The other side of Glenn Gould: thoughts on the Canadian pianist’s ongoing fame and his legacy at Library and Archives Canada

By Rachelle Chiasson-Taylor

As the 85th anniversary approaches…

The year 2017 marks the sesquicentennial of Canada’s Confederation, and it also coincides with the 85th anniversary of Glenn Gould’s birth. Performers, composers, music historians, broadcasters, philosophers, and music lovers from all walks of life around the world celebrate this peerless musical figure every five years, and 2017 is no exception. In fact some major events to celebrate both Canada’s and Gould’s anniversaries are in store:

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage reports that the Glenn Gould Foundation is proposing to mount a spectacular year-long “Canada 150 World Tour” that will culminate in an epic Canada Day concert in celebration of Gould and the “musical aspirations of all Canadians”.

Gould’s iconic grand piano, the Steinway CD-318, which was removed from display at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa last February while the NAC undergoes renovations will be restored to its display space on Canada Day, 2017. In 2012, the piano and equally iconic concert chair were gifted by Library and Archives Canada to the National Arts Centre, where the piano has begun a new life that includes being played in public performances.

A new biography, Glenn Gould: Remix (Dundurn Press) is scheduled for release in June 2017.

The list goes on…

Glenn Gould Fonds

Library and Archives Canada is the foremost institution for the care and control of Gould’s documentary legacy. In 1984, LAC acquired the contents of the Glenn Gould Fonds, which comprises over 16 thousand items pertaining to the pianist’s personal life and career: official and personal autobiographical documents; personal and professional correspondence; awards and honours; compositions; published and unpublished writings by Gould; writings on Gould in newspapers and periodicals; a collection of books, recordings, and scores annotated by Gould; photographs of Glenn Gould, members of his family, and personalities of the international music world; audiovisual material that includes outtakes from now-legendary recording sessions. The Glenn Gould fonds at Library and Archives Canada is a goldmine for researchers that continues to inspire a huge outpouring of literature, musical happenings, broadcasts, new compositions, and events.

Music collections and communications experts at Library and Archives Canada are putting together a substantial podcast designed to make the public aware of the “other side of Glenn Gould”, acknowledging his image as a solo pianist while going far beyond that image. Gould wrote copiously about music and things extra-musical: he performed with other instrumentalists and singers; he composed; produced documentaries, hosted television shows, gave interviews and created new artistic forms.

The other side

His apparently eccentric and secluded lifestyle raised eyebrows, but had the effect of increasing his fame. His retirement from the concert stage in 1963 also had a paradoxical effect: rather than Gould disappearing from the public consciousness, each of his recordings and broadcasts was viewed as a cult-like happening. His thinking on technology was prophetic, and his views on the authority of the performer in the interpretation of a musical work by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, or other composers from the canon of Western art music, while controversial, were always stimulating. As his friend, the American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, wrote,

Glenn had […] the kind of daring which accounts for his freshness, the great sense of inquiry which made him suddenly understand Schoenberg and Liszt in the same category, or Purcell and Brahms, or Orlando Gibbons and Petula Clark. He would suddenly bring an unlikely pair of musicians together in some kind of startling comparative essay. […] Here was a man you could really come to love. He was about fifteen years younger than I, I think, but I never felt that he was my junior, in any sense. He was a real peer, in every sense. When he died, l just couldn’t bear it.

Leonard Bernstein, The Truth About a Legend

In preparation for Glenn Gould’s 85th anniversary year in 2017, Library and Archives Canada celebrates the great musician’s eclectic genius, prophetic vision, and compelling quest for meaning through music and art. These were the things that constituted the other side of Glenn Gould.

Related resources


Rachelle Chiasson-Taylor is a Music Archivist in the Private Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Oscar Peterson

By Dalton Campbell

These photographs of Oscar Peterson and his family were taken in 1944. He was in his late teens and already an experienced professional musician. He had been playing regularly with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra since 1942, a popular swing band that played to the dance crowd in and around Montreal. Oscar left the orchestra in 1947 and began a residency at the Alberta Lounge, a club near Windsor Station, leading a trio there for two years.

A black-and-white photograph showing Oscar Peterson playing the piano in a lounge.

Oscar Peterson, photographed by D.C. Langford [1944] (MIKAN 4167283)

Given the vibrant jazz scene in the city, Oscar had lots of opportunities to play: he performed professionally, played live for CBC Radio broadcasts, attended jam sessions, and met and jammed with visiting musicians performing in town. He earned praise from Count Basie, Woody Herman, Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie and others. Oscar was based in Canada until 1949 when Norman Granz convinced him to join the “Jazz at the Philharmonic” concert series in Los Angeles. This marked the beginning of his international career.

Oscar’s parents were immigrants to Canada. Daniel Peterson, Oscar’s father, was from the British Virgin Islands and worked as a boatswain on a merchant ship. His mother, Kathleen Olivia John, was from St. Kitts, British West Indies, and worked as a cook and housekeeper. They met and married in Montreal, settling in Little Burgundy/St-Henri, a predominately black neighbourhood. Like many men living there, Daniel got a job at Windsor Station as a porter on passenger trains for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

A black-and-white photograph showing Oscar Peterson with his father, Daniel. Both men are sitting at a piano, with their hands on the keyboard, smiling and looking up at the camera.

Oscar Peterson and his father, Daniel, at the piano [1944] (MIKAN 4542845)

With instruction and encouragement from their parents, the Peterson children became accomplished musicians.

Fred, the eldest child, introduced Oscar to ragtime and jazz when he played it on the family piano. Fred died in the 1930s while still a teenager. Oscar said Fred was the most talented musician of the family.

A black-and-white photograph showing Oscar Peterson seated, playing piano. His brother Charles, dressed in the uniform of the Canadian Army, stands next to him playing the trumpet.

Oscar Peterson on piano, with his brother, Chuck, accompanying him on trumpet [1944] (MIKAN 4542843)


Another brother, Charles, who served with an artillery battery in the Canadian Army during the Second World War, played in the regimental band. After the war, he continued as a professional trumpet player, doing studio work and performing at various Montreal nightclubs through the 1950s and 1960s. Like his siblings, he also played the piano, but was forced to give it up after suffering an industrial accident while working in a factory in Montreal after the war.

A black-and-white photograph of Oscar Peterson and his sister Daisy seated at the piano with their hands on the keyboard. They are looking at the camera and smiling.

Oscar Peterson with his sister, Daisy, at the piano [1944] (MIKAN 4542840)

Daisy, Oscar’s oldest sister, was also a virtuoso pianist. She earned a degree in music from McGill University and had a lengthy and influential career as a music teacher in Montreal. She was her siblings’ first piano teacher and introduced Oscar to her own piano teacher, Paul de Marky, a concert pianist who played in the Franz Liszt tradition. Daisy taught for many years in Montreal; her students included future jazz musicians Milton Sealey, Oliver Jones, Reg Wilson and Joe Sealy.

Related Resources


Dalton Campbell is an archivist in the Science, Environment and Economy Section of the Private Archives Division.