In this book Katie Hafner explores Gould's greatest obsession of all - his favourite piano, a Steinway concert grand known as CD318. The story of his relationship with this idiosyncratic instrument is one which Gould himself dubbed 'a romance on three legs'.
Gould made his landmark 1955 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations on Steinway piano No. CD174, which was at the time the only piano which suited his extraordinarily exacting requirements. He had it shipped all over North America so he could play it in every concert he gave until one fateful day, CD174 was dropped at a freight depot en route back to New York from a concert in Cleveland and was damaged beyond repair.
Thus began Gould's quest for a replacement piano - one even more perfectly suited to his unique technique and his acutely sensitive ear. This is the story which lies at the centre of this fascinating book. By this point we have already been introduced to some of the other essential characters in the drama: Verne Edquist, Gould's long-suffering, blind tuner and 'voicer'; the Steinway company, its managers, craftsmen and technicians; recording studio personnel and Steinway showroom staff. And we have touched upon the history and art of piano tuning - almost unbelievably intricate, with fine distinctions utterly imperceptible to the 'lay' ear but which meant a whole world of difference to Gould. We have visited the Steinway factory during the war years, when CD318 was in the slow process of being built (the craftsmen having been diverted into the assembly of gliders as part of the war effort).
What follows next is an account of Gould's unfolding relationship with CD318 and the endless tweaking and fine-adjustment he insisted that Edquist and others should make in order to render the instrument even more ideal in every respect. Gould gave up performing in concerts in 1964 and devoted the rest of his life to recordings - sitting low at the keyboard of the increasingly battered-looking CD318 on his specially cut-down 'pygmy chair' from which the seat ultimately fell away, leaving only the basic central strut, upon which Gould would perch and sway as he played.
Then, like its predecessor, CD318, the Perfect Piano was fatally dropped from a loading dock and, despite the devoted attention of technicians and tuners, was never the same again. After all the man and his instrument had been through together, Gould's despair and bereavement were acute, and he never felt truly satisfied with a piano again. He went on to re-record the Goldberg Variations on a Yamaha in 1982 and died of a stroke soon afterwards, aged only 50.
As regular readers will know - from last year's Clavierfest here, brought about by reading Bill Coles' excellent novel - I was already something of a Gould fan already. And certainly a devotee of Bach's keyboard music. But Katie Hafner's immensely readable book has sent me racing back to my shelves to rediscover my Gould CDs; to compare recordings made on CD318 with the 1955 Goldberg Variations played on CD174; to watch again Glenn Gould: The Alchemist.
If you're even the tiniest bit interested in music, musicianship and musical instruments, then you will find this as enthralling as I did. You don't need any previous knowledge, or appreciation, of Gould or his music - it reads like a novel. It's beautifully written, well structured and obviously very thoroughly researched but wears its learning lightly.
You can get a closer look at the extraordinary pygmy chair here.
Here's Gould playing Contrapunctus 01 from Bach's The Art of Fugue (not 100% sure whether this is CD318, I'm afraid - no doubt someone more erudite will tell me):
And here's one that definitely is on CD318, with a terrific view of Gould's hands: Byrd Galliard No 6:
A Romance on Three Legs is published in the UK on 10 June. In the meantime, if you feel inspired to find out more about Gould, there's a wealth of information and links to further resources here.