Glenn Gould: ‘An Avoidable Presence’

Lida Prypchan
2 min readJul 7, 2020
Glenn Gould. Photograph: Gordon Parks/Getty

Glenn Gould has been described in many different ways. An article written by Tom Service describes him as a “wilfully idiotic genius.” He was also described him as “an avoidable presence” and “ahead of his time, a prophet even.” Service conveys that even thirty plus years after Gould’s passing, he continues to contribute to an amazed and confused music arena — because of the abilities some believe were presented before their time.

Gould’s idiosyncrasies, at times, caused others to pause. He could be found with an overcoat and gloves no matter the temperature, once being arrested in Florida for being a vagrant. His seating did not change; he carried the same folding chair with him always. Steve Shelokhonov wrote, “Gould played his piano which was technically adjusted to his touch.”

Debates continue years after Gould’s death as to whether he was autistic. While some believe this to be true because of his behaviors, others dismiss the idea. Timothy Mahoney, a music historian, spent a vast amount of time studying Gould and his mannerisms, concluding that he most likely was autistic. He believed Asperger’s syndrome (AS) ‘fit’ Gould and his eccentric style. According to Mahoney, “people with AS demonstrate exceptional skill or talent in a specific area. But because of their high degree of functionality and their naiveté, they are often viewed as eccentric or odd.”

Francis Merson did not believe Gould was autistic. In an article titled ‘Gould not Asperger Sufferer,’ Merson argued there were other reasons for his eccentric behaviors, identifying extreme phobias or an obsessive personality. Clinical psychologist Steven Laurent did not believe Gould experienced the primary symptoms related to Asperger’s syndrome, such as limited social interaction, and postulated that his weaknesses were commonplace. Gould, as a social person, often interacted with others for hours. Additionally, he was intimately involved with women, thus baring speculation that he was asexual.

One eccentric behavior was Gould’s insistent finger tapping, according to Richard Beauchamp. While it was believed to be an odd behavior, Gould believed the constant finger tapping maintained his “agile finger technique.” Beauchamp believed Gould suffered from some psychiatric disorder, however, would not lean to Asperger’s. (Gould would also immerse his hands into hot water prior to a performance.)

There are many differences of opinion regarding Gould and his mental health issues.

The reality of the gentleman is… he was eccentric.

While he displayed some odd behaviors, Glenn Gould was a brilliant musician and composer who will be listened to for years to come.

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Lida Prypchan

Psychiatrist & Writer — Writing and meditating at the intersection of psychiatry, philosophy, Buddhism and the arts. More information at www.lidaprypchan.com