Bachs famous Goldberg variations are exactly that. He starts with the aria, goes through 30 variations of the theme, only to end with a recapitulation of the same aria. When I say aria, I follow the term as stated by Bach. It is not an aria in the sense of singing.
This is also the fourth and last part of the chamber music series Klavierübungen. You have to be absolutely mental to try this on as an aspiring pianist though. This is not for the faint at heart. Nevertheless, Gustav Leonhardt did it three times, of which this is his second.
The story goes that the Russian ambassador to the Saxony court was visiting Bach, bringing with him a certain Goldberg. Count Kaiserling oftentimes couldn’t sleep at night, and he let this Goldberg play for him when that happened. The count mentioned to Bach he wanted some new pieces that would be lively, yet soothing, to keep him busy at those sleepless moments. Bach did, and thus created one of his most famous works.
This story has been described in a very early biography by Johann Nikolaus Forkel. It is considered highly incredulous now, but if this is not it who is this Goldberg then?
This record is made on the Teldec label, a combination of Telefunken and Decca. They made good recordings, but mostly they had superb material. I don’t know why, and it doesn’t look like it. When you see it, the surface of this record looks grey, but the groove itself is not damaged at all. It had an enormous soundstage for a record of its time. If you are interested in this kind of music, look for it. Btw… this was recorded at the Hervormde kerk in Bennebroek. That happened to be the church my parents used to go to, and my mother was trying to get me to go to. I know it well. It is a nice, small church with a lot of character.
The Goldberg variations have been made famous mostly by the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. I think his recordings of this work are an abomination. I understand he is a good pianist, and did his own thing, up to improvisation like wonders, but he did this on a piano. With that he made a different version of it. That is okay, but call it Goldberg variations, arranged for the piano.
Now let’s hope I will be available for the next article, after I survived the wrath of Glenn Gould loving boomers.