Alex Trebek interviews Glenn Gould: ‘I detest audiences’

Alex Trebek interviews Glenn Gould: ‘I detest audiences’


norman lebrecht

November 10, 2020

The game show host, who died this week, had a good rapport with his fellow-Canadian and presented several programs with him.

This is an absolute classic.

Wait to hear Zubin Mehta’s comment: ‘I think he’s out of his mind’.



  • Greg Bottini says:

    Both musicians made very good cases for their own points of view, although Mehta’s pejorative comment accusing Gould of being “out of his mind” was unnecessary.

  • caranome says:

    Gould is a true artist who plays music according to a perfectionist vision that satisfies him and him alone. if other people like it, that’s great; if not, he cares not a whit. Almost all others are performers who seek attention n public adulation, and many thru non-musical means.

  • BruceB says:

    From his description, it sounds like what he does in the studio is what other musicians call “practicing.”

    Mehta’s sudden appearance is of course hilarious, but I think what he’s really saying is that what works for Gould doesn’t work for him, or for a lot of musicians — or perhaps I should say performers, which Gould mostly wasn’t and didn’t want to be.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      To be more precise, it’s “practice with playbacks”. He must have detested conductors and orchestras, too, since his method would have been prohibitively expensive for recording concerted works.

    • Michael Burch says:

      Gould was never truly satisfied…end of story.

  • MezzoLover says:

    Glenn Gould might be viewed as the perfect musician for our post-COVID world, a musician who was, in that regard, truly ahead of his time.

    He left the concert stage behind at age 32, but proved with his many electronically documented performances he was able to reach a state of ecstasy – and communicate that ecstasy virtually and powerfully – without a live audience sharing the same physical space with him.

    He lived in solitude, had a distain for shaking hands with others, and referred to make social contact through hours-long, late-night telephone calls.

    Of course, we now know Gould suffered from a form of autism spectrum disorder known as Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition very little known and understood back then. But the fact that he was an intensely autistic person who was nevertheless high-functioning only makes him more, not less, endearing as an artist.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, MezzoLover.

    • May says:

      Yes, Glenn Gould was actually autistic and no, a person does not suffer from autism spectrum/ Asperger’s Syndrome, but of the ignorance of people regarding autism.
      Richness of (neuro)diversity.
      Only a different way of being, feeling, thinking, perceiving. More intense.

  • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

    This comes to mind:

  • cynical bystander says:

    And at last, we see the correlations between Zubin Mehta and Ricky Riccardo.

  • CYM says:

    So interesting ! One could agree with both Gould and Mehta. Many years after this interview, we are faced today with limited or no audience, and virtual concerts are the norm. Is Gould winning his argument ?

  • Ben G. says:

    Totally agree with Metha on this one. Musicians need an audience to survive, in order to play “with” the listeners and not “for” them. The proof is here with planetary lockdowns, and musicians are suffering without being able to play “live” normal performances.

    Gould’s personal views seem to perfectly adapt to a pandemic world as we know it, but would he have been able to live through this one?

  • J Kaznowski says:

    Give me GG over Mehta (the ‘benighted thug’ in Kleiber’s phrase) any day.

  • M McAlpine says:

    When will we realise that Gould was the ultimate oddball and that his views and peculiar to him, and not to be taken seriously as a general rule for all to follow. Of course we realise today that we might have to adapt to a post-pandemic world and that recording might have to play a bigger part. But an audience is all part of the performance.

  • M2N2K says:

    There is no “argument” there: the two musicians simply explain what works better for each one of them. My feeling is that most musicians would probably agree with ZM’s sentiments, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few who might prefer GG’s way.

  • Joel says:

    “If a tree falls in a forest……” The idea of artists not wanting to play for people tells us more about Gould than anything else. I suppose composers should write scores and put them in a drawer, so conductors, orchestras and listeners don’t defile them.

    • Le Křenek du jour says:

      The idea of artists not wanting to play FOR people and the idea of artists not wanting to play IN FRONT OF people are two entirely different notions.
      Gould was probably among the first to realise the full implications of the difference, in view of the potential of recording and broadcasting.

    • William Safford says:

      The analogy is inapt. Later in life, GG still performed for an audience. He inserted a step in between himself and the audience: the recording/playback medium. But he still ultimately performed for people, in the same way that many other musicians do.

  • cwcpiano says:

    Obviously, Gould’s awareness of the audience was keen as seen by the depth of thought he gave to the subject. Autistic or not, all humans’ require communication. On a deep level, Gould’s motivation to communicate his vision necessarily requires a listener, an audience. Whether live or recorded, communication is the reason we share the music. Hence the recordings and interviews.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Gould had the good fortune to hold his views on performing for audiences at a time when there was a thriving classical music recording industry (nobody thought it was thriving all that well at the time, but just compare it to now) and when the CBC put things on television and on radio and on film that they’d be unlikely to do now, which gave him an opportunity to play and opine and “perform” in ways he could control. He seemingly loved performing; he just didn’t like performing for people he could see and hear and who could react.

    True there are now alternative means available to musicians to get their stuff “out there” without direct audience interaction but they call for the artist to do quite a bit of leg work that used to be done for them. And seemingly they have to be “outrageous” in order to be seen and heard above the clutter. Gould was happy to be outrageous, but not I suspect “the new outrageous.”

