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Welcome

We are very excited to perform this work for you tonight - We have to admit, it
was quite a challenge putting together a short presentation on the Goldberg
variations without this being a whole day event. So we are going to talk a little bit
about the origin and structure of the Goldberg variations and the form of theme
and variations.

Origin
First of all, who was Goldberg? SLIDE 2
Johann Gottlieb Goldberg was a German virtuoso harpsichordist, organist, and composer of the late
Baroque period. He was highly musically gifted and he studied with both J.S. Bach as well as his eldest
son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. As a young boy, he met Count Hermann Carl von Keyserling, who
hired him as his house harpsichordist. We can assume that the Count met Bach when he
accompanied the young Goldberg to his keyboard lessons.
There is much speculation and different theories about where this work's popular title comes
from but the most famous account comes from Bach's autobiographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel,
who wrote:

"For this composition, we are indebted to Count Keyserlingk, formerly Russian envoy to the
court of the Elector of Saxony, who frequently resided in Leipzig, and brought with him
Goldberg, to have him instructed by Bach in music. The Count was often sickly, and then had
sleepless nights. At these times Goldberg, who lived in the house with him, had to pass the night
in an adjoining room to play something to him when he could not sleep. The Count once said to
Bach that he should like to have some clavier pieces for his Goldberg, which should be of such a
soft and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless
nights. Bach thought he could best fulfil this wish by variations, which, on account of the
constant sameness of the fundamental harmony, he had hitherto considered as an ungrateful task.
But as at this time all his works were models of art, these variations also became such under his
hand. This is, indeed, the only model of the kind that he has left us. The Count thereafter called
them nothing but his variations. He was never weary of hearing them; and for a long time, when
the sleepless nights came, he used to say: "Dear Goldberg, do play me one of my variations."

Legend has it that Bach received a golden goblet from the Count for this work, the highest
amount he had ever received for any of his music. There is much skepticism about the
authenticity of this story but nevertheless, the insomnia tale has made it more attractive!

2) SLIDE 3
The work was published in 1741 and its first edition was given the title:

Clavierübung consisting of an Aria with Diverse Variations for the Harpsichord with Two
Manuals Composed for Music Lovers, to Refresh their Spirits, by Johann Sebastian Bach: Royal
Polish and Electoral Saxon Composer, Capellmeister, and Director Chori Musici in Leipzig.

SLIDE 4

Here we can see an instrument much like the one for which Bach intended these variations -
there are two keyboard manuals. Some advantages to this are that hand crossings become easier
to execute and some dynamic contrast/voice becomes possible. Bach clearly marks in the
variations when it should be played on one or two manuals.

SLIDE 5 Let's have a taste of what this would look and sound like

5) Theme and Variations:

Now let's take a look at the variation form. SLIDE 6 The idea is that there is a theme or main
tune (in this case the Aria), and then a set of variations on that same theme.

Let's listen to opening of the main theme, the aria and then explore what Bach does with this

PLAY ARIA (first part)

In variation form, usually the variations can be characterized by changes in the Harmony,
Melody, Rhythm, Orchestration, Tempo, Meter amongst others.

In the Goldberg variations there is one constant, repeated part throughout; this is not the melody,
rather than the bass line and chord progression, which is as follows SLIDE 7

Let's see if you can recognize the same chord progression in the next few variations:

Play first part of Var. 1 - VAR 2.

Every variation is in binary form, which means that it is divided in two symmetrical parts which
are repeated.

SLIDE 8

When we examine how the pieces are arranged in the work, we notice that the same Aria
reappears at the end (da capo) and in between these outermost movements are located thirty
variations. Among these variations, nine are strict canons placed at a regular distance of every
three pieces. SLIDE 9

The first to appear is the canon in unison (No.3), SLIDE 10 which means that one voice starts
singing something, then a second voice enters singing at the same pitch while the first one sings
something complementary to the melody. The following one (No. 6) follows the same rule, only
that the second voice enters on a major second than the first one; No. 9 is a canon where the
second voice enters in a major third above the main voice and on, until the work reaches the final
canon in ninth (No.27), all the canons are systematically arranged in the ascending order of the
interval between two canonic parts.

Let's have a listen to the openings of each of these canons (PLAY NO. 3, NO. 6, NO. 9)

SLIDE 11. It may now become obvious that the canons are organised around number "3".
Inspecting more closely, we also find that the variations are also grouped in threes, consisting of
free variation, variation in duet (mainly toccata), and canon, and there are ten such groups in all.

In the variations, we can see some Baroque genre pieces, such as two-part Inventions, Fughetta,
French Overture, Trio Sonata, and various dance pieces.

The last variation is not a canon in tenth, as might be expected, but an unusual piece entitled
"Quodlibet". SLIDE 12 A quodlibet is a great word that means multiple melodies at once, like a
canon. The difference is these were usually popular melodies of the day and was intended as a
joke tune.

Apparently at Bach family reunions, they would start by singing a serious chorale. After that,
however, they would start singing

“popular songs..of comic and also partly of indecent content, all mixed together on the spur of
the moment… and not only could laugh over it quite whole-heartedly themselves, but also
aroused just as hearty and irresistible laughter in all who heard them.”

-Forkel, a Bach biographer

So this very last variation was almost entirely intended to be a joke. It incorporates a variety of
folk songs, including one with the lyric,

“Cabbage and turnips have driven me away, had my mother cooked meat, I would have opted to
stay”.

Tonight, we will be performing an arrangement of the Goldberg Variations for a String


Trio, by the Russian violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky, completed in 1985. One reason that this
arrangement has been so widely adopted -- and recorded -- is that it works; we are able to
hear Bach's polyphony, as the individual instrumental lines helps expose his contrapuntal
thinking in a way that a standard keyboard performance can only partly convey.

We hope that you will enjoy the concert and that this short introduction has been a useful guide
to your experience. We will now take a short break, about 10', so please feel free to get up and
stretch, as the running time of the work is a little bit shorter than 90'.