Ideas of North: Glenn Gould and the Aesthetic of the Sublime

Anyssa Neumann


The many incarnations of Glenn Gould often appear disconnected, treated as notches to tick off along the road of biography: young virtuoso, concert pianist, revolutionary Bach interpreter, recording artist, writer and critic, radio producer, a highly eccentric recluse whose shroud of self-created mystery was—and still is—nearly as famous as his brilliant playing. Underlying the seemingly disparate factions of his life, however, was an unflinching aesthetic that permeated Gould’s work from beginning to end, an aesthetic of solitude, purity, and spiritual transcendence rooted in the geographical and metaphorical north of his native Canada. This article traces Gould’s conception of North from his childhood to his contentious anti-concert views, his experimental studio recordings, and his neglected radio documentaries, and seeks to show how Gould’s aesthetic not only belongs to the philosophy of the sublime but indeed reinvents its historical discourse for the technological age.

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