Glenn Gould, during the 1955 recording of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations

Glenn Gould: Music, Genius, and Interpretation (Sunday Section)

Instructor: Nathan Shields
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Within a decade of his death, the pianist Glenn Gould had assumed an almost mythic status, fêted by Edward Said, lionized in experimental films, and fictionalized by the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard. While other musicians might rival him in album sales, Gould came to symbolize his art form as a whole: classical music was a traditional field in an age of modern technology and mass media, and in Gould—recluse and celebrity, ascetic and showman, musical antiquarian turned high-tech revolutionary—it found a figure whose contradictions mirrored its own. He seemed to embody the promise of modernity, abandoning the stage for the control of the recording studio and comparing his interpretations to “an x-ray of the work.” The metaphor captured more than he intended: beneath his avowed impersonality, Gould imbued everything he played with his own fanatical lucidity. To Edward Said, he was “the virtuoso as intellectual,” remaking the Romantic genius for the modern age. But behind Gould’s up-to-date urbanity listeners sensed a distinctly old-fashioned madness, reflected not just in the eccentricity and hypochondria that deepened as he aged, but in the compulsive force of his playing itself. So what was Gould—technician, talking head, genius, madman? And what does this many-faced musician reveal about the art form he came to represent?

In this course we’ll address these questions through an exploration of Gould’s recordings, coupled with a consideration of his roles as composer, polemicist, and impresario. We’ll examine his famous interpretations of Bach, as well as his wide-ranging engagement with Beethoven, Wagner, Haydn, Brahms, Strauss, Gibbons, Schoenberg, and other composers both canonical and obscure. We’ll look at Gould’s compositions, lectures, and media appearances, and ask how he negotiated the conflicting demands of art and celebrity, private expression and public persona. We’ll explore representations of him in criticism, literature, and film, including those by Said, Bernhard, François Girard, and others. And we’ll ask, what do Gould’s music and career reveal about the tensions—between elite art and mass culture, archaism and modernity—that have defined classical music both during his era, and in our own?

“Glenn Gould: Music, Style, and Genius” is being held in partnership with the Glenn Gould Foundation. To learn more about the Foundation and its many activities, including the biennial Glenn Gould Prize, visit

Course Schedule

Sunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
September 19 — October 10, 2021
4 weeks


Registration Open

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