Violinists and other instrumentalists who play more portable instruments don’t really realize just how good they have it. A concert pianist must deal with many different pianos. No two are exactly alike. No two behave exactly the same. Vladimir Horowitz, one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, got around this by taking his piano with him on tour. His piano was a wedding present from Steinway.
Glenn Gould remains something of an enigma. He was a fabulously talented pianist who took the world by storm in the ’50s. A year before Van Cliburn won the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow, Gould performed in Russia. As a Canadian, he was the first North America to have performed in the Soviet Union since World War II. He played with the greatest orchestras of the world and in many of the greatest venues. Nevertheless, the constant strain of touring was too much for him and after eight years, he stopped performing in public entirely. Van Cliburn would also call it quits, though unlike Gould, he has returned to the concert stage in a highly limited fashion.
Gould had a favorite piano, Steinway’s CD 318. This instrument, which now is at the National Library of Canada, was as quirky as its owner. There’s a wonderful book about the story behind this instrument in the book A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould’s Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano. Until Gould basically installed a recording studio of his own in Toronto, he would have to have his piano shipped back and forth from New York. He was to record with the Cleveland Symphony. The instrument was severely damaged during shipment to the point where its metal frame was cracked. Despite the heroic efforts of his tuner to restore it, Gould was never happy with the results. His last recording was made on a Yamaha piano.
While CD 318 was being restored, Gould began to experiment with the harpsichord. He made a recording of Handel suites on it and did some shows on CBC television on the harpsichord. Here’s an excerpt from one of them.
The drama at work has subsided. My Australian colleague is being very quiet these days.