Thoughts About the Music

Friday, June 18

Johann Sebastian Bach – Goldberg Variations

This incredible work is considered to be one of the most influential compositions in the history of music itself, featuring 30 different variations on a single Aria that is played at the beginning and reprised at the end of the work. An Aria, usually a piece for solo operatic voice, is demonstrated by Bach through the simple but lyrical melody. Each variation, however, does not follow the melody of the Aria but rather the bass line, which can be traced in all 30 variations. The entire work follows a rough pattern with few exceptions: every third variation is a canon, with each subsequent canon ascending higher than the other. After each canon, Bach wrote a series of short pieces varying in genre, including three Baroque dances, a Fughetta, and a French Overture. The variations that occur after each canon are described as Arabesques, with quick bright tempos and abundant hand-crossing. This sequence is repeated until a Quodlibet (“what you will” in Latin) interrupts the pattern with lighthearted melodies. The piece was written in 1741 for Count Kaiserling of Russia who suffered from extreme bouts of insomnia due to illness. In order to entertain the Count through his sleepless nights, Bach wrote his Goldberg Variations. If nothing else, these pieces serve as a captivating journey for the listener to lose oneself in, guided by Bach’s melodic and contrapuntal genius.

©2021 Nicole Martin