Studying Bach's Goldberg Variations

237 posts / 0 new
Last post
janeeliotgardiner wrote:

janeeliotgardiner wrote:

Apologies if you can follow a score, but was simply referring to the fact that you didn't happen to own this one!

 

No need to apologize Jane. I used to have some basic reading skills many years ago, when I played the guitar. Not for too long now, and as you said, to go beyond the basics (which is what I would find useful) is far more complicated. I’m fine with it, there are too many things in life and I can’t possibly do them all!

Last night late I listened to

Last night late I listened to Tatiana Nikolayeva’s recording of the Goldberg. I found it on youtube, so it is there for anyone interested. Posts are piling up, and I can’t remember if she has been mentioned before. The recording was made at a live concenrt in London in the 80s (where you there Chris?). I was blown away!

 

On paper she does all the things that might be considered “wrong”. Full use of the piano dynamic capabilities, legato, rubatos and all sort of tempo changes. It is like piano playing from a different time, well after Bach and well before us.

 

But it is all really beautiful. It is clear that she knows the music really well, and feels a strong affinity to it. Nikolayeva finds in the work a very personal vehicle to express herself, and it must be clear the she has a huge and warm heart. Each variation is given a beautiful characterisation, and they follow one another in impeccable logic. Often she will start at a low volume and then she builds up an intense crescendo. Repeats often are started in a very different way (more about dynamics and tempo than ornaments) and progress their own way to eventually merge with the way music sounded the first time around.

 

The voices are clear, it all sounds opulent but transparent at the same time. The way she makes the music sing is really touching.

 

As a taster, they way she plays the French ouverture, it is possibly the best I’ve heard. It sounds grand and beautiful and ceremonial, and like a real new beginning. Then the repeat is like different music!

 

The Black Pearl is, as you would expect by this point, a moment of reckoning. It is slow and intensely tragic. She leaves a few seconds of silence at the end of it.

 

The last 5 variations after this were a bit of a disappointment to me, and it was the only time during the whole performance that the grip loosened. She takes too long in them, the repeats weigh down the whole thing, and the irresistible run to the aria is somehow lost, at least in me.

 

The story goes that Shostakovich, on hearing her playing Bach’s WTC decided to compose his own 24 Preludes and Fugues, so could play them.

The theme in the variations

Hi Camaron.  Yes, I completely agree with everything you say about Nikloaeva. A lovely, individual performance.Her recording, perhaps not the same one is on Spotify too, but you have to spell her namr Nikolayeva to find it. I heard her play in London once but Shostakovich, not Bach.

 

Well.  I haven’t had much free time the last few days, but since we started this discussion I’ve listened three times right through with the score. Eventually one’s eyes start to see the pattern of the notes and I’ve found some of the theme (usually the 8-note basic theme) in many of the variations.

Here’s a summary in very terse  form, variation by variation:

 

1.I cannot see any sign here

2.The full 32 notes present one per bar,  The first quaver (and often the third) in each 2/4 bar

3. Canon. The first four bars, present in the first two bars of the canon.

4. The 8 bar basic theme present in the first 8 bars. Very obvious.

5. The same. also obvious.

6. Canon. I can’t see it here

7. If it’s here it’s very disguised.

8. 8 bars again, The first quaver of a series of arpeggios,

9. Canon. I can’t see it here,

10.Fughetta. Absent, unless you feel that the fugue subject is related to the theme?

11. Clear(ish) for the first four bars.  The hand-crossing thereafter makes it harder to see but it’s just about there perhaps for the next four.

12.Canon. It’s here, very clear in the bass.  Three repeated crotchets in most of the first eight 3/4 bars.

 13,The first 16 bars present here: usually as a dotted crotchet starting each 3/4 bar.

 14. I’ve no idea. Impossible to see in this variation!

 15. Canon. In G minor.  Not obvious to me so far.

 16. French overture. I suppose the first 8 bars are here but in alternating octaves and varying note values.  I doubt if anyone could hear it.

