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A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano
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A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  414 ratings  ·  84 reviews
"A fascinating story, with a wealth of neatly drawn characters and dripping with vivid details, that is sometimes touching, sometimes whimsical, always interesting." -- Kevin Bazzana
Glenn Gould was famous for his obsessions: the scarves, sweaters, and fingerless gloves that he wore even on the hottest summer day; his deep fear of germs and illness; the odd wooden "pygmy"
Paperback, 0 pages
Published July 15th 2010 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
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I recommend that after reading this you watch 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould (which is one film) and listen to his 1955 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations. The combination makes for an unusual and entertaining story of musical genius, piano tuning, and irresistibly odd fellows, Gould's piano tuner being almost as interesting as he is. Gould's early interpretation of Goldberg remains unrivaled, and listening to it is like hearing one person play with six hands. If you're looking to lighten ...more
This is an immensely well-written and thoroughly reasearched book that weaves together many different stories. It is not just about Glenn Gould's piano or about the eccentric pianist, but about the piano tuners, the Steinway company, and other people in Gould's life. The author manages to tell all these stories and how they intersect. This is not just for Glenn Gould fans or classical music experts--even those with little knowledge about those topics will enjoy reading this book.
Charles Matthews
Concert pianists are notoriously temperamental, but with good reason: so are their pianos. Why else would J.S. Bach specify a “well-tempered clavier”? The modern piano is a jury-rigged contraption consisting of a multitude of tiny moving parts and a lot of steel and wood that has to be twisted, warped and tortured into just the right shape and structure. And it needs constant tuning, twiddling and tweaking to maintain the sound the pianist wants. No wonder that Glenn Gould, who twisted, warped a ...more
Andrew Rosner
A breezy and entertaining little book, a Glenn Gould biography and a history of Steinway pianos rolled into one. I’ve never been Gould’s biggest fan - his Beethoven interpretations generally make me cringe - but there’s no denying his influence and occasional moments of brilliance, particularly as a revolutionary interpreter of Bach. Gould’s relentless staccato style led him to search for the ideal piano to play it on, and the story of how he found it is a great story in and of itself. Gould pre ...more
What a pleasure it was to read this book! I was enraptured by the way the different stories were told by Katie Hafner, the way she created so much magic around the perception of the color of sound and the memory of sound "the way a wine expert can summon the aromas that are released in the lingering finish of a good wine", in the detailed description of tuning an instrument beyond sound and into the realm of color, through Glenn Gould's mental music playing, and in Verne Edquist's endless effort ...more
Barb Terpstra
I first learned about this book from the Barnes and Noble week in review. As a child who grew up with a piano playing mother and a baby grand piano in her home, I was intrigued. As noted in the title, the book is based on piano player Glenn Gould and his search for the perfect piano.

I enjoyed this book so much. I didn't know the history of the piano and the people who tuned and played them was so interesting.
The Steinway piano began with a cabinet maker who built a piano in his home in Seesen
Thanks to the author Katie Hafner, the book was fascinating!

The writing was excellent, flowed really well. Her research on everything that shaped Gould; his teachers, the technicians, Steinway company, the CD 318, the chair (the one and only), was brilliant.

A great, great book. Highest recommendation!
This book has broad appeal - the mark of an excellent writer. But she is preaching to the choir with me as I have been interested in Glenn Gould since first hearing his first recording of the Goldberg Variations. As an amateur pianist, I am in awe of his technique. His eccentricities, personally and musically, make him all the more fascinating. I have read two biographies of Gould and was quite impressed with how well Ms. Hafner captured the essence of Gould and his relationship with his piano i ...more
Ted Moisan
Very nearly literally impossible to put down. Hafner has a great creative nonfictionist's ear for just the right amount of detail to go into when writing about the worlds of piano technicians, creative geniuses of various stripes, the music industrial complex, etc. I finished this book with sadness and now I'm reading another by the same author.
Susan Weinberg
I read this book in an arts bookclub which is to say it is not a book I would have encountered on my own. I found it quite engaging and felt that I learned some things about a world that was quite foreign to me, always a measure of a book's value in enlarging my world. It is part bio of Glenn Gould, part bio of his favorite piano and a perspective on the important role of the piano tuner in the world of concert pianists. I also found it an interesting perspective on the relative values of perfor ...more
Katie Hafner has charmed me into a Glenn Gould obsession. I've read this book, watched two documentaries, listened to the few Gould CDs I own, have a Glenn Gould station on Pandora, and am lining up YouTube videos to watch. Oh, the felicity of it: listening to GG means listening to J.S. Bach!

