Recorded on 01/02/2009, uploaded on 09/02/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
One of Bach's most well-known works for the keyboard is the Aria
with 30 Variations, known as the "Goldberg Variations." It stands alongside
Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and
Brahms' Handel Variations as one of the
greatest examples of variation form in music history. The piece was also one of
the few works by Bach to be published during his lifetime, forming the fourth
part of the Clavier-Übung, or "Keyboard Exercise." The other
parts of the Clavier-Übung consisted of the Six Partitas, the Italian
Concerto and French Overture, and a set of chorale preludes framed
by the St. Anne prelude and fugue for organ.
Though the title indicates that the work is an aria with
variations, it is not the melody itself that is varied. Instead, the aria is
treated as the subject of a chaconne and free variations are constructed on the
bass and harmonic outline of the aria.
The variations are also arranged in a repeating pattern.
Every third variation is a canon. The first canon (Variation 3) is at the
unison; the second (Variation 6) is at the second, and so forth. By the
conclusion of the piece, a canon has been presented in every interval from the
unison to the ninth. Each variation following
a canon is a type of genre piece. Variations 4, 7 and 19 are Baroque dances;
variation 10 is a fughetta (a piece in fugue-style but no adhering strictly to
the requisites of fugue); variation 16 is a French overture, which conveniently
begins the second half of variations; and variations 13 and 25 are arias.
Finally, each variation two after a
canon is a lively piece in a quick tempo. Ralph Kirkpatrick calls these
variations "arabesques." This cycle is maintained until the last variation,
where the quodlibet replaces what would be a canon at the tenth. Two German
folk songs, Ich bin solang nicht bei dir g'west, ruck her, ruck her ("I
have so long been away from you, come closer, come closer") and Kraut und
Rüben haben mich vertrieben, hätt mein' Mutter Fleisch gekocht, wär ich länger
blieben ("Cabbage and turnips have driven me away, had my mother cooked
meat, I'd have opted to stay"), are heard over the aria's harmonic outlines.
After the quodlibet, Bach writes Aria da
capo e fine, indicating to play the aria again before concluding. Joseph DuBose
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