“My clothes do seem to command an inordinate amount of attention. But then I’ve always been repulsively sure of myself.”
- Glenn Gould, Weekend Magazine 1956
From the heavy military overcoat latched up throat high to the fingerless gloves, you’d be hard pressed to guess that the subject of the photograph is relaxing on holiday in the Bahamas. But then, one gets the impression that piano wunderkind Glenn Gould was not really the relaxing type.
The year is 1956 and Canada’s Weekend Magazine have trailed the young musician to Nassau as he rested between international concert dates. That year’s debut album “Bach: The Goldberg Variations” had become something of a surprise smash hit for the Toronto-born pianist. This was thanks to an idiosyncratic playing style that was astonishingly technical and precise while showing scant regard for the accepted tempos of some of Bach’s most demanding and obscure compositions. The thirty pieces are blasted through in a little over half an hour.
Gould, barely out of his teens, was a confident, even cocky, proposition and not without eccentricities. Eschewing the standard piano stool, Gould insisted on travelling and performing with his own bare framed and rickety folding chair, a scant 14 inches from the ground, playing with his head looming close over the keys and an expressive physicality unknown in classical circles. Often, he could be heard accompanying himself with his own voice - humming and singing along to the chagrin of purists and critics.
And then there was his appearance. Seemingly ageless, Gould’s wardrobe is that a man out of time, place and context. Whilst nominally conservative, the simple outfits are put together in surprising ways. Nothing he is wearing looks new or fresh, surprising for a man of just 22 years old. His sports coat appears threadbare and baggy, giving him the air of a rumpled academic. A bone white voluminous shirt with majestic pleating in the yoke and cuff is worn buttoned up with no tie. An oversized beret, white silk evening scarf and unlaced desert boots complete the bohemian ensemble.
In perhaps the most striking portrait of the trip, Gould rests nonchalantly against a wall, one arm cocked to his chin, head turned just so. Despite his diminutive frame, his shadow projects widely behind him, offering perhaps a more honest impression of the man’s overall stature. The expressive drape of his high waisted wool trousers fall just so. It feels timeless, and indeed could be something from an Aldo Fallai shoot for Armani in the 80s or a Bruce Weber Lookbook for Ralph Lauren from the decade after that. There’s a quiet heroism intwined with modesty, a sense of self assuredness in his outsider status.
All photos by Jock Carroll for Weekend Magazine 1956, and available in the book Glenn Gould: Some Portraits Of The Artist As A Young Man