome, a variant of autism, 'in which sufferers have problems in social situations, and may sometimes be cruel towards others without conscience or understanding others' feelings'.

Clarkson gives us a fascinating account, yet many mysteries remain.

John Robert Brown

First published in Jazz Journal, March 2010. Reproduced by kind permission of the editor
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