Studying Bach's Goldberg Variations

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camaron wrote:

camaron wrote:

 

c hris johnson wrote:

 

 

Too short: about 80 pages, and it could go into greater detail about just anything that touches. But still plenty of interesting information. I think the author struggles a little bit to condense all the knowledge he obviously has into that small space. The paperback was pricey, but if the kindle version is cheaper it will be worth the money, in my view.

 

Not cheaper -  about £21, I think.  Too much for so little.

Chris A.Gnostic

Then I don't think it is

Then I don't think it is worth the money, sadly

Thanks!

Thanks Camaron.  I'll sleep on the other matters and hope to retrurn refreshed in the morning! Perhaps the Goldbergs will help me to get to sleep.

 

Chris A.Gnostic

No worries

No worries

camaron wrote:

camaron wrote:

 

But the squareness of it all comes from the 8 bars basso ostinato typical of the chaconne. Ostinato variations tend to have a very regular, squarely structure. The first 8 measures of the 32 had a tradition of having been used as ostinato in other sets of variations. Even within this 8, the first 4 also had an extensive history in compositions, before Bach.

As a well known (and well loved) example of a typical 8 bars, squarely designed ostinato bass we can go to Brahms’ second movement (theme and variations) of his first string sextet.

Brahms’ ostinato/theme is itself an adaptation of the famous Las Folías de España, one of the variation themes with greater pedigree during the Baroque. Corelli, Vivaldi and Marais among others composed famous variation sets with this.

A iconic multifaceted work.

To contribute to some aspects of what has been said so far about this enigmatic, in many ways, iconic work by Bach:

The  melody of the Aria (probably not written by Bach himself) disappears from the rest of the work till it comes back in the da capo form as the ending of it. It is the bass line, instead, and the implied harmonies that constitute the material for the variations, underlining more the impression of an unusually long passacaglia (the first 8 measures of the Aria's bass line highlights this concept).

There is a considerable question of why Bach chose the G major for such a work and for almost its entirety (with only three exceptional variations in the minor). 

It is important to note that the very strict format and limitations the work is constructed are self-imposed, not dictated by any sort of external forces. This fact heightens the idea that it was indeed a part of a Clavier Übung, a sort of Keyboard practice work, of course of the highest order.

I cannot see that much whether the work in question really "epitomizes the Enlightenment ideals". To me, it pretty much looks like an exercise par excellence of technical and emotional artistry in playing the Harpsichord (for which it was specifically written).

Although there are some similarities with Beethoven's so called Third or Late period, Bach's creative periods cannot easily be divided to any particular number, while he composed some of his most monumental works in every period of his compositional life (Passions, significant concerts, monumental Sonatas and Suites and so on). The fact that, at the end of his life, he changed somehow the nature of his compositions does not justify any similarity with Beethoven's last creative period.

As for whether "these patterns of harmonic progression" followed so mathematically strictly in the Goldbergs are "typical of bach's approach generally, I can tell that the way they are followed in this particular work is unique, since it is eveidently a true exercise and, evetually, a unique accomplishement for the composer himself. He did not have to follow this extremely strict pattern in his other works and, in any way not in such a strict way.

I guess that's enough for now.

Parla

Perahia's View

In the notes to his recording of the GV, Murray Perahia considers the "Fundamental Bass". "Because", he said, "the inspiration for the entire piece is found in the accumulation and release of tension by the harmonies of these very chords." It is, for Perhia, the harmonies which are the true foundation, rather than a single bass line. Indeed, the top voice or soprano is not just "incidental", but an "important contributor" to the overall scheme.

Setting out the basic harmonic plan on two staves, Perahia naturally divides the scheme into four lots of eight bars. The first 8 bars define the tonic (G Major). The next 8 explore "what seems to be the key of the dominant (D Major)." He continues: "After the double bar, the tension is driven a step further (quite literally, a step above D to E minor). Here three voices take the place of the usual four and the effect is more sorrowful than anything experienced thus far in the Aria. Finally, and most touchingly of all, in the last eight bars, the harmony returns to the tonic."

