Practising is what Glenn Gould hated

Practising is what Glenn Gould hated

Daily Comfort Zone

norman lebrecht

December 04, 2021

From Daniel Poulin:
Gould could go days, even weeks without playing or practising the piano and he claimed that the “best playing I do is when I haven’t touched the instrument for a month”. According to Kevin Bazzana (Gould biographer) he practised less than most virtuosos during his concert years, and after he retired from the concert stage he needed an even smaller amount of time at the piano. From the mid-seventies, he was practising, when at all, as little as half an hour a day, usually about one hour, never more than two. 

From Gould’s private recordings collection here he is going through Beethoven’s Concerto No.3 in C minor (first and last movements). He plays the piano part AND some of the orchestra accompaniment, plus -of course- the typical humming, loud and clear. The exact date of the session is not known but an educated guess would place it in the mid-fifties, more than likely 1956, the year he resumed playing it in concert. The piano sounds very much like his beloved Chickering, located in his cottage, near Lake Simcoe (Ontario).


  • MER says:

    Regarding another phenomenal musical virtuoso of the twentieth century, Bev Getz, the oldest daughter of Stan Getz, told me how her father never practiced the tenor saxophone, but only played it at home to test a new reed. This seems entirely plausible to me, given how Getz practiced and played like a demon at least in his teens, becoming a professional who supported his parents and siblings around the age of 15. At some point, Getz began performing so frequently, it wasn’t necessary to practice, part of his improvisational art being the thrilling equivalent of walking a high wire without any net every time he performed and recorded, effectively dissolving the line between performing and practicing. Another very real possibility is how Stan Getz and Glenn Gould likely had the ability to practice in their heads without actually playing their respective instruments, perhaps including moving their fingers silently. Somewhat related, tabla master Anindo Chatterjee told me how he took lessons from Alla Rakha without the aid of actual tablas.

    • Brian Cornish says:

      Practice makes perfect but performance comes naturally.

    • ruben Greenberg says:

      That’s weird! When reading this topic, I also though of Getz. Getz never rehearsed either. Zoot Sims was once asked: How can you play so well when you’re drunk? His answer: that’s because I practice when I’m drunk.

  • Fascinating! Thanks very much!

  • Ruby Yacht says:

    Way too much obsessing over Gould, a minor master at past. If you’re going to delve into past pianists, delve into the great Rubinstein, or Horowitz, Novaes, Tagliaferro, etc.

    • Adista says:

      Completely agree with this. Also, with respect to the article, all pianists claim they never practice. It’s egoistic chest thumping, that’s all.

    • Michael Model says:

      You can only say you don’t like him, and that’s different from calling him a minor master. If many connoisseurs admire his playing and you don’t, that only means that you fail to appreciate some qualities of his art that appeal to others, that’s all.

    • Jack says:

      I think the world will be appreciating Glenn’s artistry for many generations to come. I, for one, will forget you, Ruby, in about the next three seconds.

  • Damnatio Ad Bestias says:

    It’s hard to ignore someone that you recognize instantly, in a bookstore for example, even though you’ve never heard that particular recording. Gould is Gould. The worst thing I can say about him is “stop the humming!”.

  • Steven van Staden says:

    It’s true that playing is more spontaneous and inspired after being away from the piano for some time. Most performers today sound like they’re practising at the concert.

  • Julio says:

    Alan White, who replaced virtuoso Bill Bruford in the band Yes, said that he played without problems the first Yes’s gig, and then he struggled to master the music. So, spontaneity may works sometimes, but at certain levels, you can’t rely in it. Gould was just a genius, normal people has to work hard.