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Goldberg Variations BWV 988
General Discussions - Part 4 (2004)

Continue from Part 3

Here come the Goldbergs

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 31, 2004):
I have compiled a list of the complete recordings of the Goldberg Variations BWV 988 (GV). I have used every possible source I could find, including websites as a+30+a Goldberg Variations, J.S. Bach Home Page, All Classical Guide, web-stores as Amazon, and other websites I have been able to find using Google search engine, as well as various catalogues and my private collection.

You can find a list of the complete recordings of GV split into several pages, a page for a decade, starting at the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV988.htm
All in all, 261 complete recordings of GV are listed. The 1990's were particularly prolific with 105 recordings!

If you are aware of a recording of GV not listed in these pages, or if you find an error or missing information, please inform me, either through the BRML or to my personal e-mail address.

Thanks & Enjoy,

Barry Murray wrote (January 31, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] What an impressive list of recordings!!

The only recording I have is that of Nicholas Parle (1995) Harpsichord on the Tall Poppies label. I wonder if anyone else has heard it? I've not seen it mentioned here before. I like it, but can't comment on how well it compares with the competition.

Sato Fumi wrote (January 31, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks for the list, it is stimulating.

It has offered an occasion of re-listening to a relatively unknown but fascinating CD by Ekaterina Dershavina, which happens to be at hand. Thanks.

Anne Smith wrote (January 31, 2004):
[To Sato Fumi] This one is great. Incredible rhythm. Too bad she didn't record more.

 

Goldbergs 1-24 only

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 13, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: < In Konrad Küster (ed), Bach Handbuch (Kassel 1999), there is a reference to a theory of Werner Breig, that there has been a first version, consisting of only the Variations 1 - 24, preceded and followed by the Aria.
As much as I believe there is something of a broad concept in the work as it has been published, this theory - if it is true - makes one wonder whether that concept was in Bach's mind from the start. It reminds me of the way the B-minor Mass (
BWV 232) has gradually developed into the architectonic masterwork we are familiar with. >
Such a structure of 1-24 only wouldn't surprise me. 24 is (IIRC) the only variation that uses the top and bottom notes of the harpsichord, and it does make a good valedictory effect.

And it's pretty easy to imagine: maybe he extended to 30+2 "to keep up with the Buxtehudes" (Capricciosa, 32 vars)...I mean, Bach's variation 30 quodlibet quotes this Buxtehude piece directly, and everything. An homage to the big man for some stylistic debts?

And John Bull and Hans Leo Hassler, 30 variations each. And there's a Handel piece with 62 variations. Don't know if Bach knew those or not.

Roy Johansen wrote (February 13, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < Such a structure of 1-24 only wouldn't surprise me. 24 is (IIRC) the only variation that uses the top and bottom notes of the harpsichord, and it does make a good valedictory effect. >
Does it, though? It is in triple time, but it doesn't really leave you with the giguesque satisfaction and sense of conclusion that his suites do, nor do I feel that a concluding repeated Aria would follow as "naturally" after variation 24 as it does after var. 30... --Which leads me to my strongest-felt argument to the contrary: It seems to me that the Quodlibet is such essential Bach, especially of the period in which the Goldbergs were written, so vital to the overall plan of the set, that it wouldn't have been part of a mere afterthought.

I am, naturally, unable to furnish any academic evidence for this, but doesn't it, though, still make sense when you listen to it?

Johan van Veen wrote (February 13, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] It is also suggested Bach was inspired by the 30 'Essercizi per gravicembalo' by Domenico Scarlatti which were published in London in 1738. I understand it is not known for sure, though, whether Bach knew Scarlatti's music, so maybe that is just speculation.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (February 13, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: < Such a structure of 1-24 only wouldn't surprise me. 24 is (IIRC) the only variation that uses the top and bottom notes of the harpsichord, and it does make a good valedictory effect. >
And it could explain the abrupt change with the long 25th which comes at a much different tempo.

Johan van Veen wrote (February 13, 2004):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Kirk, it was Brad who wrote that.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 13, 2004):
[To Roy Johansen] The Goldbergs as they stand now work beautifully, of course, as a whole. But that observation is no proof whatsoever that they ever started that way, during the compositional process. It merely shows that Bach, in his published version, has written a good piece. It could have taken any number of drafts to come into that form; we don't know. (And, keep in mind that Bach continued to make corrections and additions to it after publication, in his private copy of the print. That's been available since the mid-1970s.)

As for playing excerpts, or for (conjecturally) having the piece end originally with the Aria coming back after variation 24: why not? Variation 24 does make a good ending and sounds final enough (with or without Aria) if the player simply plays it that way, like an ending. A good player can make any reasonable selection of the variations sound complete, and with a satisfactory ending that sounds final enough: just shape the overall performance to be so. [I do this all the time. When playing for my own enjoyment, or to entertain guests, I play as many or as few variations as I feel like, maybe even jumping around haphazardly. And in concerts I've played the whole thing sometimes, or just a smaller selection when there isn't that much time available in the gig. Or when a two-manual harpsichord isn't available, I play some of the variations for single manual. Whatever. It all works fine, just thinking practically instead of insisting on "completeness". That's why Schiff's assertions in his booklet make little sense to me.]

But no, it doesn't work the same way to yank excerpts out of somebody's recording to do the same, putting together a smaller set "after the fact" and expecting the new ending to sound like an ending; a performer in a recording of the whole thing has already shaped his/her performance to be heard all the way through, not excerpted. There's no reason to expect variation 24 to sound like a satisfying ending, in the context of the whole thing. A set of excerpts from a recording can be pleasant enough, but it won't sound like any "complete" subset to stand alone unless the performer has deliberately shaped it that way.

 

Dershavina, Gould, Hantai, Jarrett, etc in the Goldbergs

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 18, 2004):
The biggest difference I can think of, in Dershavina's performance vs the Gould renditions, is her use of the pedal. Gould would hardly be caught dead touching the pedal of a piano, in Bach. Dershavina pedals quite a bit, giving the performance a relaxed sound and a warm glow (and especially deep pedal motions in variation 21). It makes the Gould renditions sound tense and uncompromising, by comparison.

It's an effect that is available on harpsichord, too, by simply "overholding" the notes into one another with the fingers...a basic technique to have available, among many other types of articulation. Such a smear of the notes can be really sensuous. There are some good ones (for example) in Pierre Hantaï's 1992 recording: variations 6, 9, 11, 21, 25, and 29.... I wish more pianists in this post-Gould age would realize that it's not un-Bachian (or whatever) to do this with the pedal and/or the fingers, as a valid parof the music!

[The lack of this is also a telltale sign that Keith Jarrett, fine as he is, is not a harpsichordist...he plays with pianists' legato as if that's all there is, rather than the full range of harpsichordists' legato! OK, he does overhold some in variation 12...but I feel his variation 25 could really be improved big-time by allowing this effect to come into his right-hand melody, giving more direction to the line.]

Stephen Benson wrote (February 18, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] In learning any new Bach piece at the piano, I ALWAYS follow a set procedure. I start with NO pedal whatsoever. Once I have mastered the notes and the fingers, which, with Bach, requires an entirely different mind set and problem-solving mentality than if one had the pedals at one's disposal, I can then selectively apply the pedal where necessary. It's amazing, however, how many potential problems can be solved with judicious and imaginative finger technique. (I think immediately of the Allemande from the D-Major Partita, which never required any pedal at all.) It's also amazing just how much Bach can be satisfying to play even with a VERY limited technical ability!

