Glenn Gould wasn’t attached to his Steinway CD 318 in the same way that you’re attached to your favourite pair of shoes or TV series. Gould felt so strongly about this famous piano to the point of obsession. According to Gould, “this is the first time in history that there has been a romance on three legs.”
The Steinway CD 318 was moved to its new permanent home at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa this week. Young pianist and Gould fan Jan Lisiecki had the honour of unveiling it.
On the outside it's a weathered instrument, but on the inside there's a strong hidden character.
What's in a name?
The name Steinway CD 318 is the first clue to its mysterious greatness. The "C" signifies that it was put aside exclusively for the elite group of Steinway Concert Artists. The "D" classifies it as the largest Steinway model (nine feet across and over 1,300 pounds).
Steinway’s forbidden period
When the Second World War struck, piano factories were prohibited from building pianos. Steinway’s factory began constructing glider wings and caskets. Somehow, the CD 318 slipped through the cracks during this period. Perhaps it got some “special attention” from the bored factory workers.
The piano that almost got away
The CD 318 was battered, bruised and nearly forgotten. Stashed backstage at Eaton Auditorium in Toronto, the piano was awaiting shipment back to Steinway for disposal. Gould had spent almost 15 years searching the world for the perfect piano. It was in his backyard all along.
It sounds 'a little like an emasculated harpsichord'
For the Bach-obsessed Gould, this is how he described his perfect piano sound. The fast, light action of the piano made Gould feel like sitting down at a fine-tuned Ferrari. It’s said you could just look at it and the keys would move.
A night in Cleveland
Here’s what we know. Gould was scheduled to record with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1971. He cancelled at the last minute but the piano was already on a truck. When the piano arrived back in Toronto, the cast-iron plate was cracked in five places. It had obviously been dropped but no mover ever owned up to it. Gould desperately tried everything, but nobody could put the Steinway CD 318 together again.
The famous piano, along with Gould's other possesions, was sent to Library and Archives Canada upon Gould's death in 1982. Jan Lisiecki is the first to play the refurbished piano in its new home at the National Arts Centre.
Glenn Gould performs on his beloved and battered Steinway CD 318. (CBC.ca/gould)
Glenn Gould: the CBC legacy
Jan Lisiecki: Beethoven and Bach
Library and Archives Canada: The Glenn Gould Archive
on Jun 21, 2012