By Penny Johnson, Contributing Author
In the case of every interview I have done with friends and colleagues of Glenn Gould, what strikes me most is the precious quality with which they reminisce about their time with the artist. More than anything, I am left with the knowledge that apart from being a genius of the highest order, the thing that sets Glenn Gould apart from others is the compassion he demonstrated towards his fellow man. My favourite comment comes from former CBC technician and long-time Gould friend, Lorne Tulk, who remarked: “Believe me when I say that Mr. Glenn worked very hard every minute of everyday at being good.”
After a number of conversations with individuals who worked alongside Gould on the technical side of things (Lorne Tulk, Peter Shewchuk, Marianne Schroeder, and John McGreevy to name a few), I was fortunate enough to speak with a fellow musician, Dutch-born Canadian cellist, Coenraad Bloemendal, who worked with Gould on a number of occasions throughout the mid-1970s until Gould’s death in 1982. A graduate of the Amsterdam Conservatory and Indiana University, where he studied with the legendary János Starker, Bloemendal came to Canada in 1971 where he quickly established himself as one of the country’s outstanding cellists.
A founding member of Camerata Canada, a Toronto-born chamber ensemble formed in 1972, alongside pianists, Elyakim Taussig and Kathryn Root, flautist, Suzanne Shulman, clarinetist, James Campbell, violinist, Adele Armin, and violist, Paul Armin, Bloemendal has worked with such distinguished artists as Maureen Forrester, Patricia Rideout, Valerie Tryon (his duo partner for twenty-five years), Joel Quarrington, and Don Thompson, in addition to having participated for many years in the Shaw, Stratford, and Sharon Music Festivals. Bloemendal is currently a member of Trio Désirée, with soprano, Désirée Till, and harpist, Erica Goodman.
It was as a member of Camerata, that Bloemendal came to perform in Music in Our Time, a series of two television programs that Gould made for CBC during the years 1975-77. Live performances of stylistically diverse works of the twentieth century mix and mingle with segments where Gould offers a typically witty, yet carefully controlled commentary on the survey of selected works at large. Recorded at the studio on Jarvis Street in Toronto, the first program (1975) includes selections from such works as: Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (with Bloemendal); Gould’s solo piano arrangement of Ravel’s La Valse; Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale; Strauss’ Ophelia Lieder; Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives and the Classical Symphony. Part two consists of excerpts from: Walton’s Façade (Bloemendal); Poulenc’s Aubade (Bloemendal); a Bartók String Quartet; a song of Copland; Hindemith’s Das Marienleben; Schoenberg’s Suite for Piano op. 25.
Speaking about his first experience working with Gould, Bloemendal recalls how “we were going to have four rehearsals for Pierrot Lunaire, however before the first rehearsal, the violinist, Adele Armin said to Glenn, ‘I think Coenraad has a cold.’ Actually, it was just an upset stomach, however Glenn got very upset and said ‘he can’t come to the first three rehearsals. He can only come to the last rehearsal.’ And when I finally came for the rehearsal, Glenn took a different elevator than I did on our way up to the rehearsal space. Once we began rehearsing, Glenn was good about listening to what we had to say, although in the end you always had to play exactly the way he wanted.”
As one of the three prominent Canadian chamber groups in the 1970s alongside the Orford String Qurtet and the Canadian Brass, Camerata caught the attention of Gould just prior to the making of Music in Our Time. “I remember Glenn wanted to observe our rehearsal of Bach’s A Musical Offering,” recalled Bloemendal, “and promised that he would be just like ‘wallpaper’ and not disrupt our work. When we finished a movement, Glenn – who couldn’t resist getting involved with the music – politely asked: ‘Can I come off the wall now?’ He was really a fun-loving person, and often there was a childlike quality to his sense of humour.”
I had the pleasure of viewing Music in Our Time with Bloemendal, programs for which it has taken him many years to be able to watch. “These are very personal memories,” he remarked, adding that “now Glenn is a legend, however he really wasn’t that famous while he was alive. Nowadays there’s a street named after him, a park, The Glenn Gould Prize…it all seems rather strange, as Glenn was just another real person like you are sitting right here. Glenn was a very kind, generous, and selfless person, who was always extremely respectful, and an excellent listener.”
Watching Music in Our Time brought back a host of memories for Bloemendal, who has called Canada his home now for nearly forty years. “Canada has really been good to me,” he remarked, “and as I watch these programs again after so many years, I cannot help but think about the passage of time, and how listening to a recording makes the past become present again. Of course when I see myself in these programs, I think about how young I was. I was an absolute baby!” [Laughs]
As we worked our way through the second episode of Music in Our Time, Bloemendal told me about how he recalls walking past Gould’s dressing room just prior to the taping of the Scotch Rhapsody from Sir William Walton’s Façade (click here to view the performance on YouTube) when he caught a glimpse of Gould by himself, primping in front of a mirror. “I didn’t say anything as I didn’t want to disturb him,” recalled Bloemendal, “yet there he was with his white suit on, looking quite pleased with himself and adjusting his tie. You know, Glenn was usually rather sloppily dressed, so this is an image I’ve never been able to forget.”
On another occasion, Gould offered to give Bloemendal a ride in his car, and “when I opened the back door to put my cello case inside, there was a green garbage bag on the floor. I put my cello case right on top of it with a bit of a bang, and noticed that there was something inside. Glenn jumped up and said, ‘Oh that’s my chair!’ to which I replied, ‘Oh, well my cello is worth much more than your chair!’ Glenn said ‘Well that’s what you think!’ But then he laughed, so everything was all right. Of course, today his chair would be worth a fortune compared to my cello.” [Laughs]
For Bloemendal, the bulk of his work with Gould was for the aforementioned television programs. “I do remember speaking with Glenn shortly before he died however, about the possibility of recording the Hindemith Cello Sonatas,” recalled Bloemendal. “It would have been wonderful to play them with him. Glenn also composed some music for me that was designed for a segment from The Quiet in the Land [a contrapuntal radio documentary produced for the CBC as part of The Solitude Trilogy]. Glenn wrote the music for use as a cello sequence, which was to be mixed alongside the Janis Joplin section. I remember he asked me to play this Bach-like piece in the style of Casals.”
Bloemendal also recalls the last time he collaborated with Gould: “We worked together on a movie score that Glenn had written for The Wars, a Canadian-made film about the First World War which was directed by Robin Philips, and based on a novel by Timothy Findley. Glenn called to tell me the whole story, and to sing the music that he had written and arranged (an Intermezzo by Brahms). He said that at the saddest moment in the movie, there should be a cello sequence, and preferably in counterpoint with a bass melody. He asked me whom I wanted to play with, and I suggested Joel Quarrington. Anyway, when we came to the studio, Glenn looked terribly pale, and he stumbled finding his way. I was quite worried about him, and it was indeed the last time I saw him alive.”
I’ve heard the saying that to really know a person, you must first get to know their friends. The cherished memories shared by those who knew Gould like Coenraad Bloemendal certainly convey the strength of spirit that confirms for me how indeed, Glenn Gould genuinely touched the lives those who worked closest with him.
By Penny Johnson, Contributing Author