Feed on

By David Howes

[What] is most genuine in the character of the artist [is] the unconscious, indeterminate, subliminal relationship of a man’s work to the society from which he comes.

– Glenn Gould
“Music in the Soviet Union”

Glenn Gould (b. 1932 – d. 1982) has long been the subject of international interest as a unique pianist, a provocative musicologist, and an intriguing eccentric. Gould was born in Toronto in 1932. As a young man he became a superstar of the concert stage with his original and dextrous pianistic style, only to retreat into the recording studio at the height of his fame as a performer, and from there exert an even more compelling spell over his audience. He was particularly acclaimed for his skill at interpreting countrapuntal music, as manifest in his brilliant recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

Gould’s first recording of the Goldberg Variations was released in 1956, became an instant bestseller, and continues to sell well to this day. He recorded it again in 1981, not long before he died, of heart failure, in 1982. It might seem odd to re-record a piece for which one had already received high acclaim, unless one were Glenn Gould, with his passion for “take-twoness.” In any event, the re-recording (which runs for 51’15 minutes whereas the first recording ran for 46’11) meant that his career could begin and end with the same musical phrase, in retrospect, like the Goldberg Variations itself.

Since Gould’s death, the interest – and in many cases fervour – surrounding his life and works has steadily increased, fostering Glenn Gould conferences, Glenn Gould pilgrimages, and a seemingly endless stream of Glenn Gould books. Due to this intense international interest, Gould has been called Canada’s “most famous cultural son” (Northcott 1992). Nonetheless, perhaps because Gould appeared to the world to be such an original figure, his Canadianness has rarely been considered. If mentioned at all by the (often American or English) writers who analyze Gould, Canada appears to have provided only a sort of cultural void – in Edward Said’s words, “the silence and solitude of the North” – within which Gould – to quote Said again – could become “entirely self-made, even self-born” (Said 1983: 51, 54).

In this chapter, it is precisely Glenn Gould’s “Canadian-ness” that shall be foregrounded. The traits which brought

him fame and which made him such an original and vital person all have a constitutional explanation in that the contrapuntal tendencies of Gould’s own life and work appear to have stemmed from the constitutional structure of the Canadian state.


For Glenn Gould, the most exciting and truest form of music was that which employed the art of counterpoint, and Johann Sebastian Bach was the supreme master of this art. The essence of counterpoint is simultaneity of voices:

In counterpoint a melody is always in the process of being repeated by one or another voice: the result is horizontal, rather than vertical, music. Any series of notes is thus capable of an infinite set of transformations, as the series (or melody or subject) is taken up first by one voice then by another, the voices always continuing to sound against, as well as with, all the others. Instead of the melody at the top being supported by a thicker harmonic mass beneath (as in largely vertical nineteenth century music), Bach’s contrapuntal music is regularly composed of several equal lines, sinuously interwoven, working themselves out according to stringent rules (Said 1983: 47)

Gould extolled counterpoint as “an explosion of simultaneous ideas” and as a musical technique which emphasized ongoing process rather than stability (Anguilette 1992: 111). In his playing, he endeavoured to preserve a perfect balance among the lines of a piece, and he rarely used the sustaining pedal in order to avoid any blurring of the different voices (Ostwald 1997: 94-95).

Gould was renowned (and sometimes denounced) for the liberties he took interpreting different composers’ works, particularly Mozart’s. For example, he would continually experiment with the tempo of a piece – speeding up or slowing down his playing in the most (apparently) erratic fashion. The one trait of his playing that consistently elicited praise was the clarity and separation of voices. Referring to Gould’s ability to articulate two or more melodies at once without subordinating one to the other, Edward Said, for example, speaks of “the clean dissections [Gould] seems to give to the pieces he plays” (1983: 51). Another critic has written: “In purely pianistic terms, [Gould] has an extraordinary ability to keep the texture clear at all points …. He is able to bring everything out, not just the most important line but the subsidiary lines as well. The subject of the fugue, for example, is rarely louder than the parts accompanying it, yet is always clearly articulated” (Morgan quoted in Kostelanetz 1983: 131).

