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Whistler Reads: A ROMANCE ON THREE LEGS

abstract:What has 88 keys, is tuned by a blind man, and played by an obsessive compulsive genius? Answer: The object of desire in Katie Hafner's new biography A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano (MCcLelland & Stewart). Meet CD318. A concert grand piano hand-made by Steinway; she's a little old, a little battered and almost forgotten when she's discovered at the back of the Eatons flagship store showroom in Toronto back in 1960 by the young iconic Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould. The third "leg" of the story comes from Verne Edquist, the near-blind Saskatchewan farm boy who possessed the ear and training to meet Gould's demanding standards. All three combined to produce the sound that would be recorded for posterity in the famous sessions of Gould's most productive 10 years of life before his untimely death. Join me Thursday November 6th, 7:30pm at the Whistler Public Library in discussing this three-pronged tale. You don't have to be a Canadian or a particularly sophisticated music lover to enjoy this story. I've just completed the author podcast, which we'll debut at the next Whistler Reads book club meeting. If we have sufficient early interest, we will bring the author herself to speak to us. I'll let you know when the first 20 people sign up to attend. As well, we'll view segments of a related film documentary and hear expert guest speaker Paula McLaughlin, Professor of Music from UBC. Visit Katie Hafner's website.

Locals can stop into Armchair Books in the village where we have reserve copies for WR members at 10% discount. Get your $15 ticket now. (Your receipt is your ticket.) Tickets purchased at the door are $20. WR is a proud partner of the Whistler Public Library.

article:

September 28, 2008

About The Book

"Glenn Gould was one of the most complex, brilliant artists of the twentieth century, a musician famous for bizarre habits... but perhaps Gould’s greatest obsession of all was with a Steinway concert grand known as CD318. To explain that relationship, which Gould himself described as “a romance on three legs,” Katie Hafner introduces us to the important figures in Gould’s life, including Verne Edquist, his longtime, long-suffering, blind tuner. She offers a fascinating history of the art of tuning, and takes us inside Steinway during the war years, when CD318 was built. And she dissects Gould’s life with the piano, from his first encounter with it to the endless coddling and tweaking that Edquist performed over the years. The book will appeal to fans of books like The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, as well as to those looking for a rich story of obsession, like The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession."—Bloomsbury

Click here to LOOK INSIDE THE BOOK

I've always been a fan of Glen Gould. His playing of Bach and particularly the Goldberg Variations is like trance for the piano—starting at the first variation one is swept away in space and time. I always imagine that my math skills are subliminally being enhanced just by listening to the contrapuntal melody. The other fascination I have with Gould is hearing the stories of his unusual personality quirks. Declared a child prodigy by age three when he demonstrated perfect pitch, it is said that he could read a music score through just once and play the piece perfectly from memory. He had an obsession with his hands. He always wore gloves, even in summer, and never shook hands with people. He would stand for long periods of time at the sink running warm water over his hands. It is Gould's recording of the Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C Major was etched onto the golden record placed in the NASA Voyager. The added bonus of this month's selection is that the author, Katie Hafner, is a New York Times correspondent capable of great story telling skills and the ability to pull together interesting new aspects of Gould's unusual life. This is not an easy task given the superstar popularity of Gould that endures legendary status today. People seeking the definitive work on him would consult Kevin Bazzana's biography, "Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould" published in 2004.

The quest for perfection is always a page-turner. Gould searched for years for the piano that would become his constant companion. He discovered it by chance in the Eaton's department store sixth floor. CD 318 had the particular lightness of tone and immediate responsiveness of the keys that he preferred for the music he played. As it turns out, he had played this instrument once before, "His ears now remembered its refined sound: the lovely, singing treble and clean, taut bass. And his fingers recalled its extreme responsiveness." The makers at Steinway had been tearing their respective hair out trying to meet his exacting standards, and A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano will educate you on the namesake manufacturer located in New York city.

But the most unlikely third leg in this wonderful story is the piano-tuner himself. A musician with such incredible ear and technique required an equally gifted technician to keep his instrument performing to his obsessive standards. A Steinway piano is made of over 50 different types of wood. When instruments are moved the humidity and temperature changes play havoc on the strings and the sound board. This task fell to a near-blind farm boy from Saskatchewan named Edquist. His disability afforded him the exquisite tone distinction required for the job, but his other qualities kept him firmly planted in the triangle.

As an added bonus, watch the trailor and purchase the DVD of "Note By Note" a movie about the making of Steinway Piano L1037.

Check out the CD or download the MP3 The Goldberg Variations - Glenn Gould Plays Bach

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    How do we choose the next book for our Whistler Reads - village book group? I read all the latest reviews of newly published books, sift through the advance reader copies that come to me from publishers, scour the bestseller lists and literary prize short lists, consult with our members, and dutifully return to the classics. I keep in mind current events, and try to balance genres, eras, nationalities, translations and subject matter. I think it's important to include a healthy dose of Canadianna.

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