Glenn Gould was as famous for his eccentricities as he was for his music. Along with extreme social awkwardness and severe hypochondria, the celebrated Canadian pianist was so terrified of the cold he wore winter clothes year-round.
He was nervous and intensely private, and his guarded personal life led to speculations about his sexuality. While male artists of the time often flaunted their conquests, Gould kept things tightly wrapped, cutting off friends who got too personal and once firing a cleaning lady for gossiping about him.
In 2007, 25 years after his death, American painter Cornelia Foss admitted a five-year affair with Gould, beginning in 1967, the height of which saw her leave her husband and move from LA to Toronto to be with Gould.
“He was attracted to women, but at the same time, his sexuality transcended labels,” playwright David Young says. “In truth, he was a bit of a monk and sublimated his sexuality into the highest calling of art.”
Originally approached to write a film based on Gould’s life, Young opted instead for a piece of theatre. Rather than a narrative bio-play, his 1992 work Glenn presents the artist at four phases in his life: the teenaged prodigy, the tortured performer, the reclusive studio artist and the man in his final days.
Gould was incredibly prolific; to write the play Young needed “a year of listening” to even scratch the surface. Along with Gould’s extensive recordings, Young explored his writings, lectures, radio programs and television documentaries.
“Watching the play be remounted two decades later, I’m astonished by how much I learned about the world by being inside Gould’s world,” Young says. “Learning about him and all his complexities changed my life, but I didn’t realize that until I came back to the text.”