There is a technical explanation for the exceptional clarity of Gould’s sound. It has to do with the practice-technique for finger-separation he was taught by his first formal music teacher, the Chilean-Canadian Alberto Guerrero, himself an accomplished pianist and musician. The technique involves “playing the music for each hand separately, very slowly, but making the sound by tapping each finger with the non-playing hand” (Beckwith 1983: 68-69). This technique eliminates excess motion in the hand, and is particularly good for acquiring “absolute evenness and ease” in intricate passage work (Ostwald 1997: 71). Gould once boasted to a friend that he finger-tapped the complete Goldberg Variations before recording it, which took him thirty-two hours.

This physical explanation for Gould’s art goes part of the way toward explaining his skill, but it does not account for his musicianship – that is, the ideas that he brought to the performance of his art. Furthermore, according to Gould himself, a pianist plays the piano not with his fingers but with his mind (Spice 1992: 6). To properly appreciate the way in which Gould played, therefore, it is necessary to inquire into his mental constitution.

The Contrapuntal Mind

Gould had a notoriously eccentric temperament. For example, he would hum to himself while playing; burst in and out of his repertoire of stock characters; prefer conversing with friends by long-distance telephone rather than in person; and wear winter clothes (a cap, gloves and muffler) in summer. Leonard Bernstein, reminiscing on Gould’s life, remarked upon the contradiction between Gould’s penchant for overdressing to keep out the cold and his fascination with the Arctic which led him to produce a radio documentary on the Canadian North. “For this man, who was so afraid of the cold, to be attracted to the cold, is a paradox that only twelve Freuds could figure out” (Bernstein 1983: 21-22).

Gould’s many eccentricities are typically attributed to his neuroses (Ostwald 1997: 103). Looked at carefully, however, many of Gould’s eccentricities can be seen as bi-centricities, and hence the expression of an archetypically Canadian imaginary. Consider the way Gould would elevate his left-hand and make conductor-like gestures with it while he was playing with his right hand – as if each hand had a mental life of its own. Or take the way he preferred to practice the piano against a background of contrasting sound – a routine which started after a sort of epiphany he experienced when the family maid started up the vacuum cleaner next to the piano while he was practising a Mozart fugue (Gould 1990: 6-7). The epiphany consisted in being able to feel the music and imagine it without being able to hear it. Other examples of this propensity include the way he liked to have one AM and one FM station playing all the time in his apartment, one for news, the other for music; the way he could learn a score while talking on the phone; and the way he enjoyed eavesdropping on three or four conversations at the same time going on at neighbouring tables in the restaurants he haunted (Kostelanetz 1983: 127).

All the above bi-centricities suggest that Gould had an unusual ability to listen and think contrapuntally. For him, concentrating did not principally involve shutting one thing out to hear another. He cultivated the ability to attend to many different voices simultaneously, and so evidenced what could be called a “federalism of mind.”

Gould’s personality also had a strongly federal character. He invented a whole repertoire of stock characters, or fictional alter egos, who would turn up in his writings from time to time, in radio skits, and in the occasional CBC television broadcast. These alter egos included Sir Nigel Twitt-Thornwaite, “the dean of British conductors”; Theodore Slutz, a New York taxi driver; Myron Chianti, a take-off on Marlon Brando; and so on. In a sense, Gould’s own self must be counted among these alter egos, for he once composed an article entitled ” Glenn Gould interviews Glenn Gould about Glenn Gould” (Gould 1990). In short, Gould presents a paradigm case of an identity which is not one.

In his book on Gould, Geoffrey Payzant writes:

[Gould] is what we might call a polyperson … He is a one man repertory company of fictitious characters, people of different types, accents and ethnic origins [referring to Twitt-Thornwaite, Myron Chianti, and so on] … His Mozart finales display much the same thing … Gould sustains a distinct dramatic personality for each musical line or motive throughout all the interchanges and ramifications. This I think he could not do without himself entering into each character (or motive, episode, or line), and into all of them at once. I can think of no other pianist who does this (Payzant 1982: 136-7).

Gould’s own self thus consisted in a federation of selves, and perhaps – as Payzant implies – therein lies the key to his ability to articulate two or more melodies at once, without subordinating one to the other, in his playing.


Gould’s career as a concert pianist lasted from 1955 to April 1964, when he abruptly quit the stage forever. Gould disliked the “circus” atmosphere of the public recital which he felt encouraged virtuoso display rather than the sensitive performance or appreciation of music. He further abhorred the piano competitions which customarily promote the career of the concert pianist. These he saw as expressions of social aggression directly descended from the gladitorial battles of antiquity and a violation of his contrapuntal ideal of the equality of musical voices.

