Glenn Gould's first piano revealed this summer by family friends

What is believed to be Glenn Gould's first piano was revealed by two Toronto sisters this summer.  

CBC Toronto got an exclusive look at the artifact, temporarily located at the Glenn Gould Foundation in Toronto, on what would have been the famed Canadian pianist's 86th birthday. 

The foundation didn't know the piano existed, said executive director Brian Levine, until two sisters approached them this summer. Their parents were lifelong friends with the Goulds, and purchased the upright piano from them in 1955.

"I had never dreamed it would come to light, or that it would be the repository of so many interesting stories," Levine said.

Toronto-born Gould is one of the most celebrated pianists of the 20th century. This year the city is celebrating its first official Glenn Gould Day, after council passed a motion last year that Sept. 25 would be dedicated to recognizing the iconic musician.

Gould played the upright, 1915 Dominion Company piano as a young child, while his mother taught him at their home in Toronto's Beach neighbourhood.

Gould's family would drive it back and forth to their cottage, said Heather Tucker, whose own father often helped load the heavy instrument onto their trailer.

"My dad would tell me stories of Friday night phone calls from Mr. Gould: 'Lou, Glenn won't go to the cottage without his piano. Can you give me a hand?'" she said, noting her father loved helping whenever he could.

Kenneth Chou

Memories of a young Glenn Gould

Tucker's parents, Louis and Pearl Morton, became close friends with the Goulds during the 1930s, despite differences in age and backgrounds. 

"My mom has all these memories of Glenn at the Dominion piano, first sitting on his mom's knee and then as a toddler, just touching the notes and listening to them," said Tucker, whose mother would often visit the Gould's home with her young children.

As a baby and toddler, her sister Sue Rayner would sit on the floor, enthralled by Gould's playing. Gould was delighted by the mesmerized child, Tucker said her mother recalled, and was happy the piano eventually went to her.

When Rayner got older, she began taking piano lessons from Gould's mother and spent many weekends at the family's home and cottage.

Kenneth Chou

The Dominion piano made several trips from Toronto to the cottage, before it started staying there for the season, Tucker said.

Then, Gould bought his famous Chickering piano in 1955, and his father offered the Dominion piano to Louis Morton, who wanted to purchase it for $35.

"It was a dream of my dad's to get my sister [Sue] a piano. She would always practice at home on a paper keyboard at the table," said Tucker.

"It had an honoured place in our living room. All my life I knew it was a very special piano."

Gould signed the piano

But it wasn't until 1990 that the sisters found an inscription inside the piano: "To Susan, With all best wishes, Glenn Gould July, 1955."

"I was just floored," said Sue Rayner, the "Susan" mentioned in the inscription. She would have been eight years old in 1955.

"He remembered me," she said. "I guess in that small way I was special to him."

A childhood connection

Rayner spent a lot of time with the Goulds as a child — staying at their home or cottage on weekends before piano exams and recitals. She loved being at their peaceful home, she said, and the Goulds made her feel like a special guest.

She didn't often see Glenn Gould, who was 15 years older, but remembers one day the Canadian icon came home for lunch.

"I was just awestruck," said Rayner, who recalls a tall man in a dark coat — she was expecting Gould to be a little boy. They all sat down at the kitchen table, she says, and Gould started to hum and tap his fingers on the table.

"Mrs. Gould said, 'Glenn, don't hum at the table, sit up straight,'" Rayner told CBC Toronto. "A minute or so later he'd be humming and tapping his fingers again."

A postcard from Gould

Rayner remembers being a child in 1957, when she and her best friend ran away from home and ended up at Mrs. Gould's doorstep.

Submitted

A week or so later, she got a postcard from Glenn from Vienna where he was on tour. His mother had told him the story and he was tickled.

"I was just thrilled that he knew who I was and took time out of his busy concert tour to write to this 10 year old girl," said Rayner.

Piano 'worse for the wear'

The Dominion piano is "worse for the wear" after so much travel, Levine said, and the foundation plans on having it restored.

They are looking for a more permanent home where it can be on display, Levine says. It's currently housed in the foundation's Toronto office and not accessible to the public.

Kenneth Chou

Rayner said the piano is a "Canadian treasure" and is adamant it must be properly preserved. She and her sister had been searching for a home for the instrument and are glad it's at the foundation.

Their family has other connections to the famed pianist — their grandmother knit pairs of his infamous fingerless gloves and their dad helped build Gould's special low chair.