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A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano [Paperback]

Katie Hafner
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 6 2009
National Bestseller

“A fascinating story, with a wealth of neatly drawn characters and dripping with vivid details, that is sometimes touching, sometimes whimsical, always interesting.” — Kevin Bazzana

Glenn Gould was famous for his obsessions: the scarves, sweaters, and fingerless gloves that he wore even on the hottest summer day; his deep fear of germs and illness; the odd wooden “pygmy” chair that he carried with him around the world, wherever he performed; and his sudden withdrawal from the public stage at the peak of his career. But perhaps Gould’s greatest obsession of all was for a particular piano, a Steinway concert grand known as CD 318 (C to signify its special status as having been put aside for the use of Steinway Concert Artists, and D, denoting it as the largest that Steinway built). A Romance on Three Legs is the story of Gould’s love for this piano, from the first moment of discovery, in a Toronto department store, to the tragic moment when the piano was dropped and seriously damaged while being transported.

In presenting the story of CD 318, Hafner also introduces us to the world and art of piano tuning, including a central character in Gould’s life, the nearly blind tuner Verne Edquist, who lovingly attended to CD 318 for more than two decades. We learn how a concert grand is built, and the fascinating story of how Steinway & Sons weathered the war years by supplying materials for the military effort. A Romance on Three Legs is a treat for readers new to and familiar with the life of this eccentric and captivating man.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

This evocative, detailed account of the compulsive search for a sensitive, highly responsive concert piano by Canadian musical wunderkind Glenn Gould combines the parallel histories of one of the most controversial and brilliant pianists of the last century and the incredible keyboard instrument on which he played for some of his most important recordings. Hafner, a New York Times correspondent, presents a fascinating biography of Gould, who was known for his quirks, including his wearing of winter gear on summer days, his donning of fingerless gloves while playing, his manic fear of germs and hand shaking. The book will greatly appeal to those intrigued by the history of the influential German-bred Steinway piano company, but it is the close interaction of Gould and Charles Verne Edquist, the nearly blind piano tuner, with a Steinway CD 318 concert piano, that lift the book above the usual biography. This book will aid the reader to fully appreciate Gould's creative work in interpreting the early sonatas of Mozart and his majestic rendition of the Goldberg Variations. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“Hafner has clarified some old mysteries and turned up many fresh details, even some genuinely newsworthy scoops.”
— Kevin Bazzana, author of Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould

This book is about the oldest human intoxicant, the quest for perfection. Katie Hafner describes in fascinating detail the entire human apparatus — teachers, tuners, piano builders, sound engineers, impresarios — that made possible Glenn Gould's singular art. With the narrative force of fiction she explores the uncertain territory where unbridled artistic imagination meets the limits of an instrument, and shows us the emotional costs."
— Thad Carhart, author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank

“Plucky New York Times correspondent Hafner …weaves together three stories — of the pianist, the tuner and the piano itself — into a single cohesive narrative, the musical version of Seabiscuit…. Drawing on hours of recorded interviews, she filters out the redundant and inconsequential to lucidly grasp the essential: the complex interaction among an artist, a craftsman and the precious tool they both revered. Written with authority and enthusiasm, a treat for armchair musicologists, Gould fanatics and even those who never heard a note he played."
Kirkus

“[An] evocative, detailed account of the compulsive search for a sensitive, highly responsive concert piano by Canadian musical wunderkind Glenn Gould….Hafner presents a fascinating biography of Gould…. The book will greatly appeal to those intrigued by the history of the influential German-bred Steinway piano company, but it is the close interaction of Gould and Charles Verne Edquist, the nearly blind piano tuner, with a Steinway CD 318 concert piano, that lift the book above the usual biography….”
Publishers Weekly

“Reading Hafner on Gould is sometimes as much fun as listening to him play. And that’s saying a lot.”
Newsweek

“Hafner’s book belongs to that gee-whiz genre perfected by writers such as John McPhee, Susan Orlean and Mary Roach…. A Romance on Three Legs is a source of delight and illumination.”
San Francisco Chronicle


From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read Nov. 13 2009
By Spensar
Format:Paperback
Katie Hafner's wonderful book about Gould's piano, his pursuit, the piano industry, and Gould himself is a must read for anyone who has any interest in Glen Gould or his music. Totally engaging, I have read it twice.
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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
have recommended it to my daughter who also plays piano

was disappointed in the book and struggling to finish it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  67 reviews
44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Story That's Never Been Told June 15 2008
By Clara Olding - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A Romance on Three Legs by Katie Hafner is a masterfully written story about Glenn Gould and his love for a Steinway piano called CD318. He found the love of his life long after he had become one of the most revered concert pianists and interpreters of Bach. Hafner tells about Gould's long search for his "perfect piano" which often involved skirmishes with the Steinway Co. who counted him as one of their most prestigious Steinway Artists.