    My hunch, based on knowing or having met and talked to a pretty fair number of excellent musicians, is that “detesting” (fearing?) the audience is more widespread than you’d like to think. Not everyone can be or wants to be Arthur Rubenstein. And many (including myself) would love to, if only once, for just once, play as well for an audience as we could and do in the privacy of our own studio.

    There certainly have been violinists, splendid artists, whose stage fright (with resulting incidents of memory slips or undependability) cost them the sorts of careers their talents warranted. I won’t name names because the one time I did in Fanfare I got bombarded with hate mail.

    • William Safford says:

      This is a valid point.

      A friend of mine was a professional musician–not a virtuoso, but good enough to have won professional auditions and to have had a successful freelance career for a while. Stage fright (as well as low income) got the better of her, so she ended her music career and now does something unrelated.

      She did not have the option of creating a career based solely on recording, as GG did. Very few people did even then, and basically nobody in the classical world can today.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Absolutely true.
      I know a phenomenal pianist who studied at the Moscow Conservatory who plays beautifully in her own studio but falls apart completely in front of even a modestly-sized audience.

  • Anon says:

    He found refuge in the recording studio since those purchasing his records couldn’t easily voice their opinion.

    Where would he hide today given the reach of the internet? How does the modern weirdo and eccentric avoid unwanted feedback? Asking for a friend…

  • Edgar Self says:

    I’m missing Daniel Poulin’s customary comments here and the recent “Grould’s Impresario” topic, and trust he is well.

    Mehta and Gould reveal themselves. Personality is destiny. There are rumours that physical, perhaps muscular, problems contributed to Gould’s retirement from performing in public, also fear of brekdown or loss of control. Gouldd’s mention of Rubinstein, who adored performing and knew none of these things, continuing until blind and 90, is suggestive.

    David Nelson’s observations on stage-fright — the German word is “Lampenfieber” — remind me that Edwin Fischer suffered from it, among many others. Even Jascha Heifetz once left the stage in mid-piece to go off and consult his score back-stage when he had a memory lapse.

    • Daniel Poulin says:

      Thanks for your concern: I’m just fine. I did privately exchange some information with Norman re: Gould’s Impressario. And this Trebek video was my suggestion.

    • Alexander T says:

      On one occasion Horowitz was so nervous he had to be pushed onstage by his impresario.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Hello, Edgar….
      The great Franco Corelli had stage fright so severe, he had to be pushed onto the stage by his colleagues to make his entrances.
      Then: he sang magnificently!
      His live performances are full of excitement and beautiful singing, but his studio recordings, I think, reveal more of the artistry he was capable of attaining at his best.

      • Araragi says:

        This is a quote from Nathan Milstein about his own stage fright:

        “I have terrible anxiety before a concert. On a concert day I always stay in my room […] and I cannot even entertain the idea of going for lunch with friends. As long as my violin is in its case before a concert, I am nervous.”

        But then, on stage, everything suddenly changes: “When I play I feel that I am alive, that I function as a human being – physically and mentally. I really like that. And then I concentrate so hard that I sometimes don’t notice what is happening around me. Someone could poke a pin into my back and I wouldn’t feel it.”

  • Do you remember the film in which Horowitz tells a lady who announced to him after a concert that she doesn t like Haydn : “Madame,madame it makes no difference ” ! It is the motto of my life .

  • Edgar Self says:

    Avi Schoenfeld — A good philosophy, though I remembered the unfortunate lady’s remark about not liking Haydn as directed to Piere Monteux, who patted her hand and replied, “My dear madame, it does not matter.” Monteux had gotten far worse from his own wife.

    But Horowitz recorded a good deal of Haydn, much of it live, Marc-Andre Hamelin has ably taken up his cause, and Richter said Haydn was his favourite composer.

  • jack says:

    I suspect that some of Gould’s aversion to live performances had to do with his stage presence. He liked to sing along with his playing (which could be edited out in the studio), he played from sitting in a ratty old chair with sightlines barely above the keyboard, he waved his arms as if conducting, and was not above swaying in time with the rythm of the piece. This was not the stage presence expected from virtuosos, and my guess would be that Gould didn’t want to suffer the compairisons.

  • Betty Lewin says:

    Zubin Mehta is right and gould is wrong

    • M2N2K says:

      To prove your point that GG was “wrong”, you would have to somehow demonstrate that he would have played better in front of audiences than he did in recording studios, and that the music would thus benefit from it. If you can do this, many of us here will be very impressed. Good luck!

      • Hilary says:

        GG’s live recording (from Salzburg) of Mozart sonata in Bflat is better than his studio recording.
        Likewise, the Bach Dminor concerto is better live (with Mitropulous) than the studio one.

    • William Safford says:

      You also use your devotion to Jesus to justify the blasphemous current occupant of the White House. Your credibility is zero

  • Shmaestro says:

    Who’s Zubin Mehta, an artist that will be forgotten within a decade of his passing, while Gould’s genius and art will persevere for generations…

    • M2N2K says:

      Maybe so, but Wagner for example was a great composer whose music influenced several generations of musicians, but it does not mean that every one of his statements is true and wise.