Variazioni Goldberg BWV 988


Variazione 1

Variazione 2

Variazione 3: canone all’unisono

Variazione 4
Variazione 5
Variazione 6: canone alla seconda
Variazione 7: al tempo di Giga

Variazione 8
Variazione 9: canone alla terza
Variazione 10: fughetta
Variazione 11
Variazione 12: canone alla quarta
Variazione 13

Variazione 14
Variazione 15: canone alla quinta
Variazione 16: ouverture
Variazione 17
Variazione 18: canone alla sesta
Variazione 19

Variazione 20

Variazione 21: canone alla settima
Variazione 22: alla breve
Variazione 23
Variazione 24: canone all’ottava

Variazione 25: adagio
Variazione 26
Variazione 27: canone alla nona
Variazione 28

Variazione 29
Variazione 30: quodlibet
Aria da capo


There have always been conflicting or even contrasted opinions on the trancsription of the music of Bach.For years when compared , one encounters the different theses of the ” purists” , the ” philologists ” the ” universalists “, each deducing with reference to different elements, historical reasons, musical language and form.In reality, these different opinions on the transcriptions are influenced by tradition to the positions of the absolutists.This fusion of different theories originated from a state of fact which all almost recognize as legitimate . for instance they would almost all agree today for it to be ” bad taste ” to perform some of the transcritptions of solo violin or organ works , with orchestra (this was frequently done in the 30′s and 50′s ) ,while almost all consider it legitimate to perform the repertoire of the clavicembalistica bachiana on piano, or that for lute,violin or ‘cello on the guitar.In reality these traditions have legitimized the execution of certain repertoires of the orchestrate ” similar” for executive technique and instrumental possibility.

There are many who think on the different transcriptions that have been made of the Art of Fugue. In this case the elements that have ” justified” a transcription, are of the vague indications of Bach speaking of the execution of the work. They can be found in the contrapuntal nature of the language connected with a general vision to speculate on some formal organization of the whole work even if , unfortunately, they are incomplete.

According to this last conception, the transcription of the Goldberg Variations can be considered for two guitars.This monumental work is often tied up to a virtuosic instrumental consideration for keyboard (harpsichord or piano).In reality , it is the virtuosic and intellectual nature of the work that originated in me the desire to transcribe the Variations for two guitars, together with the absolute contrapuntal aspect of the language that Bach has marvelously fused to the technical possibilities of the keyboard ; but they are excellently portrayed thanks to the polyphonic possibilities of the guitars , and thus none of the polyphonic architecture Bachiana are sacrificed .Timbrewise, both instruments being pinched strings, the sound of the guitar is to be considered to be very similar to that of the harpsichord, certainly in comparison to the piano.The lightness and sweetness of the guitar gives a dose of expressiveness to the sound that the harpsichord misses at times , and that constitutes a further interpretative meaning in comparison to the diverse nature of every variation.

I hope that the sonorous enjoyment incurred by the listening will legitimate still further my work, giving to all the same feeling of fulfilment and peace, and also of the absolute amazement that I had on my first hearing, and the second and the third….Thank you.

Benedetto Montebello

The Goldberg Variations, BWV988, composed by JS Bach between 1741 and 1745 and published to Norimberga from the publisher Balthasar Schmid were specifically composed for Johann Gottlieb Goldberg in service at that time as teacher in the chapel of the Count von Brühl in Dresden.Comprised of an Aria , 30 variations and a reprise, the Aria afresh was originally composed for the harpsichord. The Goldberg Variations represent a very complex work with the presence of a continuos lower part, a real canon, but also a variety of tonal jumps, rhythmic situations and technical virtuosities. The Goldberg Variations were for many years considered a rather boring technical exercise, today the emotional content and the whole composition has been broadly valorized, and critical analysis graces the wide technique.The available insertions and studies from all over the world have contributed to making it one of the most popular pieces of the repertoire with many impassioned classical music buffs. This opera, together with the Art of Fugue can be considered to be the vortex of the experimentations of Bach, with regards to the creation of music for keyboard, both from a technical point of view, and for the style that combines together high-level searches in terms of counterpoint and canon.