But this book is focused on the piano, Steinway CD 318, that Gould played. Gould has been called the greatest living pianist (when he was alive). One recording executive put it this way: "You are one of the
This book is not a definitive biography of Glenn Gould, nor does it claim to be. It is just what the title implies. It is the story of the relationship Glenn Gould had with Steinway CD318. All the more amazing because for years and years Gould wrote letters to Steinway complaining that they had no piano that could satisfy him. Until of course he found CD318. Unfortunately, they did not live happily ever after because, well, you'll just have to read the book. I'll say this. It was the fault of ne ...more

July 14th
Hillsborough, N.C.

Dear Ms. Hafner,

I'll start by saying I've long been a fan of yours, ever since I first read Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet back in college. I've always enjoyed your technology-themed books (I used to have a first-edition paperback copy of CYBERPUNK: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier, Revised that I let someone borrow and which I will regrettably never see again), and while this book is partly about technology (the sections about pian
Bob Schmitz
Recommended by my friend Charlie Vander Horst this book will tell you everything you wanted to know about the complexities of making and tuning a piano(if you are a none pianist that is.) I had no idea it was so complicated and variable, that you can "voice" a piano and change it's "action," that tuners can insert needles in the felt hammers to change the tone, etc, etc. We get glimpses in the making of pianos by Steinway and the way they catered to and coddled great pianists like Glenn Gould.

Laura Testoni
Working class hero
Da questo libro dovremmo aspettarci, in base a quanto promesso nella quarta di copertina, la narrazione dello "struggente rapporto fra Gould e il CD 318" raccontata sul registro della "grande storia d'amore"; quanto basta insomma per spingere alla lettura i cultori del grande (e charmant) pianista canadese.

E invece no (e questo è il bello).
La storia vera che, secondo me, si legge in questo libro è quella della fabbrica di pianforti Steinway & Sons: impiantata in America da
Lydia Presley
I loved this book for a few reasons. The first being that I am a pianist - no where near Glenn Gould's level, but I have played classical music for the bulk of my life and even attended college pursuing a piano performance degree. Unlike Glenn Gould, however, I was more a fan of the romantics and really didn't "get" Bach. Until I heard him play it.

If you have never listened to Glenn Gould play Bach I encourage you to go and find a recording right now . It's nothing like you will have heard befo
A most unusual biographical study, this is a book about a musician and his music, but even more it is about his search for perfection. The author writes of a search for a piano that is more intense than anything I have experienced in my piano-playing life. While I have encountered several different pianos, from the old upright of my youth to the local public library grand and sturdy spinets at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, I have never obsessed the way Glenn Gould did.

Katie Hafne
I will preface this review by saying that I am a pianist and completely in love with the piano. I can relate to Gould's search as I am currently trying to modify my own instrument to make the sound of it perfect for me. Someday I hope to be on my own quest for a new piano that will be the acquisition of a lifetime. For Gould, who had very particular tastes and an unusual way of playing the piano, the search was very difficult and arduous. He was fortunate to have the services of Verne Edquist, a ...more
Mary Glass
A man and his instrument

No one denies Glenn Gould walked to a different drummer. More than anything the devotion to a piano that always required so much effort and adaptation blows me away. The historical side trips were wonderful and put things in perspective. We will not see his like again and we are all poorer for it.
Having seen the documentary 'Note by Note' about building Steinway pianos, I loved reading this book. I saw in my mind pieces of the documentary as I read. I hope that other readers enjoyed the book without having seen the documentary, because it was delightfully enlightening. There were so many more insights into the process.