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 18, 2004):
Fingering and pedaling; more Goldbergs on harpsichord

Stephen Benson wrote: < In learning any new Bach piece at the piano, I ALWAYS follow a set procedure. I start with NO pedal whatsoever. Once I have mastered the notes and the fingers, which, with Bach, requires an entirely different mind set and problem-solving mentality than if one had the pedals at one's disposal, I can then selectively apply the pedal where necessary. >
That's a good procedure, Steve. Selectively applying the pedal only to change the color of the sound, rather than as any sort of crutch to connect the notes.

Sort of a funny thing--all the keyboard instruments in my house do not have a damper pedal...I have to play with fingers-only on all of them. (Harpsichord, clavichord, virginal, reed organ, synthesizer.) The synthesizer did have a pedal but it broke last summer, and I haven't bothered to replace it yet...I just don't miss it, and keep forgetting! If I ever need to practice something on a piano I go over to the church, after already working on the piece on one or more of these others. Each instrument can suggest some good interpretive ideas that can be used on the others....

Last year I had a concert on an original 1797 Broadwood square piano, which also didn't have a pedal at all (not part of the design). Delightful little instrument, carefully restored by its owner. Since the venue was more than 90 minutes' drive away, I went to "meet" that piano only once in advance to find out what I'd be working with, then came home and did all the practicing on the closest thing: the clavichord. That worked out great--those early pianos really are more like clavichords than anything else, in the physical and mental control that have to be brought to them. This Broadwood piano in particular was only about half as loud as a good harpsichord. Next to his Broadwood, the owner also had a Steinway grand and a Stein fortepiano (reproduction) there...it was so different to play on all three of those.

< It's amazing, however, how many potential problems can be solved with judicious and imaginative finger technique. (I think immediately of the Allemande from the D-Major Partita, which never required any pedal at all.) >
Yep, Bach sure knew the whole range of possibilities for ten fingers on a keyboard! Some of the fingerings can be pretty tricky but there is always some solution available. And it's different for differently-sized keyboards, too: some harpsichords/clavichords/organs have keyboards that are either bigger or smaller than a piano's...in octave span or the key's length front-to-back, or both.

=====

Anyway, this thread was about enjoyable recordings of the Goldberg Variations. Some of my favorites on harpsichord are:

- The 1992 Pierre Hantaï as I already mentioned. Such a range of touch and expression, all around; and brilliant sparkle. I have not heard his new one yet, but rumors that it's even better in some ways.

- Bob van Asperen, 1991, on EMI. There's a great swing he has in the slight inequality of notes, letting the music really dance. And he catches the fiery side of the piece well: energy all around, while the slow parts are also nicely relaxed. Original 1719 harpsichord by Mietke.

- Gustav Leonhardt, 1976, on DHM (I much prefer this one over the earlier Vanguard and Teldec/Telefunken...much better instrument than in the Vanguard, and more nuanced playing from Leonhardt improving on the already very good Teldec). No repeats there.

- Alan Curtis, 1976, EMI. Really classy and elegant, and it's the original 1728 Zell harpsichord. And this and the DHM Leonhardt were the first two recordings ever to use the newly-discovered information (1975) from Bach's personal copy of the printed score, where he had handwritten corrections of some details. A very important recording, historically.

- Christiane Jaccottet, on any of those unbelievably cheap issues from various labels (sometimes comes with a second disc of Bach organ works, played by Otto Winter...also a very good disc itself). Jaccottet's phrasing is so beautifully and naturally shaped, the interpretation so unproblematic...this is one to grab, no matter how many others one already has. Less than the cost of a hamburger! No repeats, but so beautiful anyway.

- Igor Kipnis, 1973, EMI/Seraphim. Such a fresh and imaginative approach to the ornamentation, terrific improv all the way through emphasizing the music's beauty over anything pedantic at all. And I especially like the way he plays the Aria's falling-third ornaments gracefully between the beats instead of on the beat. [Wander into the ** footnote below, if curious about technical details of this!]

- Blandine Verlet, playing up the French side of the music strongly, and making the whole thing sound improvisatory and fresh.

- Robert Hill, live, also emphasizing the improvisatory side.

- Wanda Landowska, either the RCA or EMI (different performances). Terrible sound and that anti-historic Pleyel beast harpsichord, but Landowska's playing was so overwhelmingly volcanic. Such immediacy!

=====

** To play it (for example, in measure 2) between the beats is basically a 17th and early 18th century French way. The now more familiar way, on the beat, is a suggestion that (I believe) derives most strongly from Ralph Kirkpatrick's 1938 edition, and was based on some questionable assumptions at the time, about some later 18th century German sources....

Bringing this observation full circle, the way Kipnis phrases it here might actually be the most pedantically-correct solution among several, while--not coincidentally--it sounds the least pedantic of any, simply emphasizing a relaxed beauty and grace, a free melodic surface. Since getting Kipnis' recording and studying this topic further, I have changed my own interpretations of the Aria in this same direction...both because I feel it sounds better in the spirit of the music, and because intellectually I believe it's a more historically faithful reading of Bach's notation, from Bach's own past rather than from his future. There's a Frederick Neumann chapter I should reread, in this regard of the falling thirds before the beat....! :) It seems to me, if Bach got any such ideas directly from Couperin, so should we.

[For the curious: Glenn Gould's interpretation of the Aria's ornaments was based directly on that 1938 Kirkpatrick printed edition, unquestioningly.]

Just about everybody else but the enterprising Kipnis plays it the relatively safe way that 20th/2st century people are accustomed to hearing it: i.e. Kirkpatrick's way with everything on the beat. I appreciate Kipnis' willingness to "think outside that box" as it tells us different things about the music. The character and shape of the melody itself might not be exactly what we've always assumed it is, from listening to so many recordings!

John Pike wrote (February 19, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] What a wonderful household you must have, Brad...all those keyboard instruments, wonderful recordings and a beautiful baby as well(I like the photos on your website)! It reminds me of a visit I made to Bach's birthplace at 21 Am Frauenplan in Eisenach some years ago. The original house was destroyed by an American bomb in 1941 but is has been lovingly recreated in the original style and the main room on the ground floor contains a very large number of period instruments such as the ones you mention. Visitors are given a guided tour and "concert", as the guide plays a little on each instrument.

 

BWV 988

Henri Sanguinetti wrote (May 12, 2004):
I discovered the site to day. Very interesting.

Just sorry to note that the recording by the young Céline Frisch ((www.alpha-prod.com) was not in the list. In my opinion it is a very "bach" one. I am not an expert but I have listened to the Golberg at least once a day for many years. The Frisch version resisted day after day. I could not get tired of it. What it means I am not sure, but there is something there.

For the same price there is a second disk with the 14 canons BWV 1087 and two songs on the quodlibet.

 

Goldberg Variations

Jonathan Howard wrote (August 12, 2004):
Before you tart accusing me, as you are eligible to do by all moral and ethical rights - please remember I'm new to this whole aspect of life (deep musical insights).

Now, this may not be a gret place to post my questions ("Recordings" suffix on the end of this group's title), but it's the best I know.

I decided to move away from my love for Bach's Orchestral work and go to the Harpsichord (Organwerke comes next). And while listening to the Goldberg Variations I wondered a number of things:

1) What are the Variations variations of? What is the "Original" and how is it related to the Variations (the variations)?

