Glenn Gould's legacy of integrity
New York — Glenn Gould made headlines as a towering eccentric. He made musical history as a musician.
He possessed the integrity and single-mindedness of his vision. He swept away the cobwebs of tradition, often for the better, but sometimes for the worse. He demonstrated how effectively Bach could be played on a modern piano (first a Stein-way, later a Yamaha). And he regarded the recording of music as an art form in itself.
The Canadian-born pianist, who passed on this week, began playing his instrument at age three. He shot to fame in 1955 in a series of controversial concerts and the landmark recording of Bach's ''Goldberg Variations,'' still one of the greatest performances of a masterpiece put to record.
His ideas were unusual, and he often made the news because of critical reactions to his performances, such as the time Leonard Bernstein announced from the podium that he disavowed responsib-lity for the performance of a Brahms concerto he and Gould were about to undertake. The pianist was often quoted as not respecting certain pieces he felt forced to play on the concert circuit.
It came as no surprise to those who followed his career when he renounced public playing in 1964. His name remained alive to the musical public thanks to the steady stream of records that Columbia Records (now CBS) released over the years, amounting to some 80 recordings that will constitute his artistic legacy.
This is fitting, since he believed strongly that a recording should not be the capturing of a complete performance but should be the ideal distillation of phrases and moments, patched meticulously together to create a unique entity.
Strict stage decorum was not anything Gould respected or practiced. When on stage or in the studio, he sat on a 14-inch high stool so he could be at eye level with his instrument. His now-legendary humming can be heard on any number of his records (as it was heard in the concert hall in his live-performance days), along with countless other sounds he emitted or created (hissing, foot-stomping, whistling) while performing his provocative, unusual, compelling performances of Bach and other composers.
Cynics could say that Gould elevated eccentricity to an art form. But there is no arguing with the records themselves, and with the respect his unique views on music and musicmaking were given by colleagues and contemporaries. He may not have influenced anyone directly - one can hardly imagine a new wave of mini-Goulds.
Just before his passing he was beginning to experiment with conducting a small orchestra in a private studio. He had just finished compiling music which he performed for the soundtrack of stage director Robin Phil-lipps's first movie , ''The Wars,'' just as he had done for ''Slaughterhouse Five'' five years earlier.
He had created a series of unique radio documentaries heard on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. His writings on liner notes and in various magazines constitute a progress report in Glenn Gould's thinking on matters musical.