After spending so much of the past few weeks thinking about virtuosity –both in my academic research and in the music I have been listening to—I was more than ready to see a documentary studying the quintessential Canadian musician, Glenn Gould.
Genius Within: the Inner Life of Glenn Gould is a series of reminiscences, memoirs, anecdotes, assembled into the story of Gould’s life, told mostly in the third person. Directed by Michèle Hozer and Peter Raymont, it’s a fairly recent doc (2009) that I missed when it first came around during TIFF.
The film is in some respects horribly indelicate, invading the privacy of a defenceless icon. We’re given several hints as to why certain horrible things happen, without any clear indication. But after all, how could we really know the inner life of such a secretive person?
And so we watch wonderful images and clips of his great successes in the musical world, of his great tour of the Soviet Union, and later his battles with Leonard Bernstein in New York. And gradually we can’t be surprised when he retreats ever further into solitude. We hear of medications for depression, symptoms of OCD, and even see journal entries that made me cringe. You will know more about Glenn Gould than you probably wanted to know.
We’re told of the three most important women in his life, the first being his mom, so essential to his development.
Then we actually meet Cornelia Foss, both as she appeared when she met Gould in the 1960s, and in the present day when the film was made, looking back on her great relationship with the pianist. Gould and composer Lukas Foss had met, expressing their mutual admiration (Gould said Foss was the pianist he admired most). Foss’s wife Cornelia would move in with Gould along with her two children from 1968 to 1972, but Cornelia would eventually return to Lukas. The pain this caused can be surmised by the tears in the eyes of the children recalling their experiences in our time. Later he’d have another great affair with singer Roxolana Roslak, with whom he’d happily collaborated in the studio and on disc.
At one point we hear a quote from Gould, that “music insulates you from the world”. It’s hardly surprising that we’ll hear that Gould suffered from depression, and was likely only really happy while playing. As the pianist ends his career on the concert stage, moving permanently into studios as a pianist, composer and media artist, we begin to see the Mcluhanesque visionary who’d be remembered for his daring experiments as much as for his pianism.
This is an excellent doc, troubling because it explores its subject so faithfully, leaving us with might-have-been questions. Gould died at 50, too young.
Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould can still be obtained. I’d recommend it, particularly for those fascinated by this enigmatic man.