2) What is the "Aria" bit? The "Original"? An addition?

3) If bigger experts exist elsewhere (a group about Bach's musical insights), whose seriousness is respectable around, can someone direct me to them?

Thanks everyone, sorry to give you silly questions to answer ;-p.

Charles Francis wrote (August 12, 2004):
Jonathan Howard wrote:
< I decided to move away from my love for Bach's Orchestral work and go to the Harpsichord (Organwerke comes next). And while listening to the Goldberg Variations I wondered a number of things:
1) What are the Variations variations of? What is the "Original" and how is it related to the Variations (the variations)? >

The Goldberg Variations are based on a 32-measure theme exposed in the bass line of the opening aria. As the musicologist Christoph Wolf has observed, the first 8-measures of the bass are identical to the theme of Handel's "Chaconne avec 62 variations", HWV 442, in G-major, which is dated 1703-6. It was published around 1732 by Witwogel in Amsterdam, a publisher who is known to have used Bach as a distributor as there is a surviving announcement from 1735-36 regarding harpsichord works by Hurlebusch available "from Capellmeister Bach at the St Thomas School Leipzig". HWV 442 was also published in London in 1733 as part of Handel's "Suites pour le clavecin". There's another Chaconne in G-major by Handel, HWV 435, which is very Goldberg-like.

Arthur (Bach cl43) wrote (August 12, 2004):
I too will look forward to responses on G.V. The obvious answer is that the bass-line in the opening aria--the first & un-adorned statement or section of the piece, which is repeated at the the very end, like bookends--is the constant, above which are the variations. But I think it's rather more complicated than that....

Mocfujita wrote (August 12, 2004):
Please visit my site. You will find what you need: http://www.geocities.jp/imyfujita/goldberg/indexe.html

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 12, 2004):
Jonathan Howard wrote:
< 1) What are the Variations variations of? >
The harmonic progression in the Aria.

< What is the "Original" and how is it related to the Variations (the variations)?
2) What is the "Aria" bit? The "Original"? An addition? >
It's an instrumental aria whose bass line lays out the basic harmony for the whole set.

< 3) If bigger experts exist elsewhere (a group about Bach's musical insights), whose seriousness is respectable around, can someone direct me to them? >
Music school. Lessons with qualified teachers of the instruments. The reading and class discussion of scholarly books and articles.

See also these excerpts from a fine book by Peter Williams, about the Goldberg Variations: http://www.thegoldbergvariations.com/index.php?page=williams30

Jonathan Howard wrote (August 12, 2004):
Thanks, everyone,

Essentially you all say that the Bass of the Aria is the harmonic core of each of the Variations. Nevertheless, some identifyable difference must exist that differs each suite from any other (more sophisticated than just how quick the notes are and how drastic movements are across the keyboard...), or they wouldn't be suites...

I agree with Arthur that the simple answer is that the Aria is the core and all other Variations are simply variations. Yet some more sophisticated difference must be present (or Bach would be regarded as Vivaldi, "Wrote 600 Concertos? Naa... Wrote 1 Concerto 6 times").

With Die Overturen and the Brandenbug it's all easier to identify, it's a whole Orchestra. With vocal works the tone can also identify. Reading into a Harpsichord alone...? I'm now going to listen to the Organwerke... Then I'll start to think of the Passion. Hopefully I'll mature into Baroque music properly by the time I'm an adult...

 

New variations on Bach's Goldbergs

Peter Bright wrote (September 13, 2004):
This morning I stumbled across an interesting site which gives details of a recent commission for 12 composers to each produce a new variation based on Bach's Goldbergs. You can listen to five of them here: http://npr.streamsage.com/google/programlist/feature.php?wfid=3912892

I found them all very interesting, but my favourites were "Melancholy Minuet" by Fred Hersch and "My Goldberg (Gymnopedie)" by David Tredici. None of them except the Hersch piece appeared obviously related to a particular variation (at least after a single listen) but they are all good.

You can also listen to a 7 minute audio piece on this commission.

Hope you enjoy it!

 

Goldberg Variations

Joost wrote (September 24, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< If the Goldberg's are performed as Bach wrote them, i.e., respecting all the repeat markings, they need two CDs. Most, if not all, performers ignore some of repeat markings (or all of them). >
There is at least one really complete recording: Jacques Ogg on Globe GLO5129 uses two discs indeed. His total timing is 84:40'.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (September 24, 2004):
[To Joost] Sergio Vartolo on Tactus (2 cds) is another "complete" recording ; there was also a double cd on ? featuring Bradford Tracey -> I suppose it's "complete", but I'm not sure.

Uri Golomb wrote (September 24, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< If the Goldberg's are performed as Bach wrote them, i.e., respecting all the repeat markings, they need two CDs. Most, if not all, performers ignore soof repeat markings (or all of them). >
I still don't understand how that makes the repeat "soporific". As András Schiff writes (in the notes to his recent ECM recording of the Goldbergs), "Bach clearly asks the performer to repeat each section. Not doing so would destroy the perfect symmetry and its proportions. Great music is never too long. It is certain listeners' patience that is too short". And indeed, Schiff observes all the repeats, in both of his recordings -- and each of them fit into one CD! (I assume, however, that the Decca version required more than one LP). And I do not find his ECM performance soporific in the least -- parts of it are highly exhilirating, and all of it engages my interest from beginning to end. (it has been a while since I heard the Decca version, and I never really enjoyed it... the ECM is much better, in my view).

Nor is he the only player whose complete performance, with all repeats, fits on a single CD -- far from it.

Johan van Veen wrote (September 24, 2004):
[To Joost] Alan Curtis also recorded the Goldberg Variations with all the repeats. It was originally released on LP, but I don't know if it ever was reissued on CD.

Charles Francis wrote (September 24, 2004):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< I still don't understand how that makes the repeat "soporific". As András Schiff writes (in the notes to his recent ECM recording of the Goldbergs), "Bach clearly asks the performer to repeat each section. Not doing so would destroy the perfect symmetry and its proportions. Great music is never too long. It is certain listeners' patience that is too short". And indeed, Schiff observes all the repeats, in both of his recordings -- and each of them fit into one CD! (I assume, however, that the Decca version required more than one LP). And I do not find his ECM performance soporific in the least -- parts of it are highly exhilirating, and all of it engages my interest from beginning to end. (it has been a while since I heard the Decca version, and I never really enjoyed it... the ECM is much better, in my view).
Nor is he the only player whose complete performance, with all repeats, fits on a single CD -- far from it. >
Naturally, if you rush the music it can be squeezed onto anything. And, granted, in such a case it will be breathless rather than soporific. I believe, Gould ignores the repeats. How long is his performance? Now multiply by two.

Uri Golomb wrote (September 24, 2004):
< Naturally, if you rush the music it can be squeezed onto anything. And, granted, in such a case it will be breathless rather than soporific. >
Hewitt, Schiff and Perahia do not sound rushed or breathless, either live or on record (I've heard each of them in concerts as well as knowing their recordings). Nor does Rosen (whom I've heard only on CD).