 17. I can’t see it hear but it’s another of those difficult, 2 clav. variations with much hand crossing.

 18. Canon. I suppose the long minims of the canon subject follow the pattern of the first 8 bars.

 19. Most of the theme is probably here, but sometimes hidden in the swirls of notes.

 20. Impossible to know! Another of the hand-crossing showpieces. I can’t see it anyway.

 21. Canon. In G minor. 

 22. Alla breve.  Probably the most obvious of all.  Present mostly in semibreves throughout.

 23. As before it’s much harder to see anything in the 2 clav. variations. Far beyond me anyway.

 24. Canon.  The first four bars, and then perhaps with some imagination??

 25. G minor. 2 clav.  Perhaps a trace at the beginning.

 26. 2 clav. This strange one in 18/16 in one hand and 3/4 in the other defies my feeble attempts at discovery.  Even if it were there I doubt if anyone could hear it!

 27. Canon. This canon doesn’t have a free bass. The theme doesn’t seem enmeshed in the canon subject (?).

 28. 2 clav.  Don’t ask me!

 29. Again, no idea!

 30. But here it is full strength, the first 8 bars accompanying the quodlibet melody in minims.

 

If you’ve time Jane take a look, especially at the ‘difficult’  variations. Also another question for you Jane (for you too Camaron, though I think you need the score). Nicholas Kenyon, one of the most reliable and penetrating writers on Bach I know of, claims in his Bach Pocket Guide, the following:

“Variation 9 is the canon at the third......; note the unusual twist and intensification in the third bar of the second half (indeed noted!), where B-A-C-H can be heard in the middle of the texture.”

I’ve looked at this bar dozens of times and can’t see it. Can you see anything.

I’m beginning to think that a variation by variation approach to this work may not be a particularly good way.  What say you?

All the best,

Chris

Chris A.Gnostic

The theme in the variations

Hi Camaron.  Yes, I completely agree with everything you say about Nikloaeva. A lovely, individual performance.Her recording, perhaps not the same one is on Spotify too, but you have to spell her namr Nikolayeva to find it. I heard her play in London once but Shostakovich, not Bach.

 

Well.  I haven’t had much free time the last few days, but since we started this discussion I’ve listened three times right through with the score. Eventually one’s eyes start to see the pattern of the notes and I’ve found some of the theme (usually the 8-note basic theme) in many of the variations.

Here’s a summary in very terse  form, variation by variation:

 

1.I cannot see any sign here

2.The full 32 notes present one per bar,  The first quaver (and often the third) in each 2/4 bar

3. Canon. The first four bars, present in the first two bars of the canon.

4. The 8 bar basic theme present in the first 8 bars. Very obvious.

5. The same. also obvious.

6. Canon. I can’t see it here

7. If it’s here it’s very disguised.

8. 8 bars again, The first quaver of a series of arpeggios,

9. Canon. I can’t see it here,

10.Fughetta. Absent, unless you feel that the fugue subject is related to the theme?

11. Clear(ish) for the first four bars.  The hand-crossing thereafter makes it harder to see but it’s just about there perhaps for the next four.

12.Canon. It’s here, very clear in the bass.  Three repeated crotchets in most of the first eight 3/4 bars.

 13,The first 16 bars present here: usually as a dotted crotchet starting each 3/4 bar.

 14. I’ve no idea. Impossible to see in this variation!

 15. Canon. In G minor.  Not obvious to me so far.

 16. French overture. I suppose the first 8 bars are here but in alternating octaves and varying note values.  I doubt if anyone could hear it.

 17. I can’t see it hear but it’s another of those difficult, 2 clav. variations with much hand crossing.

 18. Canon. I suppose the long minims of the canon subject follow the pattern of the first 8 bars.

 19. Most of the theme is probably here, but sometimes hidden in the swirls of notes.

 20. Impossible to know! Another of the hand-crossing showpieces. I can’t see it anyway.

 21. Canon. In G minor. 

 22. Alla breve.  Probably the most obvious of all.  Present mostly in semibreves throughout.

 23. As before it’s much harder to see anything in the 2 clav. variations. Far beyond me anyway.

 24. Canon.  The first four bars, and then perhaps with some imagination??

 25. G minor. 2 clav.  Perhaps a trace at the beginning.

 26. 2 clav. This strange one in 18/16 in one hand and 3/4 in the other defies my feeble attempts at discovery.  Even if it were there I doubt if anyone could hear it!