Brief Analysis of the work

The motivation
The first biographer of Bach, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, tells of the circumstances in which Bach composed the aria with variations for double-manualed harpsichord.
“In bad health the count often suffered from insomnia, and Goldberg, who lived in his house, had to distract him , on similar occasions, during the nightime hours,playing for him in an adjoining room to his.Once the Count told Bach, that he would very much like to have from him some delicate and witty pieces that Goldberg might play for him in order to distract his sleepless nights.Bach concluded that the best way to satisfy this desire was to compose some variations , a form that until then had not been considered with much esteem because of the ever repetitive harmonic base.Under his hands these variations became absolute models of this art form . The count called them ” his ” variations. He never tired of listening to them and for many years whenever he had a sleepless night he called ‘ dear Goldberg , play me some of my variations’. Bach had never been paid so much for a composition: as a gift, the Count gave him a wine glass full of 100 gold Luigis.

The Variations
Following the list of the variations with a summary description and some comments on musical criticism and execution.It is important to remember that the work has been performed in a variety of ways and that surely, further points of view exist, not all represented in the brief annotations that follow.

The air ( sarabande)has the function of introducing the thematical material used for the variations.Unlike the “conventional” variations, the subject of these themselves is not the melody but the lower part that is used.Peter William, writing a book on Bach said :”The GV ( you see in the final part of the article)observes that this is not all the theme, in reality it would already represent a real first variation; emphasizing the idea of a work on the kind of the ciaccona rather than in the form of a variation.

Variation 1 – Animate and bright variation, that opposes in a marked way with the contmplative ambiance of the theme. Williams sees a sort of polonaise.The characteristic rhythm in the left is also visible in Game in Me Greaterfor solo violin and also in the Aflat prelude from the 48 preludes and fugues for well tempered klavier.

Variation 2 – Practically a pure canon.

Variation 3 – The first of the real canons. This variation is in unison ( that is the second voice begins on the same note as the first voice)This variation with a series of triplets, offers a feeling of speed and speditezza.

Variation 4 – Dance ( passepied) with the same scheme almost in every bar ( at times inverted)

Variation 5 – A line of song accompanies another line: very rapid tempi and jumps of remarkable width

Variation 6 – Canon to the second ( that is the second voice is found more aloft to a greater second in comparision to the first voice) . The harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick describes it as a variation that is almost ” a nostalgic tenderness” – probably due to the separation of a second between subject and countersubject

Variation 7 – Ring came to often the Sicilian ( a slow and solemn dance) but when an original Bach copy of the GV was found again, the writing was in the time of a gigue ( a more animated dance) one sees that in effect the rhythmic scheme, made of episodes of this variation is very similar to that of the gigue of the second French Suite .

Variation 8 – Another variation to two bawls … Williams has compared it to fireworks.

Variation 9 – Canon to the third one.

Variation 10 – Fughettas Variation to four bawls.

Variation 11 – Variation to two bawls, to a large extent consisting of scales and arpeggios. It is usually performed very fast.

Variation 12 – Canon to the fourth grade. The answer is in inversion.

Variation 13 -A very sought after sarabande ( slow dance in 3/4 )

Variation 14 – A ‘jeweled’ variation with many trills and other expressive ornaments, whose execution demands virtuosity.

Variation 15 – Ordinary . Canon to the scene. In contrary sense, with an inverted answer in response. This is the first variation in a minor tonality ;

Variation 16 – Overtures. As the title suggests, this variation is an overture; more specifically a French overture, with a rather slow prelude and rhythm followed by successive counterpoint. The division between the prelude and the overture is found around the variation to halves, after the sixteenth bar. This variation represents the central point of the whole work, and comes marked with a particular emphasis on the beginning and the end, through use of full chords.

