1741: Bach: Goldberg Variations

MONDAY, April 19, 2021 – 7:54 PM

Bach: Goldberg Variations, age 56

First published in 1741, it is named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who may also have been the first performer of the work, but he was only 14 years old when these variations were published. We don’t know when Bach wrote this, so 1741 is the best date we have.

Variation 25

This one variation is well more than five minutes long, and the whole set of variations is well over an hour long. So perhaps start with this first.

Yuan Sheng

Who is this man? I didn’t know until I was searching for a really fine recording of one variation, Variation 25. His recording of this one variation, which I believe is the best of all of them, appealed to me the most, so I am partial to his whole recording.

The story we have heard is that Bach wrote this for a count who had insomnia. It is a theme and 30 variations. So if listening to this puts you to sleep, that could be a good or bad thing. If you are bored or annoyed, it’s bad. If it is so pleasant and relaxing that you find it great to put on the background while doing other things, or you yourself find it great to go to sleep to, it’s all good.

However, this popular “insomnia story” is now thought to have been mostly invented out of nowhere, so just why Bach wrote these variations is not clear.


1 thought on “1741: Bach: Goldberg Variations

  1. I think I’d characterize the tone of this variation as suspenseful. The chords in each phrase seem to resolve themselves only to be brought back to the same suspenseful mood. Really nice!

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