[f_minor] "Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould" / PBS American Masters series

Robert Merkin bobmerk at earthlink.net
Tue Dec 28 00:17:25 EST 2010

"Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould" was a wonderful piece of television, it was television doing what television, if it chose, could be best at. It was as delicious, as interesting, as beautiful as Glenn Gould. Like Gould himself, it told its story at many tempos, as slowly as that moment in his life deserved; it wasn't in a hurry.

I think it was particularly valuable for viewers who aren't, like most of us, long intimate and familiar with Gould. And recently there've been some gripes on f_mnor that the world (which after all, unlike us, is getting younger) has been forgetting Gould and his achievements. "Genius Within" was a wonderful reminder, and particularly valuable to young music lovers who, in perfect innocence, just have never heard any or much Glenn Gould. Because once upon a time (long long ago) I'd never heard any Glenn Gould.

The documentary spent a very appropriately long block of time emphasizing how, for a personality like Gould's, the concert stage was not the heart and soul of classical music, but was a never-ending torment.

And then, as he moved into the recording studio, the documentary stressed that this all happened at a wonderful technological moment (much of the wonder due to Gould's own efforts and invention). If he had left the concert stage in 1943, or 1933, he simply would have had no adequate recording technology to gift us with his beauty -- and to inspire other classical artists to produce so much beauty in the new, evolving recording studio.

I  had no clock as I watched it, so I didn't know how much time was left in the long, leisurely broadcast -- I lost track of how much time was left in his life. 

And then a screen title: The Goldberg Variations, 1981. And my heart sank.

It was wonderful, for the first time, to see Gould through the living memories of Cornelia Foss and her son and daughter; it was particularly wonderful to hear the children speak of how much they loved him, and how parting from him tore at their hearts. We've known how he loved animals. Now we've been treated to children telling us how much he loved them, how kind he was to them, even what a good father he would have made. 

I don't think it's been a healthy -- or accurate -- way of embracing Glenn Gould to portray him for so many decades as failing to have achieved human intimacy, as a dark-browed, noble prisoner of loneliness. Most of that seems to have been his own artifice, tricks which he knew pumped up the mystery of his public image.

If you missed it, make a special effort to see it if it's rebroadcast, as I'm certain it will be. Urge those who don't know Glenn Gould very well to watch it. If you know Gould very well, have a large box of tissues standing by.

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