Quitting the stage enabled Gould to devote all of his time to making recordings, a vocation at which he excelled and which enabled him to technologically create new performances by interweaving pieces from different “takes” of the same work. This was not just to eliminate mistakes. As one of Gould’s producers states: “It also very often was the way that the profile of the piece was established. I mean, the interpretation of a piece emerged sometimes only in the juxtaposition of various takes” (Kazdin quoted in Friedrich 1990: 135). Gould derived great personal satisfaction from the endless hours he spent splicing and re-splicing the tapes of his recording sessions. All of his albums were, in fact, embellished by “post-taping afterthoughts” or “take-twoness”, as he called it (see Kazdin 1989). It follows that there are no original Glenn Gould recordings – all of his recordings are doubles, recreations without originals.

Gould’s ability to keep track of two or three conversations simultaneously, and his remarkable talent for developing equally the several lines or voices of a single piece of music, laid the groundwork for his creation of a novel form of radio documentary. His best known documentaries are the ones that make up the so-called “Solitude Trilogy”, dealing with isolated regions and communities in Canada. The first of these was on the North, the second on Newfoundland and the third on the Mennonites. Gould referred to his radio documentaries as “contrapuntal radio,” and described the technique he used in directing and editing them as follows:

The basis of it was that we tried to have situations arise cogently from within the framework of the program in which the two or three voices … [recorded previously in conversation with Gould, but with the latter’s voice edited out for the final version] … could be overlapped, in which they would be heard talking – simultaneously, but from different points of view – about the same subject. We also tried to treat these voices as though they belonged to characters in a play, though all the material was gained from interviews. It was documentary material, treated in a sense as drama (cited in Payzant 1982: 131).

In other words, Gould sought to treat the voices of the people he interviewed as musical lines. This involved overlapping and alternating segments of pre-recorded interviews with different people so as to create parallel monologues at one moment, and apparent dialogues at the next. In this way, Gould could confront the listener with the articulation of two or more different points of view at the same time.

Gould’s radio documentaries are stimulating to listen to, and at the same time deeply perplexing, for it takes a great deal of concentration to follow all the voices at once – indeed, it is virtually impossible to do so. That Gould could imagine and make sense of a world in which there flourished such a polyphony of voices is a mark of the strength of his constitution – a constitution that refused to let one voice appropriate to itself the authority to speak in the name of all the others. Gould himself abjured the role of narrator in “The Idea of North” (as in the other documentaries belonging to the “Solitude Trilogy”), so there is no synthetic perspective, no master view, presented in the documentaries. The integration of his documentaries lies in the juxtaposition of perspectives, nothing more.

It has been observed that Gould’s documentaries are “carried on completely by means of the dramatic interplay between the characters” (Fink n.d.). This dramatic structure is unusual in a documentary, since the documentary format is normally concerned with transmitting information, or “facts.” Of course, Gould’s documentaries do communicate information as well. They were not fictional, and may be said to belong to the “realist” tradition of documentary production in Canada (Elder 1989).

The unique realism of Gould’s documentaries also invites comparison with the realism of Alex Colville’s paintings, as discussed in the previous chapter. All of the elements of a Colville painting are measured and positioned in advance so that the spontaneity of a Colville painting is virtually nil, everything is a function of geometry. It is the same with all of Gould’s recordings. There is nothing spontaneous about them: all of the elements, in addition to being pre-recorded, are harmonized by the transcendental rules of counterpoint.

Gould’s contrapuntal tendencies can be seen not only in the creative aspects but also some of the more destructive aspects of his personality. Gould was a pronounced hypochondriac, never at ease with his own body, continuously monitoring himself for signs of illness. His artist books are full of records of body temperatures and pulse rates taken at various hours of the day, and of prescriptions for different drugs from different physicians. Furthermore, if Gould constantly had an ear for the other, he also constantly had a fear of the other. He disliked the encroachment of others on his own territory. Indeed, reports by Gould of people spying on him led one psychiatrist friend to conclude that he suffered from “paranoid delusional episodes” (Ostwald 1997: 181).

In order to protect his privacy Gould led a reclusive existence. For example, he conducted his most intimate relationships by phone, which enabled him to always maintain his distance. Gould disliked conflict, and he assiduously avoided it in his own relationships (Ostwald 1997: 238-9). As one of the speakers in The Idea of North states, “Have you really made peace with these other people… because the only alternative to peace is a kind of crackup?” (Gould 1967-68). Gould needed to establish peace and order among the different voices of his life and work, to maintain them within their prescribed roles and boundaries. The tension involved in doing so probably led in part to the ultimate breakdown of Gould’s constitution, his death by heart failure in 1982.

