a+30+a' goldberg variations
about Work

J. S. Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach :
Goldberg Variations BWV988

about the WORK

This work, the Goldberg Variations was composed by Johann Sebastian Bach ( 1685-1750 ) in 1741 - 42.

The title, 'Goldberg Variations' was not named by J.S.Bach. It was taken from a critical biography written by Forkel and published in 1802, which is fifty two years following Bach's death. First of all, Bach titled it "Keyboard Practice, consisting of an Aria with divers Variations for the Harpsichord with two manuals". And it was published as "Vierter Teil der Clavier-Ubung IV" by Baltharsar Schmid in 1742. On the cover it is written "Keyboard Practice, consisting of an Aria with diverse Variations for the Harpsichord with two manuals. Composed for enjoyment for music lovers by Johann Sebastian Bach, Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon Count Kapellmeister and Choirmaster in Leipzig." Actually They didn't mention about "IV".

- Biography by Forkel
Johann Nikolaus Forkel ( 1749-1818 ) was the first person who wrote a critical biography of J.S.Bach. The quotation regarding the Goldberg Variations from his pioneering biography shows us clear background of this tune.

we are indebted to Count Keyserlingk ... who frequently resided in Leipzig, and brought with him Johann Gottlieb Goldberg [1727-56], to have him instructed by Bach in music. The Count was often sickly, and thus had sleepless nights. At these times Goldberg, who lived in the house with him, had to pass/spend the night in an adjoining room to play something for him when he could not sleep. The Count once said to Bach that he should like to have some clavier/keyboard pieces for his Goldberg, which should be of such a soothing and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights. Bach thought he could best fulfil this wish by variations, which, on account of the constant sameness of the fundamental harmony, he had hitherto considered (the work as) an ungrateful task. ... the Count thereafter called them nothing but his variations. He was never weary of hearing them; and for a long time, whenever he could not sleep at night, he used to say: "Dear Goldberg, do play for me one of my variations." Keyserlingk proved a particularly generous patron, presenting Bach with a gold goblet filled with 100 louis d'or, which, the equivalent of approximately 500 thalers, was almost Bach's annual salary as Thomaskantor.
( from Johann Nikolaus Forkel: "Johann Sebastian Bach's Life, Genius, and Works" )
There is a doubt that Bach didn't composed such tune which requires technical skill for young, Goldberg as he was probably less than fourteen years old at that time on the view from study of histrical investigation. And there is another doubt to his document on the reason that there was no description about the presentation for the Count in spite of his being given such a high reward.

about the COMPOSITION : as the Goldberg Variations

This tune consist of an Aria as a theme and thirty diverse variations. The Aria, which was used as theme, appeared as "Sarabande" (26th piece, BWV.988/1) in Anna Magdalene Bach's Notebook of 1725. However, nowadays this theory is considered to be oposite and there is no doubt Bach copied it to the Notebook after completion of the Goldberg Variations. Sarabande was composed with so many ornamentations, it seems to be too difficult to use as a theme of variations. Actually, the bass line, not the soprano melody, was taken for a base of the theme for the following variations.

The theme was varied based on the bass line, which consists of 32 bars. The number of bars of the Aria -32- is equal to the number of the music piece which constitute the whole tune. More over, the number of notes of the bass line as theme is also equal to them. It means if we consider basic cadence as one unit and a whole note as one beat, one phrase costitutes eight units, and each variation constitutes 32 units which is eight units multiple four phrases. However, most of the variations consist of 32 bars, as one unit is equal to one bar. Only 3rd, 9th, 21st, 30th variations have a half, which is 16 bars. Only exception is the 16th variation and it constitutes 47 bars.
Thus the theme runs throughout all the variations.

It is very clear that the tune is started with the Aria and is varied into thirty variations, then it is closed by the Aria again.
It is just the same as Glenn Gould'd life. He had his debut with this tune and close his life with this tune. It is also a smart direction that Bach placed the Quodlibet "I've not been with you for so long" as 30th variation.
In other sence, the reprising of Arie may suggest us an endless loop.

