A Romance on Three Legs
A Romance on Three Legs
Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano
Bloomsbury USA, Hardcover, 9781596915244, 272pp.
Publication Date: June 10, 2008
Glenn Gould was one of the most complex, brilliant artists of the twentieth century, a musician famous for bizarre habits: he wore a hat and gloves even on the warmest summer day; refused to shake hands for fear of germs or damaged fingers; hummed and conducted himself while he played; and traveled the world with a battered old chair, refusing to perform while sitting on anything else.
But perhaps Gould's greatest obsession of all was with a Steinway concert grand known as CD318. To explain that relationship, which Gould himself described as "a romance on three legs," Katie Hafner introduces us to the important figures in Gould's life, including Verne Edquist, his longtime, long-suffering, blind tuner. She offers a fascinating history of the art of tuning, and takes us inside Steinway during the war years, when CD318 was built. And she dissects Gould's life with the piano, from his first encounter with it to the endless coddling and tweaking that Edquist performed over the years. Hafner includes Gould's stormy, sometimes outrageous, correspondence with Steinway, and describes his despair when CD318 was fatally dropped from a loading dock.
The book will appeal to fans of books like "The Piano Shop on the Left Bank," as well as to those looking fora rich story of obsession like "The Orchid Thief.
Katie Hafner is a correspondent for the New York Times and the author or coauthor of four books, including Where Wizards Stay Up Late, Cyberpunk, The Well, and The House at the Bridge. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"More books will be written about the famously eccentric pianist Glenn Gould. Perhaps none will be as intriguing as Hafner’s....Hafner gives us a book as rich and engrossing as the finest novel." –Booklist
"Hafner, in writing an entire book on such a narrow subject, reveals herself as an extraordinary storyteller...A book for Gould fans, piano lovers, and those who enjoy an unusual tale well told. Highly recommended." –Library Journal
“The musical version of Seabiscuit....Lucidly grasp[s] the essential: the complex interaction among an artist, a craftsman and the precious tool they both revered. Written with authority and enthusiasm, a treat for armchair musicologists, Gould fanatics and even those who never heard a note he played.” —Kirkus Reviews
"This book is about the oldest human intoxicant, the quest for perfection. Katie Hafner describes in fascinating detail the entire human apparatus—teachers, tuners, piano builders, sound engineers, impresarios—that made possible Glenn Gould's singular art. With the narrative force of fiction she explores the uncertain territory where unbridled artistic imagination meets the limits of an instrument, and shows us the emotional costs.” —Thad Carhart, author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank
“This evocative, detailed account of the compulsive search for a sensitive, highly responsive concert piano by Canadian musical wunderkind Glenn Gould combines the parallel histories of one of the most controversial and brilliant pianists of the last century and the incredible keyboard instrument on which he played for some of his most important recordings. Hafner, a New York Times correspondent, presents a fascinating biography of Gould, who was known for his quirks, including his wearing of winter gear on summer days, his donning of fingerless gloves while playing, his manic fear of germs and hand shaking. The book will greatly appeal to those intrigued by the history of the influential German-bred Steinway piano company, but it is the close interaction of Gould and Charles Verne Edquist, the nearly blind piano tuner, with a Steinway CD 318 concert piano, that lift the book above the usual biography. This book will aid the reader to fully appreciate Gould's creative work in interpreting the early sonatas of Mozart and his majestic rendition of the Goldberg Variations.”—Publishers Weekly