‘Asperger’s Syndrome can’t explain Glenn Gould’s genius’

‘Asperger’s Syndrome can’t explain Glenn Gould’s genius’


norman lebrecht

August 05, 2017

Tim Page, who has written a memoir about life with Aspergers, reminisces today in detail for the first time about his close, mostly long-distance friendship with the compelling Canadian pianist:


We “met” over the phone in 1980, when I was an unknown freelancer for a Manhattan weekly called the SoHo News and he was … well, Glenn Gould, the mysterious recluse of the north, the brooding musical titan who had simply walked away from live performance at the height of his career 16 years before.

It was supposed to be a brief interview; instead, it went on for four hours and the next day my subject (who, to my amazement, had insisted that I call him “Glenn”) rang again, and we picked up where we left off….

Read on here.


  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Of course Asperger’s syndrome cannot explain Glenn Gould’s “genius”. To be a “genius” is not a mental disease.

    • Roger Christensen says:

      Neither is Asperger’s syndrome.

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        Asperger’s syndrome is a current diagnosis in the ICD-10. The DSM-5 abolished this diagnosis but gave the same patients other diagnoses.

    • Bruce says:

      Most people who reach the top of their professions are “abnormal” in some way.

      At some point, most “normal” people realize that their activity (music, sport, study) is taking over their life, and they scale it back to restore balance to their existence.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    Asperger’s or not, the man’s legacy is more than established and secure.

  • Malcolm Kottler says:

    Yes, Tim Page does write that “Asperger’s syndrome cannot explain Glenn’s genius”. Technically, Norman’s headline is accurate. But it very much misrepresents Tim Page’s article.

    Page quotes at some length from an article published in 2000 by Timothy Maloney entitled “Glenn Gould: Autistic Savant”.

    It includes this by Maloney about Gould: “fine motor control, mental imaging, feats of memory, structural perceptions, omni-attentiveness, ability to think ‘outside the box’” – all attributes associated with the Asperger’s place on the autistic spectrum – “contributed enormously to his [that is, Gould’s] many achievements.”

    To which Tim Page, himself someone diagnosed with “Asperger’s” writes: “I think so, too.”

    Therefore Page’s article–contrary to what Norman’s headline implies–is very much an endorsement of the view that Gould had “Asperger’s” and that, knowing that, helps a lot to understand Gould.

    • Sue says:

      It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last that a headline has let Norman down:
      “Carlos Kleiber Not a Great Conductor”.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “fine motor control, mental imaging, feats of memory, structural perceptions, omni-attentiveness, ability to think ‘outside the box’” – all attributes associated with the Asperger’s place on the autistic spectrum –

      That surprises me a lot. If this were true, I would have asperger’s, and that is definitely not true. It seems quite inappropriate to me to decribe artists’ neurosis (which is something different from an autistic disorder) and peculiar character traits as a disorder.

  • Steinway Fanatic says:

    Will you guys please get over your fascination with Gould’s kooky behavior, and stop creating justifications for Gould’s disgusting traversal of the Mozart Sonatas and his massacre of Brahms 1st Concerto. The man was a mentally ill narcissist — not a selfless artist in a quest to serve master composers, but a self-obsessed attention addict intent on demonstrating how music could serve him. Yes, he could play the hell out of the piano, but what he did to music was, more often than not, irresponsible and crude.

    • John Borstlap says:

      What a violent comment! But alas, it is entirely true. G’s intensity in his playing (which may be called ‘obsessive’) was not matched by his aesthetic and musical insights. I remember a recording of the 3 late Beethoven sonatas which are beautifully intense and introvert, but also very irritating in deviating from the text and full of unmotivated excentricities – added to the excentricities of the composer but the latter were carefully notated and they are enough. The thing to be admired though, is the expressive qualities of G’s playing, which has become so rare in our days. I believe it is the introvert personality structure rather than any neurotic characteristics which can create such musical intensity. G’s neuroses were probably the result of such introvert nature, not the other way around.

      • boringfileclerk says:

        In a rare moment, Borstlap and I agree on something. I did, however, find his Brahms Intermezzos compelling. Other than that Mr. Steinway Fanatic’s comment was spot on.

      • Hilary says:

        JB’s observation ( “beautifully intense and introvert”) goes some way in explaining how Gould’s playing managed to reach such a wide audience. Astute marketing played a role as well of course :hence the mutual admiration of Karajan.
        However eccentric, Gould’s playing does tend to work on it’s own terms, even the absolutely hideous account of Chopin’s 3rd Sonata. Another factor to be borne in mind is that he was a frustrated composer( rather academic), and probably used other people’s music as a way of grafting his ideas upon them.

    • Fan says:

      Could you elaborate on his recordings of complete Mozart sonatas?

    • simonelvladtepes says:

      “The man was a mentally ill narcissist” – this is probably the best and shortest way to put it. I never examined him of course, but from watching the various documentaries I get these impressions:

      1) The personality of “eccentric genius” in what used to be called schizoid spectrum and today autistic spectrum (everyone is diagnosed with Asperberg’s syndrome today) is a red herring created by Gould and promoted by the media. He had no deficiency in social skills, certainly was not in the autistic spectrum, was a wonderful lover, gregarious, great with kids, charismatic, truly (not superficially) charming.

      2) Gould promoted the idea that he was an eccentric recluse to cover up his real symptoms. This is a game some intelligent psychiatric patients in semi-remission play to feel in control and to prove that they are smarter than their psychiatrists: they report symptoms they don’t have and have their psychiatrist “treat them”, while in the meantime avoid dealing with their real illness.

      3) Gould was constantly doctor shopping and received multiple Rx’s from different clinicians for real and made up symptoms. He availed himself of these medication cocktails in an inconsistent way, so that the clinical picture was distorted by partially treated symptoms and drug induced symptoms and reactions.

      4) His real symptoms were most likely in the OCD-anxiety disorders-depression spectrum. He had phobias that reached delusional intensity and at times had frank delusions that killed his relationship with Cornelia Foss. IIRC she liked to paint and I get the impression that he had delusions related to this activity, possibly that the paints she used were poisoning him.

  • David Boxwell says:

    GG: textbook Obsessive Compulsive.

    • Sue says:

      However, my sister (a retired Clinical Psychologist) tells me these things always exist with “co-morbidities”.

  • La Verita says:

    Tim Page shouldn’t feel so flattered that GG called him: GG just used him – like he used everybody else – to further promote himself.

  • Bruce says:

    I always thought that listening to Glenn Gould play Bach was like going to a museum and having a guide who is always grabbing you by the shoulders and explaining the details to each work of art right in your face: “This is genius — genius, I tell you! Don’t you see??” The art is great, and the guide is very knowledgeable, and you learn a lot on your first visit to the museum; but on your second and subsequent visits the museum guide still won’t leave you alone.

    Eventually you get tired of going to the museum, not because you’re tired of the art, but because the guide wears you out.