Glenn Gould became a real person to me as I read this biography. He obviously had OCD because of his many tics and obsessions, yet they seemed to add to his genius as a mus
A delightful read. This book is not only about Glenn Gould, it's about pianos and how the best pianists approach the instrument. It's about how pianos are made, particularly Steinway pianos. It's about how they are tuned. It's about how Glenn Gould obsessed over finding the right piano for his style of playing.

I had no idea that pianos from the same manufacturer could be so different. I also didn't know how obsessive some of the great pianists could be about playing the "right" piano in concert
Anyone fascinated with Glenn Gould will like this book. More information on his relationship with Cornelia Foss, etc. And all sorts of triumph and tragedy in the piano technical line. There is also a touching story about his long time piano technician in Toronto. For anyone not already familiar with Gould, I would recommend going straight out to buy either or both of his recordings of the Goldberg Variations. And then maybe read Plato on the demonic nature of love and art - or daemonic as the ph ...more
Gary Lang
Lots of details about Gould's behavioral quirks which illuminated a few key drivers for the way he recorded that I never understood. The part about his tuner was really interesting. He was clearly obsessed by perfection until he died. In fact he may have been OC. The fact that he signed his name "Glen" because he said if he wrote the second 'n' he could never stop himself from writing a third 'n' said a lot to me about his mental condition.

It's hard to separate the quality of his music from this
Richard Wheeler
I scarcely imagined I would be absorbed by this richly-wrought study of Glenn Gould's obsession to find the perfect piano. Gould, brilliant and eccentric, gradually discovered that he wanted a piano that was feather-light to the touch, had a certain tone, and with keys that struck swiftly. He had a longstanding relationship with Steinway, and it was Steinway that supplied him, at last, with the piano he was looking for. Alas, the piano he loved was eventually damaged in shipping, and could never ...more
Fascinating account of an eccentric artist and his search for something that probably didn't exist in the first place.
The subject is rather intriguing but the writing for in the way, me thinks. Too much journalism in her style? Maybe.
A great read for GG Fans. heart-breaking when his favourite piano is broken beyond repair.
Jul 10, 2008 Andrea is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
So far, I love this book. It tells the true story of Gould, one of the best pianists of the 1900's, His life was truly awkward: he washed his hands too many times a day; he wore a jacket, gloves and hat every day of the year; he never shook hands; and he played the piano in the most awkward position. Despite an awkward appearance, people from all over America were dazzled and their lives were changed when they heard the music he made. Most of all, this is the inspiring story of this one man's se ...more
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
I enjoyed reading this book very much. Yes, it delves into the commonly known and oh so many eccentricities of Glenn Gould: He was one piano-playing prodigy nut case and that never fails to be interesting. But he was also an extremely gifted pianist of world renown and his search for the "perfect" piano with just the right touch and sound, then finally finding it in his beloved CD 318 Steinway grand piano becomes a very interesting story in the hands of this author. This book is very well-writte ...more
I'm not much of a Bach fan; my preferences tend more towards Mozart and Beethoven, but I do love all things piano. I didn't know much about Gould other than that he recorded two definitive versions of Bach's Goldberg Variations, early and late in his career. It was interesting to learn about him as a person (beyond idiosyncratic) and the piano he loved, but even more interesting to learn about Verne Edquist, the piano technician who tuned and regulated the piano to make it into Gould's dream com ...more
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  • Mozart
  • Mozart's Women: His Family, His Friends, His Music
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Katie Hafner was on staff at The New York Times for ten years, where she remains a frequent contributor, writing on healthcare and technology. She has also worked at Newsweek and BusinessWeek, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, Esquire,Wired, The New Republic, The Huffington Post, and O The Oprah Magazine. She is the author of five previous works of nonfiction covering a diverse rang ...more
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