Review by Win Wiacek
Publisher NBM have struck a seam of gold with their growing line of European biographies and Glenn Gould – A Life Off Tempo is impressive and thought-provoking.
It’s lovingly crafted by Sandrine Revel, author, cartoonist and comics artist who’s a devoted and passionate fan of the star of this elegiac and beguiling book. Her credibility is bolstered by a menu of appendices at the back to augment your appreciation and understanding of an archetypal troubled genius.
Painted in a number of extremely welcoming and effective styles, A Life Off Tempo offers snippets from the strange, solitary and woefully short life of a Canadian musical child prodigy who hit the heights, changed the scene and left the world early as all revelatory, game-changing artists seem to do.
The deliciously oversized (280 x 208 mm) full-colour, resoundingly substantial hardback is not a formal history or biography text, even though we meet Gould at various stages of his life and share key events and intimate moments. In fact, it’s as he dies that we share moments of his clearly difficult life, all deftly woven into a non-chronological narrative, dotted with observation from the paltry few people he allowed close to him.
Gould was dubbed “the J.D. Salinger of the classical music world”, and you may or may not know he was a classical pianist with a unique style and manner who revolutionised how certain pieces were played and heard. He died in 1982 as the result of a stroke, approaching fifty, and among his achievements is opening the Soviet Union to Western cultural arts tours despite playing less than 200 concerts in his entire career.
This was because at the height of his fame Gould abandoned live performance to write music and experiment in recording techniques. He became a critic and broadcaster, and invented pseudonymous identities so that he could savage his own recordings. It indicates a difficult man and beloved mystery to those around him, and this graphic account astutely supplies the how if not always the why. Yet he was either crippled by hypochondria or suffered from a number of physical and psychological ailments as well as what might well have been undiagnosed Asberger’s Syndrome or an ASD, to use today’s terminology. He certainly loved animals, despised cruelty and always bundled up as if he were freezing to death.
You obviously won’t feel how his interpretations of hallowed pieces by Bach, Beethoven, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Mozart and more shook up the musical world. However, listen to the suggested playlist, track down the recordings cited in the discography or use the provided lists to get a firm grip on the maestro’s output and you’ll experience the innovation and won’t be at all disappointed.
Impassioned, enchanting and marvellously moving, this enigmatic engagement with a singular creative individual is a fabulous treat for lovers of comics and music and will stay in your head like a favourite tune.