Classical pianist Glenn Gould was a genius and an eccentric, and American Masters (Monday, 8 p.m. PBS) spends two hours trying to penetrate the mysteries of his life. In the early 1950s, Gould burst onto the international classical scene out of nowhere (i.e., Toronto), shaking up the established ways of doing things. He had James Dean looks, astonishing technique and a highly personal way of playing canonical music.
Plus, his quirks made great copy. He sat at the piano on a tiny chair, and he sang along with himself in a sort of trance, hair flopping into his eyes. He took to wearing an overcoat and gloves even in summer, worried about getting cold. His approach to music became so idiosyncratic that Leonard Bernstein made a disclaimer to the audience before conducting one of his concerts, insisting that he strongly disagreed with Gould's interpretation of a Brahms concerto.
Gould gave up concertizing at 31, calling audiences "a force of evil." In subsequent years, he insisted on recording an album in a Toronto department store after hours. "I remember walking through the lingerie department – that was so strange," says a musician hired for the session.
It's amusing to hear distinguished commentators analyze such nutty behavior with a straight face, as in this hilariously understated observation: "There's no question that Gould's obsessiveness had serious downsides."
Maybe for people who knew him. But for the viewers of this documentary, Gould's obsessions make for two hours of blissful TV.