Thursday, 12 June 2008

109. Johann Sebastian Bach - Goldberg Variations (1741)


Title: Variations Goldberg BWV 988
Performer: Pierre Hantai
Year: 2003
Length: 1 hour 18 minutes


The Goldberg Variations have for a long time been one of my favourite, if not my favourite piece by Bach. Weirdly enough I had never listened to them the way they were meant to be played: i.e. the Harpsichord, I had listened to several versions on the Piano and even Organ.

While I still prefer the sound of the piano to that of the harpsichord, I have to defer to historical correctness and the vision of Bach, and that was to have this music on the harpsichord, so even if it is an instrument that I am not a big fan of I understand, respect and agree with the decision to chose the best recording of it as being one on the harpsichord.

And it is a great recording, Hantai manages to drawn the best possible performance from his instrument, and the variations are such immediately attractive tracks that he could have been playing them on the spoons and it would still be great. If you don't know the variations this is the time to start knowing them. Get to it.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

The tale of how the variations came to be composed comes from a biography of Bach written by Johann Nikolaus Forkel:

[For this work] we have to thank the instigation of the former Russian ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony, Count Kaiserling, who often stopped in Leipzig and brought there with him the aforementioned Goldberg, in order to have him given musical instruction by Bach. The Count was often ill and had sleepless nights. At such times, Goldberg, who lived in his house, had to spend the night in an antechamber, so as to play for him during his insomnia. ... Once the Count mentioned in Bach's presence that he would like to have some clavier pieces for Goldberg, which should be of such a smooth and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights. Bach thought himself best able to fulfill this wish by means of Variations, the writing of which he had until then considered an ungrateful task on account of the repeatedly similar harmonic foundation. But since at this time all his works were already models of art, such also these variations became under his hand. Yet he produced only a single work of this kind. Thereafter the Count always called them his variations. He never tired of them, and for a long time sleepless nights meant: 'Dear Goldberg, do play me one of my variations.' Bach was perhaps never so rewarded for one of his works as for this. The Count presented him with a golden goblet filled with 100 louis-d'or. Nevertheless, even had the gift been a thousand times larger, their artistic value would not yet have been paid for.

Forkel wrote his biography in 1802, more than 60 years after the events related, and its accuracy has been questioned. The lack of dedication on the title page of the "Aria with Diverse Variations" also makes the tale of the commission unlikely. Goldberg's age at the time of publication (14 years) has also been cited as grounds for doubting Forkel's tale, although it must be said that he was known to be an accomplished keyboardist and sight-reader. In a recent book-length study, keyboardist and Bach scholar Peter Williams contends that the Forkel story is entirely spurious.

Pierre Hantai plays the Aria:

1 comment:

Toby said...

This is a wonderful blog. I am learning so much. I am listening to matching titles from my collection and the local library. Not finding everything, but quite a bit. How can such a young man be so knowledgeable??? Keep up the great work!