A Conversation for 'The Goldberg Variations' by JS Bach

Interesting article.

Post 1

Researcher 208041

"Towards the end of his career, Bach began to write a series of books of piano works (the Clavierubung series)."

I think you should perhaps have made it clear that whilst Bach's music is frequently performed on the modern piano, Bach had access only to very primitive examples of the piano - such as those built by Silbermann. I know of no compositions composed by Bach that were written specifically for the piano. Moreover, Clavier does not translate as "piano", but rather, "keyboard" - the inference being that the works are intended for any keyboard instrument. Only much later did the German word "Klavier" come to mean "piano".

"Several stories have been put forward as to the origin of the name for The Goldberg Variations, including ones inventing a pianist called Goldberg... but no such pianist existed."

The stories actually refer to Goldberg as a young harpsichordist. Apparently, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg was one of Bach's pupils. Born in 1727, he was brought to Leipzig by Keyserlingk in 1737 and I believe there still exist copies of Goldberg's own compositions. He is mentioned in Forkel's biography of Bach and the author had first-hand contact with Bach's children. On the basis of this, while the specifics of the legend may be false, I find it difficult to believe that Goldberg didn't exist at all.

"The book was sponsored (at the time, in secret) by a Count Keyserlingk, an intellectual with whom Bach shared many jokes. It is possible that 'Goldberg' was a code word they used to refer to this sponsorship - a sponsorship that provided Bach with a heap ('berg') of money ('gold')."

I doubt this. The title "Goldberg Variations" was not the title Bach bestowed on the work; he entitled it "Aria with 30 Variations". The "Goldberg" tag is said to stem from the story surrounding the work, rather than from Bach himself.

"All are built on the same 32-note ground bass, with the same rhythm maintained throughout the work."

How do you mean? One need only look at the score to see that the rhythm of the variations... varies! 2/4, 4/4, 3/4, 6/8, 9/8, 18/16, etc.


Interesting article.

Post 2


Hi David,

Yes, there's a whole series of Guide entries needed on the evolution of keyboard instruments ... from cembalo/clavicord through harpsichord, fortepiano and pianoforte ... I confess to "keeping it simple" and concentrating on the music.

It's interesting that Bach seems to have been more focussed on the tuning/temperament than on the technology. That's probably because (as you say) he didn't have access to many of the evolutionary steps, whereas later composers (such as CPE Bach) made extensive use of the dynamics available at the fortepiano, and (like computer geeks these days) were always trying to get the latest "upgrades" smiley - smiley

Yes - should have said more about "rhythm". While the time signatures change, sequences of note-values recurr across the variations ... rhythm was the wrong word.

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