This seems about right to me - I mean, it seems right to focus on the unfolding harmonies, rather than the bass, which is only one part of the overall scheme which we intuitively recognise in each variation. Playing the bass line itself does not, in fact, give you the feel you are playing the Goldberg Variations. You need to throw in at least one soprano line, too.

janeeliotgardiner wrote:

janeeliotgardiner wrote:

In the notes to his recording of the GV, Murray Perahia considers the "Fundamental Bass". "Because", he said, "the inspiration for the entire piece is found in the accumulation and release of tension by the harmonies of these very chords." It is, for Perhia, the harmonies which are the true foundation, rather than a single bass line. Indeed, the top voice or soprano is not just "incidental", but an "important contributor" to the overall scheme.

Setting out the basic harmonic plan on two staves, Perahia naturally divides the scheme into four lots of eight bars. The first 8 bars define the tonic (G Major). The next 8 explore "what seems to be the key of the dominant (D Major)." He continues: "After the double bar, the tension is driven a step further (quite literally, a step above D to E minor). Here three voices take the place of the usual four and the effect is more sorrowful than anything experienced thus far in the Aria. Finally, and most touchingly of all, in the last eight bars, the harmony returns to the tonic."

This seems about right to me - I mean, it seems right to focus on the unfolding harmonies, rather than the bass, which is only one part of the overall scheme which we intuitively recognise in each variation. Playing the bass line itself does not, in fact, give you the feel you are playing the Goldberg Variations. You need to throw in at least one soprano line, too.

 

This is, for me, absolutely fascinating Jane.  Although one reads everywhere that the variations or on the bass of the aria, I have never been quite comfortable with this, though I lack the necessaary theoretical knowledge. However, this brings us back to something you and I discussed briefly some time ago when I had first mentioned to you Kempff's playing of the aria unembellished.  None of us liked it much that way and I think you asked something like "why on earth does he do it?" as indeed did Camaron. Lost for any other explanation I tentatively suggested it might make it easier to hear the aria in later variations.  You gave me the standard response and I put the thought aside. Perhaps it's not silly?  I'd really like to see Perahia's discussion.  I've listened to his performance only on Spotify. Perhaps I'll have to buy it!

 

Chris

Chris A.Gnostic

should read "the variations

should read "the variations are on the bass" etc.

 

No editing possibility is infuriating!

Chris A.Gnostic

From total ignorance in the

From total ignorance in the matter, aren’t a bass line and a chord progression more or less interchangeable concepts, in that all chord progression can be reduced to an ideal bass line and a bass line has a chord progression associated to it?

For the sake of actually putting sound to what we are talking about here is the bass line for the Goldberg (as already reported by Chris, no chords):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GoldbergVariationsBassLine.ogg

I think we are coming to un understanding that the first 8 bars form the foundation block. This defines the tonic, as reported by Jane, and ends in the first cadencia. This pattern is repeated another three times, with different cadences, obviously, until the work ends in the tonic again. As I said already, this 8 bar bass line had a long use as an independent and complete basso ostinato. Bach was inserting himself within a living tradition. Not less a composer than Haendel used it, in his monumental Chaconne HWV 442, for keyboard:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oo-iZh4TSrA

It makes for fascinating hearing, from the Goldbergs perspective. I’ve chosen that version because it gives the bass line to start with. Haendel's’ work consists in not less than 62 variations, so he was obviously in a show-off kind of mood.

It is striking to hear strong echoes of the goldberg all over the place, but ONLY the beginning of them, of course, the 8 first bars, or the first half of the first half….

It puts things into perspective too. To what extent the Goldbergs are so far beyond anything it was composed in that way during the Baroque. By comparison Handel’s works sounds very repetitive and not very imaginative.

But Handel’s variations show more clearly what you are saying Jane, about the chords progression being the actual thing (in most variations he uses full chords to mark the ostinato line (it sounds monotonous though….)

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