< I believe, Gould ignores the repeats. How long is his performance? Now multiply by two. >
Gould's 1955 performance is just under 40 minutes long; so if he had done all the repeats at exactly the same tempi, it would have fitted on a single CD (where the upper limit is 80 minutes). To my ears, he does sound a bit breathless in that recording -- some of hte variations seem too short... perhaps they woudln't have sounded so breathless had he done the repeats, even at the same tempo. (In any case, this is just a personal reaction, from someone who prefers the 1981 version). His live Salzburg version is of similar length, as far as I recall; theoretically, you could have put both performances on a single CD (it's a pity Sony Classical hasn't done just that in their recent 3-CD compilation, which contains both commercial Goldbergs plus the interview in which Goudl compares the two. They could have included the Salzburg version without even having to add another CD -- though some listeners might have been bothered by a CD with 64 tracks...). His 1981 version is 51 minutes long -- but it does contain some repeats (all the first halves of the canons, and a few first-half repeats in other variations as well). As Gould himself points out in the aforementioned interview, if you take out the repeat times, the 1981 version is not that much longer than the 1955 version. (In some cases, I think, he uses the same tempo in both versions, but it sounds slower in the 1981 version due ot differences in articulation, dynamics and colour).

This entire discussion on the allegedly soporific effect of the Goldberg Variations is predicated on the assumption that Forkel's story is entirely accurate, and that we can learn from it about Bach's primary aim in composing the work. As several scholars have pointed out, there are reasons to doubt the story's accuracy. Here, for example, is Peter Williams (The Life of Bach, p. 139):

"If the Goldberg Variations appeared in print just before [Bach's] Dresden visit of 1741, as is now suposed, doubtless Bach took along copies for Friedemann [W. F. Bach] and Count von Keyserlingk, and a question is whether they were actually composed for the count (so that his young harpsichordist J. G. Goldberg could play
for to him during sleepless nights, as reported in Forkel 1802) or for Friedemann himself, a brilliant player in a brilliant city, and at some point young Goldberg's teacher. Although Friedemann was probably Forkel's source of information, there is no record of a commisssion, and during the works' gestation Goldberg would have been only twelve or thirteen years old. A dedication to Keyserlingk could have been added on a speical copy, it is true, but as likely is that Friedemann's abilities occasioned the work, and that he like weaving an anecdote around it later, especially if Goldberg did subsequently make such of it."

The brilliance and virtuosity of many of the variations hardly seems consistent even with the aim of giving insomniac relaxation, let alone of actually helping him fall asleep. So if there's any grain of truth in Forkel's story, it does seem more likely that the work was later used for that purpose, with Goldberg perhaps selecting the more soothing variations to play to his employer. If so, however, then helping an insomniac was not on Bach's mind when he composed the work; it was only adapted for that purpose later. Having said that, I must admit the recordings I mentioned, and others, have helped me personally to endure several sleepless nights. (They didn't put me to sleep -- I only put them on when I despaired of the possibility of sleep; but they did make the sleepless hours far more tolerable, even enjoyable).

I did not mention any harpsichord recordings that do all the repeats, but I'm sure such recordings exist (beyond the ones already mentioned by other members). I think, for example, that Céline Frisch does all the repeats (I own her recording, but don't have access to it at the moment -- which is why I didn't participate in the recent discussion of her version. When I re-hear it, I might say something about it), and that Christophe Rousset does all of them, too. I gather, from all the comments I read here and elsewhere, that I'm missing out on something really special through not having either of the Pierre Hantaï recordings -- so I will get at least one of them (probably the more recent one) before too long... Does he do all the repeats? (If he only does all the repeats in one of his recordings, that will be a small consideration in its favour -- I usually prefer to hear the work with all repeats).

Uri Golomb wrote (September 24, 2004):
Here is another quote from Schiff's ECM liner notes:

"all the repeast must be observed, becasue with a design of such perfect symmetry there are only two options. One either plays all the repeats or none of them. The first solution is already preferable: given the complexity of the music, it gives the audience a second chance of better understanding (and the player to get it right [not that Schiff needs them for that purpose!]. Of course a repeat should nbe mechanical. Variety can be achieved not just through ornamentation but through careful application of differnet articulation, phrasing and dynamics. Observing certain repeats while omitting others if frankly incomprehensible".

Unfortunately, he introduces this paragraph with a rather silly invective against the harpischord, turning his personal reaction against that instrument's sound into a universal judgment ("hands on heart, can you listen to the harpsichord for so long?" -- to which the obvious answer is, "Speak for yourself, Mr. Schiff: just because you don't enjoy it, doesn't mean everyone doesn't"). Other pianists maintain their right to play the work on the piano without feeling the need to insult the "rival" instrument...

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 24, 2004):
< Alan Curtis also recorded the Goldberg Variations with all the repeats. It was originally released on LP, but I don't know if it ever was reissued on CD. >
His September 1976 recording, immediately after (and using) the discovery of Bach's Handexemplar? Played on a 1728 Zell at the Hamburg museum? Yes, it's been on EMI CD 63062, released 1989. Total time 76'10". And another favorite of mine....

From his booklet notes, here's Curtis' repeat policy:
"As for repeats in the Goldbergs, it may come to some as a surprise that I repeat at all (record collectors may by now have come to assume that Bach wrote the work especially to fit on one LP!) and to others as an irritation
that I do not repeat consistently. However, to feel _obliged_ to play all repeats seems to me pedantic, while to omit them all is akin to reciting a table of contents. As for ornamenting the repeats, I felt free to do so occasionally (though not as free as I would be in a live performance), and have often slightly altered the registration upon repeating. On the whole, however, since onc can seldom if ever make any change in this music which could add to its beauty (witness with what caution Bach made his own revisions!) I have preferred, as Quantz advises, to regard certain music as needing to be repeated not for the sake of variation, but for the pleasure of hearing again a sublime and complex musical thought."

Dorian Gray (Brendan) wrote (September 24, 2004):
Uri Golomb wrote:
>>Unfortunately, he introduces this paragraph with a rather silly invective against the harpischord, turning his personal reaction against that instrument's sound into a universal judgment ("hands on heart, can you listen to the harpsichord for so long?" -- to which the obvious answer is, "Speak for yourself, Mr. Schiff: just because you don't enjoy it, doesn't mean everyone doesn't"). Other pianists maintain their right to play the work on the piano without feeling the need to insult the "rival" instrument... <<
Well, I guess he's got to have some rationale for performing them on the pianoforte! Nowadays, one has to insulate oneself against the shrill cries of purists like myself who would ALWAYS prefer to hear them on the harpsichord over the piano. I pity Mr. Schiff and every performer for having to justify their performance because of this situation, but his comments are singularly prejudiced...Imagine what Bach would think! Not only is great music never too long, it can never really said to be performed on the wrong instrument. Please don't misunderstand, I'm not saying that composers don't mind their indications being tossed to the wind on a foolish whim- some pieces clearly do not have at all the same effect when played on a different instrument than the one intended- but how much poorer would our understanding and APPRECIATION for the Art of Fugue be if we only ever heard it performed on the harpsichord? That happens to be the way I prefer to hear it, and almost certainly what Bach intended, but the wide variety of instrumental combinations attempted so far have yielded some fascinating and enjoyable results. I think Bach would be proud of us for spreading his music far and wide...with the possible exception of Mr. Schickele's hilarious perversions. ( I like those, too...)