National Pulse

Gould felt comfortable being a Canadian, and reflected extensively upon what such an identity entailed. For example, he believed that within Canada he could be himself, and not feel pressured to merge with others into a unitary mass identity (Gould 1967). As opposed to the traditional American love of parades, Gould had a strong dislike of crowds. He would have felt and looked totally out of place in a Rockwell painting such as The Golden Rule or The Right to Know.

Gould was suspicious of the American emphasis on liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “I’ve never understood the preoccupation with freedom as it’s reckoned in the Western world”, he said, going on to suggest that such freedom often only leads to socially-sanctioned aggression (Gould 1983: 41). Gould far preferred the “peace, order and good government” promised by the Canadian Constitution. Interestingly, his highest praise of his hometown, Toronto, was that it was “a truly peaceful city” (Gould 1984: 416). Similarly Gould, who described himself as a socialist, would have preferred the Canadian emphasis on social welfare (e.g. having a universal health care program), to what he decried as the capitalist, individualist emphasis of American culture (Kazdin 1989: 99).

Gould was very much concerned with the cultural life of his country. He wrote on Canadian topics, such as the parallel musical histories of English and French Canada, and his major radio documentaries dealt with Canadian regions and communities. Gould thrived on the interplay of Canadian culture, an interplay which never resolved into a synthesis. Explaining the difference between the Canadian “mosaic” and the American “melting pot”, Gould said: “in Canada … however intense the heat, we do not melt” (Gould 1984: 411). No blurring of boundaries here.

Margaret Atwood once wrote that if megalomania was the national mental illness of the United States then paranoid schizophrenia was that of Canada (Atwood 1970: 62). Gould, with his fear of people and all his alter egos, fits this diagnosis perfectly. Even in his hypochondria, therefore, Gould could be described as quintessentially Canadian. In another perceptive remark, Atwood writes that “Canadians are forever taking the national pulse like doctors at a sickbed: the aim is not to see whether the patient will live well but simply whether he will live at all” (Atwood 1972: 33). Interestingly, along with recording his bodily temperature at different hours of the day, Gould also recorded the temperature of various Canadian cities as reported on the radio, suggesting an association between his own body and the body of the country. Indeed, through his endless hours of listening to cross-country check-ups on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Gould must have internalized a great deal of the country’s condition.

This is not to argue that Gould’s personality was solely based on his Canadian identity, for there were many personal factors, such as his upbringing, which influenced the development of his character. The point is rather that Gould’s life and work was informed by his Canadian constitution and that there was a close and, for Gould, comfortable fit between being Glenn Gould and being Canadian.

The Lone Star

If Glenn Gould embodied the elementary structure of the Canadian imaginary in his music and person, who might occupy a similar role south of the border? Among Gould’s contemporaries in the United States, the one pianist who could be considered Gould’s equal in terms of popular renown and national cultural importance is Van Cliburn (b. 1935), a native of Kilgore, Texas. Just as Gould was Canada’s “most famous cultural son”, so Cliburn was America’s darling. Yet while the careers of Gould and Cliburn overlapped in certain key respects, they nonetheless figured as musical opposites and, as shall be brought out here, constitutional opposites.

Both Gould and Cliburn crossed an important cultural and political border when they performed in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. Gould was the first pianist from North America to play in the Soviet Union. This was in May 1957. While Gould was described as a cultural ambassador to the Soviet Union, however, Cliburn’s visit would make much more of a cultural and political impact. Van Cliburn went to Moscow in 1958 to participate in the first ever Tchaikovsky Competition. Against all apparent odds Cliburn won the competition on the strength of his performance of works by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. That an American should win a piano competition in Russia based on his interpretation of Russian composers seemed astounding. A photograph of Soviet President Nikita Khruschev congratulating the Texan youth, with Van Cliburn clasping Khruschev’s hands to his chest, made headlines around the world and turned Cliburn into a sensation back home.

With his picture already on the cover of Time magazine, Cliburn returned to a ticker-tape parade in New York City – the likes of which had not been seen since the Lindbergh triumph. Subsequently, Cliburn found himself called upon to endlessly perform his role as piano virtuoso and symbol of American supremacy. Such was the demand to hear his winning pieces that he never had much chance to develop a full-fledged repertoire beyond them.