Variation 17 – Williams sees in this variation echos of A Vivaldi and D Scarlatti.

Variation 18 – Canon to the sixth one.

Variation 19 -The first seven bars of this variation has a particulary clear low theme, on which is founded the whole of some variations ( ?). The melodic line, disconnected from the accompaniment is very delicate and gives a very intense feeling of politeness and sweetness to the whole variation.

Variation 20 -Another variation full of virtuosities with many crossed hand positions.

Variation 21 -Canon to the seventh. It has a background that resembles chorale form, and deals with the second variation in a minor tonality

Variation 22 -A The brief one.As variation two, this also formally follows a canon.

Variation 23 – Another energetic variation flodded with virtuosity. Williams marvelled by the emotional strength that springs from it asks : “Indeed can this be a variation of the I abandon some Variation 25 ? “

Variation 24 – Canon to the octave . The canon is followed by answers both an eighth lower and an octave above.

Variation 25 -Marked ‘ slowly’ on Bach’s copy. Expressing a largely shared opinion, Williams wrote that ” the beauty and the dark passion of this variation make it without doubt one of the more trascinantis and high-level parts of the whole work “. This is the last of the three variations( the others being 15 and 21 ) that are written in a minor tonality. The harpsichordist Wanda Landowska called this variation ” the black pearl” .

Variation 26 -Under the fast arabesques, this variation is in reality a sarabande. Again there is a notable contrast with the expressive , introspective and impassioned nature of the preceding one and this cheerful recorded explosion is noted as quicksilver.

Variation 27 – Canon to the ninth. The only canon whose execution is suitable for a double-manualled harpsichord. It also has the particularity of being a pure canon without a low line.

Variation 28 – Variation marked by vivacious trills, alternated from right to left and compared by Williams to the 8th variation fireworks.

Variation 29 – Variation from the grandiose and important tone, with alternate heavy chords and fast passages and scales. It gives an air of resolution after the elevated hulling of the preceding one.

Variation 30 – Quodlibets. An ontersection between a choral and a fusion of the popular melodies ‘ Ich bin lange nicht dir g’west, ruck her and Kraut und Rüben haben mich vertrieben ‘( I know bueatiful that I have been away from you to often and cabbages and red turnips have diverted me from you ).

Forkel, the biographer of Bach, explains the Quodlibet, evoking a custom with the Bach family in their/his reunions ( the relatives of Bach were all musicians) : ” No sooner were they gathered than they first performed a chorale. After such a devoted beginning they continued with some jokes, often in strong contrast.In practice they sang partly popular songs and comic ones , with partly contained decency, according to the moment….This type of impromptu harmonisation was called ” Quodlibet “; such was the amusement that they succeeded not only in laughing at themselves, but were also able to provoke a cordial and irresistible laughter from all those who listened to them.”

The anecdote of Forkel (probably corresponding to reality, seeing as he had the possibility of getting direct information from the children of JS Bach) , it makes one think of the rather evident way that Bach almost intended the Quodlibet as a joke , and how much less a moment of character music, less busy and really recreative. Many listeners still agree today on succeeding in producing the playful aspect in Bach’s music.

Some believe that the name of the melodies used in this last variation is not quite casual, that the key of the joke is the same variations ; almost , that you finish and that ” from you” is a reference to a theme, an aria and that the quodlibet is the anticipation of the return of the aria.

Aria afresh. Writing as a repetition of the aria note for note; it is nevertheless usually performed in a different enough way, often more absorbed. Williams writes that : ” the elusive and fleeting beauty of the Goldberg Variations….one is strengthened by this return to the aria….a return such as this cannot but provoke an Affekt, an emotion. This melody is thoughtfully jumping back on what has been heard during the last five variations. It is probable that it combines nostalgic , held-back, resigned or sad feelings in its repetitions, as anything that is reaching an end; with the same notes but now definately concluding.”

The return to the aria adds symetry to the work, probably even suggesting a cyclical nature to the whole composition – a round trip of going and coming back.