Thomas Brattz wrote (September 25, 2004):
Uri Golomb wrote:
>>This entire discussion on the allegedly soporific effect of the _Goldberg Variations_ is predicated on the assumption that Forkel's story is entirely accurate, and that we can learn from it about Bach's primary aim in composing the work. As several scholars have pointed out, there are reasons to doubt the story's accuracy. Here, for example, is Peter Williams (The Life of Bach, p. 139):
"If the Goldberg Variations appeared in print just before [Bach's] Dresden visit of 1741, as is now suposed, doubtless Bach took along copies for Friedemann [W. F. Bach] and Count von Keyserlingk, and a question is whether they were actually composed for the count (so that his young harpsichordist J. G. Goldberg could play for to him during sleepless nights, as reported in Forkel 1802) or for Friedemann himself, a brilliant player in a brilliant city, and at some point young Goldberg's teacher. Although Friedemann was probably Forkel's source of information, there is no record of a commisssion, and during the works' gestation Goldberg would have been only twelve or thirteen years old. A dedication to Keyserlingk could have been added on a speical copy, it is true, but as likely is that Friedemann's abilities occasioned the work, and that he like weaving an anecdote around it later, especially if Goldberg did subsequently make such of it." <<
These are some of the points made by Christoph Wolff and his group of followers:

1. Goldberg would have been only 12 or 13 years old at the time when Bach was working on the Goldbergs.

[He probably would have been at least 14 at the time when he began playing them for Keyserlingk. This is a typically biased view based upon the false premise that in history things are getting better and better and if we look back from our vantage point mankind must have been at a more primitive level of development. Applied to child prodigies extremely proficient in playing keyboard instruments, musicologists think that a phenomenon such as Mozart was perhaps the first of its kind, but a glance in Walther’s “Musicalisches Lexicon” will indicate that there were others before him who simply did not become as famous as Mozart who had his father to thank for all the exposure that he did get.

This slanted view of history (“only we in our time have achieved the pinnacle of everything and in former times the standards and abilities were less than what we have come to expect”) also leads to such ridiculous statements as John Butt’s in his discussion of the Goldbergs in the “Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach [Boyd, Oxford University Press, 1999]: “With declining health, it is unlikely that Bach himself could play the variations in the last few years of his life.” [Perhaps after his eye operation, when his whole system was besieged by infection, but certainly not the two or three years before that. Bach presented a performance of the SJP in 1749. As Christoph Wolff puts it in his biography of Bach on p. 442 {“Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician” {Norton, 2000}: “As far as we know, Bach suffered no serious illness at any point in his life with the striking exception of the final year.” Political maneuvers to oust Bach began suddenly with a letter from Saxon prime minister Heinrich von Brühl to the Leipzig mayor, Jacob Born, on June 2, 1749, and on June 8th Gottlob Harrer was given a pro forma audition to replace Bach as soon as he died. Later Wolff states on p. 444: “Whatever condition it was that afflicted Bach does not appear to have reduced his capacity for work before 1749…{April 4th, 1749} Bach performed his SJP with an increased ensemble. In the same motnh, he also held a conference at his house with the organ builder Heinrich Andreas Cuntzius, and on May 6 he issued a receipt to a Polish nobleman for the sale of a fortepiano…Then on August 25, for the annual city council election service, he performed one of his most ambitious works ever written for this purpose, the cantata “Wir dadir, Gott, wir danken dir,” BWV 29, a piece involving not only a large orchestra with trumpets and timpani but also, in the opening sinfonia, concertato organ. Bach conceivably played the ambitious solo part himself, if only to show the assembled town officials and representatives from Dresden that he was not only still around but fully capable of demonstrating the unmatched quality of his art.” In late summer or fall of 1749, Bach had a repeat performance of “The Contest between Poebus and Pan,” BWV 201. The fall of 1749 saw the composition of the Contrapunctus 4 of the KdF and the completion of the fugue of “Et incarnates est” of the MbM. Bach’s hand is still identifiable (either 1749 or 1750) in making changes to the original performance materials for the New Year’s cantatas BWV 16 and the Easter Oratorio, BWV 249. Again, Wolff on p. 447 states “Bach was not totally incapacitated through much of the spring of 1750….”

Butt’s seemingly innocuous remark covering the final years of his life needs to be corrected to: “During the last few months {not years!} of his life, Bach probably would have had difficulty playing not only the Goldberg Variations, but many other major works of his as well” And so also would John Butt probably be incapacitated physically when suffering the effects of a bad operation and then likewise be unable to play perhaps even the simplest keyboard compositions.]

2. There is no record of a commission and a formal written dedication is missing. It is difficult to find any similar circumstances where such music specifically dedicated would not have such a dedication. “as is now supposed, it is doubtless Bach took along copies for Friedemann [W. F.Bach] and Count von Keyserlingk” [Peter Williams again - read as follows: ‘current thinking is that it is most likely that Bach took a printed copy to be presented personally to Keyserlingk.’ Would this not obviate the need for a formal printed dedication, particularly since it appears that Bach and the count were beyond the usual formalities required at court?]

Some questions that need to be answered in this context:

1.) Can blind musicians (Bach losing his eyesight partially, but then almost completely in the last months of his life) play keyboard instruments as well as those with visual ability?

2.) Is the keyboard-playing ability of a young, talented artist of age 12 to 14 ever sufficient enough to play the Goldberg Variations on a two-manual harpsichord with excellent technical precision, whether in the 18th, 19th, 20th, or 21st century?

3.) Is Forkel’s account of this matter accurate? Did WFB, known for his forgeries/plagiarisms [“he manipulated the attribution of certain works”, and had “a difficult character and unsteady way of life while often neglecting his duties”] stretch the truth here just as his brother CPE Bach did in describing the circumstances surrounding his father’s ‘deathbed’ chorale?

4.) Should Forkel’s account be completely discredited as not verifiable, hence not to be believed? In this case, let’s not use the title “Goldberg Variations” anymore and refer to it only with its correct title.

5.) Can David Schulenberg’s statement, quoted earlier in this thread, not be taken at face value, representing, as it were, the historical situation that prevailed in central Europe toward the middle and end of the 18th century? [“Bach himself would have considered the question of cyclic form somewhat differently from many later composers [and probably many later performers as well!], as the work was presumably not intended for complete public performance. Few purchasers of the original print of the Goldberg Variations would have regarded it primarily as something to be used for playing through from cover to cover; Goldberg’s supposed performances for Keyserlingk would have ended as soon as the latter fell asleep.”

6.) Can it be said that selectively quoting only a portion of Forkel’s biographical anecdote and omitting the significant other part that explains why Bach undertook the task to compose the Goldberg Variations is “only a destructive misquotation from and misrepresentation of his work?”

John Pike wrote (September 27, 2004):
[To Uri Golomb] I'm a great admirer of Schiff's second recording.

I used to find it difficult to take the harpsichord for long stretches. I'm now wondering whether that was because I was used to hearing it accompanying other instruments or in concertos, or whether it is was because my own hearing is far from perfect. Whatever the reason, I just found it hard to hear the notes properly. I was just aware of a sound. However, I have spent a lot of time recently listening to solo harpsichord music and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Much as I love Bach on the piano, I also think the solo works do sound just great on the harpsichord in the hands of a competent artist.

 

Goldbergs and Tatum

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 25, 2004):
Anne Smith wrote:
<< 1.) Can blind musicians (Bach losing his eyesight partially, but then almost completely in the last months of his life) play keyboard instruments as well as those with visual ability? >>
< There have been several blind jazz pianists who could out play almost anyone. Try listening to Art Tatum. >

Indeed! Wonderful musician there, Tatum. I've never been able to figure out how he sounds like he has three or four hands, in those elaborations that sound so fearless and free. I'll go listen to him again right now!

