Studying Bach's Goldberg Variations

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Tallis : Miserere nostri.  It

Tallis : Miserere nostri.  It's on the first Tallis Scholars Tallis disc - and I've just found it again on Spotify. I believe you will enjoy it.  It's short - just 2'30"

Chris A.Gnostic

Thanks!

Thanks!

If so...

"If so"..."that scotches the idea that Bach didn't write the aria". If it is not so? There are quite a few musicians, scholars who believe otherwise. Of course, tangible evidence is not sufficient for either side.

"If so"..."scotches Parla's suggested explanation for G major". If so...perhaps. Still, the main question is why this persistence in using the G major throughout.

Of course, more questions may come along the way than definite answers, such as what was,eventually, the real impetus behind the creation of such a massive and intriguingly unusual set of Variations?

Anyway, next?..

Parla

parla wrote:

parla wrote:

here are quite a few musicians, scholars who believe otherwise..........

Ah, the scholars!

suggestion......

Might this be a good time to discuss performances of the aria plus first three variations? That is, before we get on to the next three? If we look at a few recordings, it might help us to think more deeply about their character. It may also help us to consider areas such as ornamentation and tempo, which may in turn impact upon our overall thinking..........

Good idea Jane

 

As I mentioned earlier I am busy today and most of tomorrow, but will be able to rejoin on Sunday. Why don't you start?

Camaron, I listened to Rosen's recording late last night. Excellent: more robust than I was expecting after the Art of Fugue - but not inappropriately so. I'm very glad to have it.  the original LP set also included the two ricercars from the Musical Offering. The 6-part one would suit him very well, I'm sure.

Anyway, do start, Jane: I'll be back as soon as I  can.

 

 

Chris A.Gnostic

Sorry, it follows a long and

Sorry, it follows a long and boring rambling.

 

Following Chris I listened to Brahms’ Handel Variations last night. Coming from the Goldberg three things stood out for me.

 

1-All variations refer themselves to the theme. Some are closer and some are more distant, to the point of almost disappearance. But how close or far they are from the main theme is essential part of what they are and how they are perceived. We’ve all already seen that the Goldberg don’t play this game.

2-Very few of the variations would stand on their own, nor they are meant to. Brahms wants you to listen through the whole thing. But all of variations in the Goldberg are full compositions, character pieces if you will. Only a bunch of the shortest and fastest would not stand on their own, and it is perfectly possible to pick and choose any number of them and form a sort of suite. Only good taste in the combination would be the limit. In this respect I believe the Goldberg are alone among all other sets of variations, from any age. I leave a question mark on Beethoven’s Diabelli, which I don’t know.

3- There is harmonic variation and progression through the work in Brahms, but none in Bach.

 

What goes for Brahms’ set goes for probably any other set from the Classic/Romantic period.

 

So I’ve been reflecting on the tonality question, after listening to Brahms and reading Parla’s unanswered questions…

 

Parla asks: why G Major, why everything in G Major, and why that particular pattern of harmonic progression and cadences inside the variations (tonic, dominant, relative minor, tonic).

 

I’m not personally interested in the first two questions. Why G Major? I’m key-skeptic, and I usually don’t buy into all that search of deep meaning inside the choice of key. I’m probably disagreeing with everyone here. Like Parla said, maybe the Sarabanda was already in G Major, and that’s how Bach’s wife liked it. More likely, the 8 bars ostinato that Bach chooses to start building the whole thing was already in G major, or had a history of use like, again, we can see in Haendel’s own set. Maybe even more likely, Bach was concerned about fingering (the Goldberg is the most  technically demanding  work he had ever composed). So G Major worked just right for the fingers.

 

Why every thing in the same key? I fail to see any issue here. As far as I know that was the standard practice of the time, in sets of variations, maybe not the only one but still certainly common. Chris, you will know better than me, I believe in some of Bach’s collections there are some change of key within the pieces of a suite, but nothing too daring?

 

What about the harmonic pattern within the variations? Here is where my imagination flies…

 

First cadence: tonic. Nothing strange, since Bach uses a self-sufficient ostinato, this already comes closing in the tonic. He could’ve changed it, but why would he want to do this if what he was doing was reusing something in existence. On the other hand, I think there are important similarities with a similar pattern Bach had exploited with glorious effect in the past, the ritornello form. Here you have a first chunk of music which establishes the tonic and resolve to it too, before the piece goes on to different things.

 

Second cadence: dominant. Since Bach settled for a binary structure this came as a given. That is what binary pieces do.

 

Third cadence: relative minor. My suspicion is that this is where things could be looked at. What happens there? I’ve gone back to our first three pieces. In variation III or first canon, the second half starts on the bass, soon followed by the two trebles chasing each other. Then a goosebumps sort of moment happens: before the treble voices are finished the tenors enter in stretto and in what I think is minor mode (those with the knowledge and score might want to check that this is correct). I never fail to the touched by this moment. So from now own I’m going to start paying a close attention to this G Minor cadence.

There is more, but this is getting too long, so I better take it to the next post...

I do really like the idea

I do really like the idea that Bach played with the individual structure of the pieces reflecting, somehow and like in a mirror, the general layout of the whole set. The 32 and 32 would be the most obvious way, but there are others.

 

So we have a binary structure, which we see mainly by the French ouverture starting right at halfway. But we also have a tripartite structure in the harmony: tonic to dominant, dominant to relative minor, relative minor to tonic. How would this be reflected in the layout?

 

I think it is a fairly common experience that the whole work feels sort of suspended with variation 15 and 25, both in G minor. Their common pathos, and the way they contrast with the exuberance of the other pieces make them feel like marked points in the way, special moments. The last one (25) comes right before the most cohesive group of pieces, the last one, which leads to the aria again. It is the coda of the work If it was to represent the cadence to the relative minor of each piece it would have to be right there.

 

What about the other variation, number 15? If it was to represent the middle cadence to the dominant, it would have to be…. In number 15, at the end of the first half, just before the French ouverture.

 

There is a question mark over if the first cadence to the tonic should be represented. But I gave it a thought, to see if there was another piece that stood above all the others and before variation 15. To me there is, since it has always been my favourite variation, number 13. Before number 15 it has always given me a feeling of “having arrived”. But it is not in the right place, it would seem. 13 is too close to 15!. Still, could it be represented in another way? Well, it turns out that it is a sarabande, just like the aria itself, and the only other one.

 

I know, I know….

Incidentally, variation 13 I

Incidentally, variation 13 I find it is often played wrong, basicaly too fast, and the lovely air of elegant and poignant sarabanda is lost. No one plays it like Gould in 81.

 

Jane, my feeling is, if you have been comparing recordings just fire away!

c hris johnson wrote:

c hris johnson wrote:

Camaron, I listened to Rosen's recording late last night. Excellent: more robust than I was expecting after the Art of Fugue - but not inappropriately so. I'm very glad to have it.  the original LP set also included the two ricercars from the Musical Offering. The 6-part one would suit him very well, I'm sure.

 

I thought you would like it. I would've liked him more economial with repeats, but I guess that's just me.

I've not heard thous fugues for years! It it time for them then

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