 27. Canon. This canon doesn’t have a free bass. The theme doesn’t seem enmeshed in the canon subject (?).

 28. 2 clav.  Don’t ask me!

 29. Again, no idea!

 30. But here it is full strength, the first 8 bars accompanying the quodlibet melody in minims.

 

If you’ve time Jane take a look, especially at the ‘difficult’  variations. Also another question for you Jane (for you too Camaron, though I think you need the score). Nicholas Kenyon, one of the most reliable and penetrating writers on Bach I know of, claims in his Bach Pocket Guide, the following:

“Variation 9 is the canon at the third......; note the unusual twist and intensification in the third bar of the second half (indeed noted!), where B-A-C-H can be heard in the middle of the texture.”

I’ve looked at this bar dozens of times and can’t see it. Can you see anything.

I’m beginning to think that a variation by variation approach to this work may not be a particularly good way.  What say you?

All the best,

Chris

Chris A.Gnostic

I meant to add that without

I meant to add that without the score in front of me I would never have noticed many of these appearances of the theme.  Even with the score, quite often I see the pattern but don't really hear or feel it - unlike in those Brahms Handel variations, as you said Camaron.

Also, concerning Nikolaeva, it was Parla who reminded me about her recording. Thanks, Parla.  Yes it's a great one!

Chris A.Gnostic

Hi Chris,

Hi Chris,

I will keep that list for future reference, I will find it useful. Impressive effort!

I think everyone who gets into the Goldberg has tried, or will try at some point, to find out in what sense they are variations. Variations of what? I did my time, like everyone else. The end result seems to be the same for everyone. The bottom line is that, at the end of the day, if Bach had wanted us to know, we would hear it! But we don’t, he’s hidden it from us. It obviously is all there, somehow, but we are just not meant to be aware of it.

You say “I’m beginning to think that a variation by variation approach to this work may not be a particularly good way”

I guess it depends in which way. Comparative recording listening is limited due to the fact that the pieces work in a flow, and this gets lost. This aspect is not, personally, the one I'm most interested in. If you mean to insist in finding the original bass/chords line in each piece…. I’ve given up. But to look into them as individual compositions, even if at least briefly… I think that is worth it.

Maybe we are insisting too much in the analytic side of things.

c hris johnson wrote:

c hris johnson wrote:

Nicholas Kenyon, one of the most reliable and penetrating writers on Bach I know of, claims in his Bach Pocket Guide, the following:

“Variation 9 is the canon at the third......; note the unusual twist and intensification in the third bar of the second half (indeed noted!), where B-A-C-H can be heard in the middle of the texture.”

I’ve looked at this bar dozens of times and can’t see it. Can you see anything.

Beats me. BACH, if I understand it correctly, means B-flat, A, C, B natural. So I can't see how this is even possible here. There is no b flat in the whole bar (though there is an A sharp in the bass at the very outset!). There is also only one C in the entire bar (in the uppermost voice). Anyway, I can can get A C B natural surrounding that C (A in the bass, C and B in 1st soprana), but I can't get a B flat to preceed it........

Thanks for looking Jane.  It

Thanks for looking Jane.  It was driving me mad! I';ve not seen anyone else referring to this motif in the Goldbergs: perhaps it is a mistake either in the identification of the bar of of the variation but, enough, I'll let it rest in prace now!

Chris A.Gnostic

Corrected version

Thanks for looking Jane.    It was driving me mad! I've not seen anyone else referring to this motif in the Goldbergs: perhaps it is a mistake either in the identification of the bar or of the variation but, enough, I'll let it rest in peace now!

Chris A.Gnostic

Are you allowed to transpose

Are you allowed to transpose the BACH motif? Does it still count, if you do that? 

If so, it might be there in a more disguised form........

Pages

Log in or register to post comments

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£67/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2019