We know this tune is devided into two. The second group starts with the 16th variation, which is a French overtune. To consider about these two groups, there are more instructions to play with the two manual keyboard on the second half than the firt one. So, the sound gets more sophisticated towerds the 30th variation and close the tune with the calm opening Aria.

We can also realize this tune intentinaly divided into three groups based on the 16th variations, which is a French overtune. It means that Bach put the Fugatos in 10th variation, which is six pieces of variations before the 16th variation and 22nd , which is six after the 16th variation.

The 30 variations have an ingenious infrastructure, they are divided into ten groups of three pieces. The first variation of each group is a canon. The last variation of each group is a brilliant technical two manual keyboard music (Italian method). Between the two is a free style variations.

It means that every third variation is a canon. Those canons have different intervals . The first one is with an unison interval, the second one with second and so force till the ninth intervals. J.E.Dahler said, 'Canons with all the possibility of different intervals. They are well organized from the minimum intervals to the maximum one ' These canons are the main constructure of this tune. Every other canons' time alternate odd and even. This is very useful to vary the strict style and this has a strong influence on change and contrust in tempo. Study of canon of 'Goldberg Variations' by Georg-Albrecht Eckle is writtenon a liner of his CD, and it is very interesting. If you are interested is, please reffer to it.

At any rate, 'Goldberg Variations' is accurately constructed, surprisingly wonderful tune !!


about the COMPOSITION : as Aria and each variation

This is a summery of various explanations written about this tune. Each variations has a title. They were set by Jörg Ewald Dähler and his master, Fritz Neumeyer in order to indicate guidance to appreciate this tune. Since they are unique, I thought it would be interesting.
Revised by Hans-Ruedi Schuetz(Jan.28.2005)
This aria is used as a theme which appears as 'Sarabande' (26th piece, BWV.988/1) in Anna Magdalena Notebeook' composed in 1725.

Variation 01. ( Les Polonaises )
3/4 Takt: 2 voice invention, Courante Style. Concerto Grosso style. 1 Manual.

Variation 02. ( La Conversation galante )
2/4 Takt: 3 voice symphony (symphonia), formality of trio sonata Solo style. For 2 violins and bass. 2 Manual.

Variation 03. ( Les deux Bergers )
12/8 Takt: Canone all'Unisono. 2 voice canon at the unison with an independent bass line. The upper voice commences one phrase (bar) after the lower voice. 1 Manual.

Variation 04. ( La Danse des Bergers - Passepied )
3/8 Takt: Passepied, Tutti Style. It's image is 'leaping dance music'. 4 voice as an imitate music. 1 Manual.

Variation 05. ( Les Jongleurs - á la Scarlatti )
3/4 Takt: 2 voice invention, which requires crossing of the hands (voice parts). 1 or 2 Manual.

Variation 06. ( L'Enchaînement magique )
3/8 Takt: Canone alla Seconda. 2 voice canon at the second interval with independent bass line. The upper voice enters one phrase (bar) after the lower one. 1 Manual.

Variation 07. ( La Joyeuse )
6/8 Takt: 2 voice Gigue Or Siciliano. Solo style (independent melodic line on upper voice). 1 or 2 Manual.

Variation 08. ( Les Vagues )
3/4 Takt: Free style variation. 2 voice invention, which requires crossing of the hands(voices). 2 Manual.

Variation 09. ( Les Anges )
4/4 Takt: Canone alla Terza. 2 voice canon at the 3. with an independent bass line. The upper voice commences a phrase (bar) after the lower voice. 1 Manual.

Variation 10. ( Les petits Soldats de la Garde du Château )
2/2 Takt: Free style variation. 4 voice tutti style Fughetta. 1 Manual.

Variation 11. ( Les Papillons )
12/16 Takt: 2 voice Gigue or Toccata style music which requires crossing of the hands. 2 Manual.

Variation 12. ( Narcisse )
3/4 Takt: Canone alla Quarta. 2 voice mirror Canon at the interval of perfect 4. Right and left sides of the lower voice is reversed on the upper voice and start one phrase (bar) after. 1 Manual.