Hafner relates how, quite by accident, Gould found the instrument of his dreams covered with dust in the back of Eaton's Department Store in Toronto. It was about to be shipped back to Steinway in New York. How this piano became the realization of Gould's ideal instrument involves the story of a blind boy, Verne Edquist, born in rural Sakatchewan. How Verne managed to rise from his poverty and handicap to be a very skilled technician and tuner of concert grands and Gould's personal assistant for many years is a moving story which goes hand in hand with CD318's story.

Hafner has carefully researched the history of the Steinway Co. and its method of producing a concert grand piano She tells in fascinating detail the intricate and labor intensive construction of the Steinway piano. Despite the technicalities of Hafner's description of this process, the reader will be able to understand and fully appreciate the making of the "Instrument of the Immortals."
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two great love stories! July 6 2008
By Robert S. Reis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If someone would have told me that I would be up reading this book at 2:00 am learning how someone voices a Steinway Piano, I would have said that they were nuts. But, it was true. Once I entered this Romance on Three Legs, I needed to hear how massaging of the felt, lacquering the soundboard and needling the hammers made each piano a unique sound and of unique personality.

Katie Hafner has taken this true story and created this wonderful voyage through intertwined stories of love and compassion. The feature story is about this eccentric, gifted pianist [Glenn Gould] and his search for his 88 key, life partner. But via Hafner's weaving of extraordinary detail, I found myself feeling close to this unloved, unappreciated, abandoned World War orphan piano [Steinway unit number CD318] and its quest for a caring home. Eventually the two find each other.

Then another compelling love story emerges. This one is about a once great manufacturer and its courtship of customers. Hafner takes us into the foundation and history of a last century institution called Steinway Piano. Like our `Breakfast of Champions' [Wheaties], we learn how Steinway goes to extraordinary measures to become known as the "Instrument of the Immortals".

For a while you feel that both romances are on safe footing. Then disaster strikes both.

Don't think of this book as a story written for students of music. This is a rich and enjoyable voyage about people, companies and their obsessive quest for perfection.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Gem June 17 2008
By Teresa Carpenter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An engrossing account of concert pianist Glenn Gould's search for the perfect instrument. He had already passed out of his teen prodigy stage when, in l960, he found a battered Steinway grand in the back of an auditorium in Toronto. The CD 318, as it was known, was old and out of tune, but one touch of the keyboard and the artist apparently recognized his inanimate soul-mate. For almost a decade, Gould and a nearly-blind technician would toil over the piano in the pursuit of "perpetual refinement." The pair were searching for, what the author describes as, a "dry, clean, light" tone, something akin to a harpsichord's. And they were still inching toward perfection, when the CD 318 met its tragic demise.

Hafner's keen eye and ear illuminate a world where tones take on the characteristics of colors-- and the qualities of fine wines. There's never a false step, and her style is so hypnotic and personal that even the laymen among us come to love this ugly duckling of grands.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Romance with Romance on Three Legs July 9 2008
By Dale - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book has inspired me to leave my first-ever Amazon review. Katie Hafner's masterful storytelling captivated me from page one and didn't lose me even once in 232 pages. She weaves the stories of the tortured Gould, his treasured concert grand and his surpassing tuner into a yarn so rich in carefully researched detail that you feel you're alongside Gould for every fateful turn in his "obsessive quest for the perfect piano." The deeply human drama includes artful explanations of the technology of piano-making and tuning in the early chapters --just enough to usher any non-musician into the rarefied orbit in which the piano known as CD 318 becomes an irresistible love object, not only for Gould but also for the reader. The writing is beautiful and economical, making for a quick read that is also intellectually rewarding. Besides all that, it's a fascinating--alternately hilarious, uplifting and heartbreaking-- exposition on the creative soul.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great opus June 26 2008
By Paula Chin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you happened upon The New York Times book review of Romance, forget it. Read the Newsweek one instead ([...] which is right on target. This is a marvelous story about the brilliant, eccentric Gould, the business-savvy Steinway Company, the unsung heroes also known as piano tuners, and most of all, about the sweet mysteries of the instrument itself. Every piano is unique, with its own personality, touch, tone and power (or lack of it). Hafner, a first-rate journalist who's done meticulous research, never forgets this focus, and everything in the book--the details about how a piano is made, regulating, voicing, tuning, the intensive care and feeding required by these fussy, high maintenance creatures--helps you understand what Gould was looking for and why. It's also a fun read. I savored it on the beaches of Virgin Gorda, so even though I was already in heaven, this book made my vacation all the more memorable.
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