"The end is in the beginning
and lies far ahead..."
Goldberg Variations BWV 988 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685—1750)
arranged for string trio by Dmitry Sitkovetsky
Sheffield Chamber Players
Megumi Stohs Lewis, violin
Alexander Vavilov, viola
Leo Eguchi, cello
Variatio 3 Canone all'Unisono
Variatio 6 Canone alla Seconda
Variatio 7 Al tempo di Giga
Variatio 9 Canone alla Terza
Variatio 10 Fughetta
Variatio 12 Canone alla Quarta
Variatio 15 Canone alla Quinta
Variatio 16 Ouverture
Variatio 18 Canone alla Sesta
Variatio 21 Canone alla Settima
Variatio 22 Alla breve
Variatio 24 Canone all'Ottava
Variatio 25 Adagio
Variatio 27 Canone alla Nona
Variatio 30 Quodlibet
Bach's monumental Goldberg Variations is the stuff of legend, quite literally. The story goes that this profound work was composed for an insomniac Count, who is said to have requested a piece for his musician—Goldberg—to play to help him sleep, or cheer him if he couldn't. Bach's output of keyboard music was enormous, and this particular work seemed to have a special meaning to him, as it would to so many through the centuries. He went to great lengths to share it with the public even though very few of his other masterpieces (like The Well-Tempered Clavier) circulated much beyond the manuscript until after his death. In fact, his so-called Goldberg Variations are among very few works Bach published himself.
While Bach wrote very few sets of variations in his enormous output, he thought this form might best fit the bill (and complete his massive contribution to the keyboard repertoire), and it’s hard to argue with his wisdom. As his son Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach wrote in an obituary for his father, “he need only have heard any theme to be aware—it seemed in the same instant—of almost every intricacy that artistry could produce in the treatment of it.” The theme and variation genre seemed to invite Bach to explore this "intricacy of artistry." The structure of the form itself, as well as the additional layers of complexity he imposed on the work, perhaps freed him to explore the many different paths he could dream up.
While the veracity of the origin story of the Goldberg Variations is heavily disputed, whatever prompted Bach to write these variations resulted in one of the most transcendent and intricate works in all of Western Music. Originally written for a double manual harpsichord, it is also believed to be the largest keyboard work published during the 18th century (though the performance in this case will be a brilliant arrangement for string trio by the renowned violinist Dimitri Sitkovetsky).
Bach bases 30 variations on the descending bass line of a breathtaking, seemingly simple 32 bar Aria. The work displays a dazzling mastery of form, symmetry, and counterpoint, but it is the emotional impact of the work that draws me to it again and again. Over the span of about an hour, Bach takes us on an exploration of the depths of the human condition. As though tracing a lifetime, he captures exuberance, joy, sorrow, solitude, grace, humor, even a little mischief near the end, and then almost before you know it, you are returned to the Aria, identical to the first notes you heard, but transformed by this extraordinary journey.
“But that's getting too far ahead of the story, almost to the end, although the end is in the beginning and lies far ahead.”
– Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
- Sasha Callahan
January - March 2020
Friday, January 31 at 7pm in Newton
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