The sentiments that Van Cliburn inspired in the American people were somewhat contradictory. He stood for the idea of beating the Russians at their own game, and as the Russians at the time were America’s most powerful and feared “other”, this was interpreted as a sign that Americans were indeed, as they hoped, masters of the world (Doerschuk 1994: 59; Chasins and Stiles 1959: 17). At the same time, Cliburn stood for the idea that we are all human, that there could be “people-to-people contact” between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., and there were possibilities for American culture to encompass the – not so inhuman after all – other (Reich 1993: 134, 137). This is the concentrism (Margaret Atwood would say megalomania) of the American constitution asserting itself: the hero vanquishes the foe, but at the same time encompasses the foe, for “we” (America) are proven to be co-extensive with the world.

The circumstances of Cliburn’s rise to fame evidently positioned him for the role of American icon. He filled this role by his seemingly expansive musical style. Cliburn’s playing was proclaimed to be “big, brilliant, beautiful … with sweep and fire and style” (Cassidy quoted in Reich 1993: 173) just like the “big, beautiful” expanse of his American homeland. Cliburn’s Russian audience similarly described his style as American in its outgoing nature: “His playing was open, it was reaching for everybody, reaching out for everyone” (Ashkenazy in Reich 1993: 122). Cliburn’s style is the opposite of the cool, clear and contained musical style for which Gould was renowned.

The two pianist’s different styles of playing were closely related to their choice of music: Gould favoured the contrapuntal compositions of Bach with their classic formality and reserve, Cliburn preferred the emotional outpouring and grand sweep of Romantic composers such as Tchaikovsky. “Cliburn’s direct opposite is Gould”, wrote one critic, for while Cliburn is “a Dionysiac player of Dionysiac music in the great old-fashioned manner” – Romantic and thundering – Gould is a “rigorously Apollonian performer of rigorously Apollonian music” – aloof and spare (Roddy 1983: 98).

In seeming contradiction to his exuberant pianistic style, Cliburn suffered from profound stage fright. So disabling was this stage fright that he was forced to periodically retire from the stage due to nerves and exhaustion, only to return a decade or so later and then experience the same symptoms all over again. As Cliburn said to a reporter in 1994 concerning his nerves: “I have the same feeling today as the first time I played in public” (Walsh 1994: 57). Despite his fear of the stage, however, Cliburn in no way agreed with Gould that concert performances should be abolished. Criticizing Gould’s position on this issue, Cliburn said that he appreciated the warmth and spontaneity of a live performance, and suggested that the audience was rooting for the performer not (as Gould feared) awaiting his downfall (Reich 1993: 289). The live performance here might be the musical equivalent of the American handshake – what Gould found threatening Cliburn imagined to be friendly and inviting.

Cliburn and Gould had similar differences of opinions as regards piano competitions, with the former asserting the value of competitiveness and Gould preferring to promote a model of cooperation. While Gould campaigned to have piano competitions abolished, a major annual piano competition was established in Van Cliburn’s name.

Cliburn’s and Gould’s respective Americanism and Candianism comes out not only in their musical opinions and styles but in their different visions of their countries. In a frequently cited interview, Cliburn celebrated the United States as a melting pot of ethnicities and expressed concern for the future of the nation given what he perceived to be growing signs of divisiveness:

We [in the United States] came here from each place, and each of us, all of us, can enjoy everything – we can enjoy the world…. But now we’re dividing as people, and I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want this kind of thinking to cramp the dreams of young people (quoted in Reich 1993: 353).

Glenn Gould, on the other hand, found in Canada’s divisions and solitary spaces the stuff of dreams and a confirming reflection of his own divided, solitary self.

The Contrapuntal Society

To return to Glenn Gould’s central interest, music, Gould would have agreed with contemporary ethnomusicologists such as Steven Feld (1984) and Anthony Seeger (1989) that musical styles or “sound structures” are intimately related to social styles and structures. Gould understood music to provide a model of society, and the performing artist, hence, to be performing society, as well as music. Along these lines, counterpoint, Gould’s preferred musical style, provides a specially apt model for comprehending the constitutional structure of the Canadian state. Gould’s interest in keeping the different voices of a fugue distinct, equal, and bound together parallels the concern of the Canadian state to keep the different parties to Confederation distinct, equal and bound together. In this difficult task, however, there is always a risk of overemphasizing or losing one of the voices. If Quebec is proclaimed “a distinct society” will that disturb the equality of the provinces (for surely all are distinct); if it is not, will that lead to the separation of Quebec and the break-up of Confederation? This bi-cultural counterpoint confronts Canadians daily, from the bilingual product information on their cereal boxes to the reports of English/French political jousting on the evening news.