I'm in the mood to listen to Zhu's recordings of Goldbergs, too: such a serene and beautifully phrased performance.

=====

As for the rest of the stuff at: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/15315
what is the intended point of it? I'd really like to know.

1. The demonstration that the Goldberg Variations are really supposed to be boring and soporific as their main effect, and not enjoyable?

2. The demonstration that Uri's Doktorvater and other eminent musicologists really are not smart enough and well-informed enough to think like the author, such that their published work needs to be overruled and corrected in a public forum?

3. The demonstration that people who don't play the Goldberg Variations know them better than those who do?

4. That it's better to study the writings of musicologists (but, selectively, only those who say the things that one has already decided are true!) than to study the music directly, to find out what it's about and how it works?

5. Something else?

6. All the above?

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 25, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>As for the rest of the stuff at: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/15315
what is the intended point of it? I'd really like to know.
1. The demonstration that the Goldberg Variations are really supposed to be boring and soporific as their main effect, and not enjoyable?<<
Forkel stated: "Bach thought he could fulfill this {the count's} wish best of all by means of variations, the composing of which he had considered to be a thankless undertaking because of the basic harmonies which were repeated over and over again." 'Boring' is an additional term not in the quoted text and is intended to twist the meaning of Forkel's statement. This is a technique frequently used by musicologists to sway the casual reader from making up his/her mind independently.

>>2. The demonstration that Uri's Doktorvater and other eminent musicologists really are not smart enough and well-informed enough to think like the author, such that their published work needs to be overruled and corrected in a public forum?<<
Uri's Doktorvater presumably does not have original sources to prove his statement [Wolff's evidence is quite convincing that Butt was incorrect in his assertion] and hence he owes Bach an apology for even implying in print that Bach could neven play his own Goldberg Variations in the last few years of his life. If both scrutinizing carefully and doubting the veracity of Forkel's statement are what some Bach scholars are currently involved in, why should not the tables be turned upon them as well when such unfounded statements are presented as accurate knowledge offered by experts?

>>3. The demonstration that people who don't play the Goldberg Variations know them better than those who do?<<
An interesting insinuation directed at whom? David Schulenberg, whose recently supplied quotation is not taken at face value by questioner?

>>4. That it's better to study the writings of musicologists (but, selectively, only those who say the things that one has already decided are true!) than to study the music directly, to find out what it's about and how it works?<<
So now the efforts of eminent musicologists are all for naught and only empirical study can reveal everything that is in the music? A rather lop-sided view!

>>5. Something else?<<
How is it possible for a musician with degrees in performance and musicology not to be able to stay focused on a specific question but instead dodge skillfully and deceptively the crucial questions that are asked and under discussion, while leading away more and more from the initial point which demands some kind of resolution, if such a thing is possible?

>>6. All the above?<<
Possibly. The Goldberg Variations are not boring, but potentially soporific as per the original intention of this composition according to Forkel.

The published works of musicologists are constantly being overruled and corrected in the public forum. What is the purpose otherwise of all the journals and magazines devoted to various aspects of music and published materials?

There is a daughter of a list member who can tell which recording of the Goldberg Variations is better than another. She does this without knowing how to play them, so she must know them better than the keyboard artists who recorded them.

There are many artists with hands-on experience who never make it past the level of mere mediocrity. Perhaps by reading/studying what others have found, they might have made it to the next higher level of understanding and proficiency.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (September 25, 2004):
Thomas Braatz writes:
"There is a daughter of a list member who can tell which recording of the Goldberg Variations is better than another. She does this without knowing how to play them, so she must know them better than the keyboard artists who recorded them."
What on earth does this mean?

Leila Batarseh wrote (September 25, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] I think that he's referring to a previous message in which Brad said: "I was doing some comparative listening last night with Bach's Fantasia BWV 922 played by Hill, then Staier, then Wuyts. During the Wuyts my toddler said, "Music OFF, Daddy!!" Yeah, she's right, the Staier and Hill perfs are more fun to listen to. And Verlet's, in meantone, is extreme."

Gabriel Jackson wrote (September 25, 2004):
[To Leila Batarseh] Oh, I see. The usual snide insinuations then.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 25, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< There are many artists with hands-on experience who never make it past the level of mere mediocrity. Perhaps by reading/studying what others have found, they might have made it to the next higher level of understanding and proficiency. >
Any specific examples in mind? Name names!

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 25, 2004):
Jarrett's Goldbergs, et al

[To Gabriel Jackson] Let's turn this discussion to a positive note, because it raises an interesting hypothetical situation in the answering of Mr Braatz' own question. Consider:

1. My toddler has already heard more live performances, and more different recordings, of the Goldbergs than most people hear in an entire lifetime. She has also taken harpsichord lessons with an accredited expert of the instrument, and demonstrates a sensitive touch of it herself. And she's good at expressing, forthrightly, what she likes and dislikes; no "beating around the bush" with pseudo-intellectual couching of opinions. Her reactions to music are, for the most part, tapped directly into her experience of joy. A natural thing to do around the house and in the car is listen to Bach's music, almost every day, played live and in recordings; that's normal life, to her. And she sings herself to sleep every night, enthusiastically and with a good sense of pitch.

2. Mr Braatz (to choose a concrete and contrasting example) criticizes and "corrects" intellectual points of academic musicologists weekly, but hasn't yet produced proof that he's ever gone through any formal study in that field. He just knows better than the experts do how they should have executed their tasks better. If he's ever taken a harpsichord lesson with an accredited teacher, he's never admitted it. And, instead of insulting people directly when he dislikes something, he couches it in general constructions that rarely stand up to further questioning for evidence. His reactions to music are, apparently, tapped into his experience of righteousness. I don't know if he sings or not. I don't recall that he's ever written about a preference for any recording of the Goldbergs, but has merely told us how they "should" sound according to his self-guided reading of books he's purchased. Sounds like armchair quarterbacking to me.

Which of these two individuals is better placed to express opinions about the quality of Goldberg Variations performances, and the way the music comes across effectively? (Indeed, Mr Braatz is the one who raised that question himself, in the insinuations as quoted above! So, let's try to answer it.)

This morning my toddler was dancing and playing happily to Keith Jarrett's recording, after listening to some Art Tatum improvisations during breakfast: fine artists who understand/stood that music is PLAY. And she seems to realize that life is about having a nice time, playing with music, climbing on things, kicking the soccer ball, finding fun connections, expressing opinions directly to get needs met, thinking creatively, playing nicely with other people, finding joy wherever it may be. I think that says something. Frankly, I take as much guidance from her as she takes from me. She knows what stuff is really important.

 

Goldberg questions

Douglas SA wrote (September 25, 2004):
I'm afraid that I can't understand all of the questions that have been posed about the Goldbergs and their interpretation - perhaps most of them are rhetorical.

But I will venture answers to two of them:

1) Could a blind harpsichordist play the Goldbergs?
Being an organist seems to have been a standard profession for the blind - in the 18th century and in recent times as well. By which I mean, blind people who happened to have outstanding musical talent have frequently become organists. I once attended a masterclass given by the French blind organist, Andre Marchal, in the USA; the instrument was unfamiliar to him but he very quickly learned what stops it had and even where they all were - it was astonishing how he not only played from memory, starting at relevant moments in the middle of pieces he was teaching, but also the way he reached out and changed the registration himself (that is, pulled out or pushed in individual stops).

