Tim Page: ‘Glenn Gould had a lot of autism’

Tim Page: ‘Glenn Gould had a lot of autism’


norman lebrecht

November 29, 2015

Our dear friend Tim Page is the new subject on Zsolt Bognar’s series, Living the Classical Life.

Tim is a Pulitzer-winning music critic, the leading authority on the American author Dawn Powell, an omnivorous consumer of music in all forms, a film buff and a professor at the University of Southern California.

He is also an articulate, acutely self-aware struggler with Asperger’s Syndrome, a symbiotic biographer of the late Glenn Gould, and a lovely man who collects friends with the greatest of ease.

If you watch only one interview this week, let this be it.


The video is published first on Slipped Disc.


  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Tim is one of the most brilliant minds of our time. Glad Zsolt was able to conduct this interview. I do want to ask Glenn if he has any recollections of Glenn Gould and our mutual piano tuner, Steve Borell. Steve told the story of how Glenn would take the cab ride with Steve to a recording session and tell the driver to leave the a/c off and close the window–during the hot summer afternoon.

  • Robert Levine says:

    I have no doubt that Tim is right. My wife and I have a young adult son with autism (Asperger-ish, although it’s not a DSM-certified diagnosis any more), and I’ve come to the conclusion that the incidence of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) is quite high, at least amongst orchestra musicians. I have no explanation, hoever.

  • RM says:

    Perhaps it’s worth considering the “Asperger’s” quality that seeks order. Jazz, for instance, may be less appealing for its improvisation and distortion. (Say I.)

    Whereas certain classical music, as written and performed, tends toward formal and technical mastery, if not perfection. (However exquisitely tempered by human hand, mind, and emotion.)

    –Tim’s tidy shelves might be taken as proof of Asperger’s. Hard to say.

    And I too had wondered if Glenn Gould had been on the “Asperger’s spectrum,” but closer up that seems unlikely: His passionate response to his lover (evident in his letters) doesn’t seem to conform at all. One can be germ-phobic, meticulous, even somewhat paranoid, without fitting the Asperger’s “diagnosis.”

    –Which really isn’t a diagnosis, per the previous comment posted. (DSM categories are not good science, either, since subject to fashion, changing social conventions, and therefore scientifically unproven.)

    Tim Page also seems to misuse the word “performative.” In contemporary use, it correctly owes post-structuralism, and refers to speech acts that have particular effects. The postmodern philosopher Judith Butler explained it to me in an example: The minister’s statement in which he or she says, “I now proclaim you husband and wife.”

    Therefore, re the video’s anecdote: Tom is mistaken, and Virgil Thompson had been correct when he cast those out of his house who said “performative” when they meant “performance.”

    • Mathieu says:

      “Performative” was coined by the Oxford philosopher JL Austin in the fifities. Hardly a postmodern or a “post-structuralist”. True, it has been reappropriated by people who have no idea of what it originally meant. But it gives them no paternity rights on the word, let alone the concept, “performative”.

      • RM says:

        I recognize your right to close ranks against the threat of postmodernism. But I googled “performative” and the definition I gave holds true for every dictionary that came up.

        Your friend is using it incorrectly.

    • Ray Andrews says:

      Asperger’s syndrome is a ‘disease’ with no etiology. The traits that are define it are as yet rather arbitrary. ‘We’ (I supposedly ‘have’ it) are told that we have this that and the other set of traits and behavioral deficiencies, yet it often turns out to be the case that, for example, rather than being emotionally sterile, ‘we’ in fact have emotions far more powerful than those of ‘neurotypicals’ (whatever that might mean). And is it really a symptom of a disability that one’s shelves are tidy?

      • RM says:

        It isn’t polite to diagnose someone who isn’t your patient (especially if you’re not a doctor.)

        “How much greater a mischief it is to exploit (…) an entirely subjective state of mind (…) and then to accept this paraphrase as a valid depiction of the author’s intellectual attitude.”

        (from Glenn Gould’s notes on LP, ML 5130, 1956)

        –In other words, Gould himself objected to speculation by “analysts who, when faced with the more arduous and less colorful task of assessing the gradual unfolding of an artist’s technical concepts, suddenly appear as oracles in the nebulous field of extra-musical perception.”


      • RM says:

        –And my comment about the shelves was to call into question the premises of Page’s diagnostic assertions. We can all make a game of diagnosing Gould (and each other,) but that is not true erudition, informed and civilized discourse, nor fair to the artist.

        I made an absurd comment on the shelves to point out that we can all try to guess, which is why I said “might” and “Hard to say.” –I was illustrating that guesswork is not grounded.

        You apparently have trouble understanding tone and nuance, and great difficulty staying on point.