Counterpoint, or in more general terms, polyphony, is non-dialectical, for it involves the interweaving of voices, of ideas, rather than the Hegelian process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Polyphony as social theory does not, therefore, entail the negation of any countervailing views the way, say, a dialectical social philosophy would. With polyphony, accommodation or peaceful co-presence takes the place of negation.

Polyphony, being non-dialectical, is also anti-synthetic. Rather than effect a synthesis, what polyphony does is establish concepts and voices or persons in relations of juxtaposition. Juxtaposition enables each of the voices that make up society to receive full expression, without compromising any one’s integrity. When Gould played the Goldberg Variations, or spliced together the voice tracks for “The Idea of North,” he was in effect playing the ideal model of Canadian society – a society grounded in the affirmation of a “unity of you and I,” a society that does not permit any synthesis (or “unity of we”) to override the autonomy and integrity of its various parts.

The philosophy of polyphony as interpreted by Gould agrees in an interesting way with the tradition of “philosophical federalism” which, according to Leslie Armour and Elizabeth Trott, has long characterized the practice of philosophy in English Canada. They write:

Dominantly in English Canadian philosophy reason is used as a device to explore alternatives, to suggest ways of combining apparently contradictory ideas, to discover new ways of passing from one idea to another. Only rarely is it used as an intellectual substitute for force – as a device to defeat one’s opponent, to show his ideas to be without foundation, or to discredit his claims to philosophical thought. There is, in short, a kind of philosophical federalism at work, a natural inclination to find out why one’s neighbour thinks differently rather than to find out how to show him up as an idiot (Armour and Trott 1981: 4; see also Howes 1985).

Gould expressed a homegrown philosophy in his piano works: he balanced voices the way Canadian philosophers have traditionally tried to balance positions or viewpoints (see further Raab 1989).

As a result of his understanding of music as a form of social organization, Gould disliked segregating music and musicians from other domains of social experiences. Thus, when interviewed, he wanted to be able to speak on a wide range of subjects; subjects, which to the interviewer interested in Gould’s musical opinions would seem completely off topic, but which Gould would feel to be informed by the same contrapuntal perspective as informed his music. In his article “Glenn Gould Interviews Glenn Gould about Glenn Gould” Gould satirized this disjunction between the typically limited interests of the interviewer and his own eclectic philosophy.

gg:… Is there a subject you’d particularly like to discuss?

GG: Well, I hadn’t given it much thought really, but, just off the top, what about the political situation in Labrador?

gg: Well, I’m sure that could produce a stimulating dialogue, Mr. Gould, but I do feel that we have to keep in mind that HIGH FIDELITY is edited primarily for a U.S. constituency.

gg: Oh, quite. Well, in that case perhaps aboriginal rights in western Alaska would make good copy.

gg: Yes. Well I certainly don’t want to bypass any headline-grabbing areas of that sort, Mr. Gould, but since HIGH FIDELITY is oriented toward a musically literate readership, we should, I think, at least begin our discussion in the area of the arts.

GG: Oh, certainly. Perhaps we could examine the question of aboriginal rights as reflected in ethnomusicological field studies at Point Barrow (Gould 1983: 26).

Here Gould is trying to expand the imaginary interviewer’s horizons, providing an “explosion of simultaneous ideas” and arguing that musicians should not be restricted to offering opinions on music. As he puts it “the most illuminating disclosures derive from areas only indirectly related to the interviewee’s line of work” (Gould 1983: 25). One discovers one’s subject matter precisely by attending to what appears to lie outside.

Due to the fundamental dualism of the Canadian state, and to its historic and geographic relationship with the American state, the Canadian imaginary is always concerned with what lies outside its boundaries, always craving a perspective on itself from the position of the other. As in the case of Canada, Gould’s bicentric constitution, his doubling of the self, his attention to otherness, was both his strength and his weakness. It was his strength in that it enabled him to think contrapuntally, to attend to the different voices of music and society, and to thereby create works of astonishing imagination and complexity. It was his weakness in that, like his country, he was forever having to maintain differing identities in a fragile balance.