A Romance on Three Legs
Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano
Reviewed by Michael S. Gant
Even more than B.B. King and Lucille, Canadian classical musician Glenn Gould is linked to a single instrument: an idiosyncratic Steinway grand piano with "extreme responsiveness" and an "improbably light touch." On this piano, built during World War II, prosaically designated CD 318, Gould recorded extensively in the 1960s. Katie Hafner, a New York Times reporter and Bay Area resident, who often writes about technology, shifts gears to tell the story of Gould's affair with CD 318, with its "hair-trigger action," which matched Gould's own ideas of how Bach, his favorite composer, should be performed: "clean, lean, sparse, abstract and mysterious." The tale encompasses everything from the history of piano tuning, which depended greatly on the aural mastery of the blind, to the massive marshaling of resources and expertise needed to craft a Steinway grand. So engrossing is the narrative, that it seems truly tragic when CD 318, shipped to Cleveland for an aborted recording session, is returned with a massive crack from a fall, likely from the rear of the moving truck. Understandably, Gould, an increasingly eccentric figure, spent years attempting to badge Steinway into restoring the battered behemoth. (By Katie Hafner; Bloomsbury; 259 pages; $24.99 hardback)
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