Variation 13. ( La Sérénade )
3/4 Takt: Free variation. Cantirena Solo style. Area is decorated over the 2 voice bass. Flute and viola da gamba. 2 Manual.

Variation 14. ( Le Reveil du Matin )
3/4 Takt: Concerto type music which requires very high technique of crossing of hands. 2 voice parts. 2 Manual.

Variation 15. ( Der Schlaf ist der Spiegel des Todes )
2/4 Takt: Canone alla Quinta. G moll. Andante. It has a free style bass, and has a contrastive 2 voice mirror canon at the fifth interval. The upper voice commences from the other way around and one bar after the lower voice. 1 Manual.

Variation 16. ( Ouverture )
2/2 Takt and 3/8 Takt: Grand French Overture. Free style music. Tutti style. 1 Manual.

Variation 17. ( L'Orgue )
3/4 Takt: Concerto type 2 voice movement, similar to Variation 14. 2 Manual.

Variation 18. ( Les Graces )
2/2 Takt: Canone alla Sexta. 2 voice canon at the 6th interval, Ala Breve? The free style bass take a part stret? Bourree Style. The upper voice commences a half a bar after the lower voice. 1 Manual.

Variation 19. ( La Danse des Nains )
3/8 Takt: Free style variation, Barcarole? 3 voice Minuet. 1 Manual.

Variation 20. ( Les Colombes )
3/4 Takt: It requires crossing of hands and high skills, movement of 16.notes at weak beats. 2 voice concerto type music. 2 Manual.

Variation 21. ( La Plainte )
4/4 Takt: Canone alla Settima. G moll. 2 voice canon at the 7th interval, with a free chromatic scale bass. The upper voice commences a half a bar after the lower voice. 1 Manual (without an evidence of Bach's suggestion).

Variation 22. ( La Majesteuse )
2/2 Takt: Together with Richercarl Style free bass, it is a 4 voice Ala Breve 3 voice Fugato. Free style music. 1 Manual.

Variation 23. ( Pantalone et Arlecchino )
3/4 Takt: 2 voice concerto type music, requiring a crossing of hands and very high technique. Harmony on the weak beats. 2 Manual.

Variation 24. ( La Berceuse des Bergers )
9/8 Takt: Canone all'Ottava. 2 voice canon at the octave, with a Gigue Stly free bass accompanies. Siciliano, Patorale style. The upper voice commences 2 bars after the lower voice. 2 Manual.

Variation 25. ( Miserere )
9/8 Takt: Free style G moll variation. Adagio. Decorated Aria develops over the 2 voice chromatic scale bass. Solo style. Violin and 4/4 Bass line. 2 Manual.

Variation 26. ( La Sarabande du Roy )
3/4 Takt and 18/16 Takt: 3 voice parts. The upper voice is the Aria, the lower is the 3/4 Takt Coral Sarabande which has a 18/16 Takt voice like a stream. The functions are alternated by both hands. 2 Manual.

Variation 27. ( Les Delices de L'Esprit )
6/8 Takt: Canone alla Nona. 2 voice canon at the 9th. Giga Style. The following part starts after one bar. This is the only piece without free antagonized Bass part. 1 Manual.

Variation 28. ( Les Sources )
3/4 Takt: Trill variation. Free style, technical concerto type movement. It contains many trills and turns like a practicing piece. 2 Manual.

Variation 29. ( Les Cascades )
3/4 Takt: This is also a practicing type movement with a harmony on weak beats. Toccata style. 1 or 2 Manual.

Variation 30.
4/4 Takt: 4 voice parts. 3 voice Quodlibet with a free style bass. 1 Manual. Quodlibet is a type of chorus at the Bach's era that some people sings each favorite tunes at a same time. Here is the combination of the theme of the work, bass line with 2 folktunes ("Ich bin so lang nicht bei dir g'west", "Kraut und Rüben haben mich vertrieben").

Aria reprise