Touched

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Touched

Canadian pianist Glenn Gould had a well-earned reputation for eccentricity, as one Steinway & Sons employee discovered to his chagrin.

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The piano virtuoso Glenn Gould was known for his eccentricities. Some of his recordings feature him humming (or, to some ears, groaning) over the music. He wore coats and gloves even in hot weather. And he hated physical contact. One instance of unwanted touching provoked him to cancel concerts and file a lawsuit, Brian Dillon recounts in The Hypochondriacs (Faber & Faber).

In late 1959, Gould visited the Steinway & Sons piano company in New York City. An employee named William Hupfer, in Hup­fer’s account, patted him on the shoulder. Gould said, “Don’t do that; I don’t like to be touched.” Hupfer ­apologized.

Within a few weeks, Gould was complaining of severe pain in his left hand. “When ­X-­rayed the shoulder blade was shown to have been pushed down about ­one-­half an inch,” he claimed in one letter. In another, he wrote, “At the moment it looks very grim.” In 1960 and 1961, he canceled many of his concerts and spent a month in a ­full-­body cast. One of his physicians later said that Gould was physically ­fine.

A year after the incident, Gould filed a $300,000 suit against Steinway. He claimed that Hupfer had “brought both his forearms down with considerable force on plaintiff’s left shoulder and neck,” thereby injuring “the nerve roots in his neck and spinal discs in the neck region.”

A few months later, Gould met with Henry Z. Steinway, president of the company, to discuss a settlement. Gould said he would drop the suit for just $9,372.35—his medical and legal expenses, omitting the costs he had incurred for canceled concerts. Steinway, relieved, ­agreed.

Evidently no longer in pain, Gould resumed his concert and recording schedule as well as his relationship with the piano company. Steinway instructed his staff to treat Gould politely when he appeared at the offices, but never to touch him. “The reasons for this,” he said, “are ­self-­evident.”