There is a blind harpsichordist in London who occasionally gives recitals. His name is John Henry and I am fairly sure that the Goldbergs are in his repertoire. There is also a blind organist who concertizes here.

However, whether a musician who became blind in the last years of his life could adjust sufficiently to play very demanding music (especially with hand-crossing as in the Goldbergs) is another question. Here too there is a precedent - Ralph Kirkpatrick became blind at an advanced age and I believe he still gave harpsichord recitals, but I don't have first-hand knowledge of them.

Bach was obviously a virtuoso and perhaps he adjusted very quickly to his blindness in terms of his keyboard skill. But perhaps he didn't.

2) Could a 14-year-old master the technical challenges of the Goldbergs?
As a harpsichordist, I would say yes - there are some very gifted individuals whose technique is impeccable even in their teens. I first met Pierre Hantaï when he was 17, but he certainly could play all the harpsichord repertoire then and I got the impression that he had been playing it for some years.

Donald Satz wrote (September 25, 2004):
[To Donald SA] Previously, I asked Thomas what was the point of the quotations he provided - his answer was simply to spit out more quotations. This habit of his is quite unresponsive.

I'll ask again. What is your impression of how the Goldbergs should be played, and what recording best represents your view?

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 26, 2004):
Donald Satz wrote:
>>Previously, I asked Thomas what was the point of the quotations he provided - his answer was simply to spit out more quotations. This habit of his is quite unresponsive.
I'll ask again. What is your impression of how the Goldbergs should be played, and what recording best represents your view?<<
Don, I remember vaguely having attempted to answer a similar question on this list some time ago. My answer must have been something to this effect:

1.) I have only a few recordings of the Goldbergs on CD, which, as I perceive from reading the postings here, are not necessarily representative of ‘what is currently out there.’ Those few which I did purchase were not necessarily the result of wise, informed decisions on my part, but were acquired through special sales, gifts (someone did not want to keep a copy and decided I might want to have it) and random choices. The only version that I purchased because I wanted it was one by Wanda Landowska. I had grown up with it in the original, fairly heavy set of 78 rpm records which I had at first checked out of the local library and later purchased for my own use. I still like what she does with the music just as when I first heard it on CD, but somehow my memory of her performance on the old 78s was even more evocative and moving. Whether this was because it was the only recording of it that I had heard for many years while I was still young or because it formed a very positive listening experience that was never compared to any other performances of the Goldbergs (except for my own playing of them on my harpsichord), I am unable to judge.

2.) Unlike my commentaries on the various recordings of the cantatas, commentaries based upon a very good selection of recordings taken from all the available complete cantata series and a number of additional selections from truly representative recordings from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, any commentary by me on the Goldbergs, or any other keyboard or instrumental works by Bach, would, from necessity, not constitute a fair appraisal of the variety of performances which is ‘really out there.’ I would rather defer to others such as you, Don, who have invested time and money to get below the surface aspects of Bach’s instrumental works by assembling an extensive collection of recordings for valid comparison. In the back of my mind are some of your reviews which have made an impression on me because they give evidence of thoughtful, careful listening and comparison, based upon a large representative sample of available recordings.. When and if I decide to purchase a particular instrumental work by Bach, I can always go to Aryeh’s site and read your reviews along with others that have been preserved there.

3.) Regarding how I feel the Goldbergs should be played, my personal preference would not favor a style of performance that is asynchronous, imprecise, frequently staggered, with exaggerated dynamics and tempo modifications, overly strong accentuation of some notes along with deliberate shortening of the weaker notes; in short, the type of bravura performance which is splashy and intended to ‘knock you over’ the first time you hear it because it appears to be so different from what a novice listener would otherwise expect.. I would rather hear performances that can incorporate all these expressive devices with a much greater subtlety and finesse of such a type that it does not necessarily reveal itself completely upon first hearing. It will ‘grow on the listener’ over time. I do not want to hear obvious attempts at creating the fleeting impression that the performer has learned all these expressive techniques in order to draw attention to them during a performance. Expressive power
must create a more intimate connection with the listener and it derives from the performer communing with the composer’s music on a higher, spiritual level. It is best if the performer is oblivious of the real audience and does not resort to technical (‘expressive’) trickery to gain the attention of the listener or to attract a prospective buyer. The performer must of necessity pay due attention to delineating aspects of form while at the same time maintaining subtlety of expression; thus form and content are in an ideal balance with each other.

4). Ideally the performer should also take into account what is known about the composition (in this case, its intended purpose, the additional canons in Bach's "Handexemplar", etc.) Simply contemplating this material while preparing and performing the Goldbergs should help to 'reign in' the tendency toward some of the overly excessive recordings that have been issued as of late.

Donald Satz wrote (September 26, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Tom, thank you. Could you cite a particular recorded performance you feel tends to be exaggerated?

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 26, 2004):
Donald Satz wrote:
>>Could you cite a particular recorded performance you feel tends to be exaggerated?<<
No, because I do not own such recordings of the Goldbergs; but take, for example, an Andrew Manze recording, which I do not own, but sometimes hear on the radio. There you will hear the sort of thing that I am referring to applied to violin playing supposedly of the historically-informed-performance-practice type as Bach would have used in playing the violin himself. Think also of Harnoncourt’s approach to the Bach cantatas, but now applied only to a keyboard instrument. If the techniques and excesses of expressive devices of these analogous recordings were applied to the Goldbergs, then you would know what I am referring to in this instance.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 27, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< 3.) Regarding how I feel the Goldbergs should be played, my personal preference would not favor a style of performance that is asynchronous, imprecise, frequently staggered, with exaggerated dynamics and tempo modifications, overly strong accentuation of some notes along with deliberate shortening of the weaker notes; in short, the type of bravura performance which is splashy and intended to ‘knock you over’ the first time you hear it because it appears to be so different from what a novice listener would otherwise expect.. I would rather hear performances that can incorporate all these expressive devices with a much greater subtlety and finesse of such a type that it does not necessarily reveal itself completely upon first hearing. It will ‘grow on the listener’ over time. I do not want to hear obvious attempts at creating the fleeting impression that the performer has learned all these expressive techniques in order to draw attention to them during a performance. Expressive power
must create a more intimate connection with the listener and it derives from the performer communing with the composer’s music on a higher, spiritual level. It is best if the performer is oblivious of the real audience and does not resort to technical (‘expressive’) trickery to gain the attention of the listener or to attract a prospective buyer. The performer must of necessity pay due attention to delineating aspects of form while at the same time maintaining subtlety of expression; thus form and content are in an ideal balance with each other. >

Tom: apart from your guesses at other people's musical and personal MOTIVATIONS in their performance(let's leave those aside, shall we, because their motivations and musical sensitivities are in their own realm and not yours to guess or judge...and let's also leave aside your personally accusative notion that brilliant performers DO NOT commune with the music on a higher spiritual level?), ...let's focus on the resulting sound of the performances, instead of accusing musicians of being splashy or dishonest or spiritually vacuous, or of making the music too immediately present and perceptible.

What if the musicians are primarily seeking to make the music CLEAR and enjoyable to all levels of listeners simultaneously (from novices to experts), from their deep spiritual and personal communion with it, to share their love of both its structure and its beautiful surface, rather than making any extreme or self-serving impression? What if it is has nothing to do whatsoever with depravity or excess, but if those are only your perceptions assigned (improperly) to other people's motivations, as projection? What if they really understand how to play their instruments very well, and the results are being misread by you as some moral failing on their part? But, let's set that aside for now and focus on the music.

....Anyway, according to this forthright description you've written of your personal preferences, it sounds as if you'd enjoy Charles Rosen's piano recording of the Goldbergs, and Christiane Jaccottet's on harpsichord. I
recommend those to you. Please pick those up sometime and then let us know if you enjoy them.

 

understanding the Goldbergs and understanding musicological work

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 27, 2004):
The anti-musicological bash was offered with [dis]respect to the Goldbergs:
http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/15319

My response to various points of it:
< Forkel stated: "Bach thought he could fulfill this {the count's} wish best of all by means of variations, the composing of which he had considered to be a thankless undertaking because of the basic harmonies which were repeated over and over again." 'Boring' is an additional term not in the quoted text and is intended to twist the meaning of Forkel's statement. This is a technique frequently used by musicologists to sway the casual reader from making up his/her mind independently. >
Scientists (including academic musicologists) have some crafty technique of deliberately misleading the clueless, to try to fool the unwary "casual reader" into believing things that are definitely not so? Really? What
evidence is there for such an assertion? Pretty serious charge there! Let's see some evidence, please.

Besides, casual readers who "make up their minds independently" would be open to learning things only if they approach topics allowing for the possibility that experts do know what they're talking about. The encounter with expertise should spark further exploration, not merely a dismissal that expertise itself is worthless or dishonest.

< Uri's Doktorvater presumably does not have original sources to prove his statement [Wolff's evidence is quite convincing that Butt was incorrect in his assertion] and hence he owes Bach an apology for even implying in print that Bach could not even play his own Goldberg Variations in the last few years of his life. If both scrutinizing carefully and doubting the veracity of Forkel's statement are what some Bach scholars are currently involved in, why should not the tables be turned upon them as well when such unfounded statements are presented as accurate knowledge offered by experts? >
Who's qualified to do such table-turning there? Amateurs asserting that they like one expert better than another? Judged by what criterion?

Incidentally, John Butt wrote an incisive review of Wolff's book, offering cogent criticisms of it. That was in The New Republic, July 10, 2000 (which see). What's the point of trying to bash Dr Butt over the head with a book he's already given a published review? His published words speak for themselves, in that matter. How is the amateur well placed to decide that the book offers a better understanding of the material?

Is the primary worth of published material its ability to convince AMATEURS and CASUAL READERS? Or its ability to convince more deeply knowledgeable people who are already able to wrestle with the material and check it out?

>>3. The demonstration that people who don't play the Goldberg Variations know them better than those who do?<<
< An interesting insinuation directed at whom? David Schulenberg, whose recently supplied quotation is not taken at face value by questioner? >
David Schulenberg is a professional harpsichordist. So am I. So are some other people. Isn't it reasonable to grant that we know some things about the piece that non-players would not know, not experiencing the music
through their fingers, and not knowing how to play the instrument for which it was written?

I'm not the one asserting that non-players of the Goldberg Variations--such as our Mr Braatz--know it better. He (Braatz) is the one trying to deploy harpsichordists' opinions against one another in debate of the piece's alleged purpose, as some sort of weird power play where we're merely reduced to his pawns (or Harpsichordist Action Figures forced into fictitious dialogue one with another). I'm curious about the motivation of that technique. What's his point?

>>4. That it's better to study the writings of musicologists (but, selectively, only those who say the things that one has already decided are true!) than to study the music directly, to find out what it's about and how it works?<<
< So now the efforts of eminent musicologists are all for naught and only empirical study can reveal everything that is in the music? A rather lop-sided view! >
Yeah, that would be lopsided. Who believes it? I don't.

>>5. Something else?<<
< How is it possible for a musician with degrees in performance and musicology not to be able to stay focused on a specific question but instead dodge skillfully and deceptively the crucial questions that are asked and under discussion, while leading away more and more from the initial point which demands some kind of resolution, if such a thing is possible? >

Again this allegation that those of us who are expected to answer questions are somehow deliberately deceptive about it. Why such an assumption? Isn't it possible that the questions themselves are so misleading or inchoate that no reasonable answers exist? The allegation that the Goldberg Variations are supposed to be "soporific" is, IMO, such a misleading and inchoate question. If Bach had intended to write truly soporific music, why would he have invested every moment of it with delightful bits of counterpoint, rhythmic interest, and melodic felicity? Was he that much a failure as a composer, being unable to write music that's soporific enough for such an intended purpose? And then having the chutzpah to publish the book at his own expense, too? The question is far-fetched enough already.

And who's "demanding some kind of resolution", anyway? I've made my peace with the Goldberg Variations. I enjoy playing them and studying them, learning more each time I encounter them. I've done so for more than half my life, including public performances of the whole set straight through. What's this "resolution" that needs to happen with them, allegedly? I'm quite comfortable in my belief that they're not supposed to be merely soporific. If I'm supposed to start believing otherwise, I'll need to see some plausible proof. I'm not the one who has raised weird allegations about the purpose of the piece.

>>6. All the above?<<
< Possibly. The Goldberg Variations are not boring, but potentially soporific as per the original intention of this composition according to Forkel. >

That hasn't been demonstrated. Charles Francis (not a musicologist) alleged that they're supposed to be soporific, and he made an oblique reference Forkel upon whom he blamed that opinion; but he has not
demonstrated any credible connection. Nor has Thomas Braatz (also not a musicologist) demonstrated any conclusive plausibility. If we are to believe that Bach's primary intention was to put people to sleep through
the playing of this music, let's see some logical corroboration, not unscientific guesswork about the material based on vague memories of reading Forkel. Forkel's own words, taken at face value (where he's very enthusiastic about the piece; read the whole chapter!) don't give the impression that Bach intended the piece to be soporific. It's only a strange twisting of the material that would make it appear so.

And more directly, according to the title page of Bach's publication of this set of variations, it's "Composed for Music Lovers, to Refresh their Spirits". Nothing there about intentionally inducing them to nod off. I believe Bach, far ahead of believing Mr Braatz or Mr Francis that they know better how it should go. And I've been playing these variations here with my harpsichord tuned Bach's way; they're not soporific at all. They're
brilliant, bright, and lively, due in part to the selection of G major which has such a character. I believe what I'm hearing from my harpsichord ahead of believing any allegations that the piece is supposed to be soporific.

< The published works of musicologists are constantly being overruled and corrected in the public forum. What is the purpose otherwise of all the journals and magazines devoted to various aspects of music and published materials? >
I can think of some other purposes of professional journals, beyond that: more useful and respectable purposes than the furthering of dogfights.

What is the purpose of people who have never READ the professional journals (or, at least, who do not cite anything from them) proposing to dismiss them in such a manner? Ever studied an article from The Musical Times or The Musical Quarterly or Bach-Jahrbuch? Those (among others) are good places to read about recent findings in musicological topics.

The point of published articles is to provide new information in scientifically plausible presentations, not to attack other musicologists! And, if corrections to earlier material are offered within such articles, it's corrections coming from other qualified experts. It's courteous factual corrections of faulty work, not _ad hominem_ bashes of other people's personalities, which would prove nothing. And it's certainly not merely a bunch of pseudo-corrections made up by amateurs who simply didn't like or couldn't understand the earlier findings.

< There is a daughter of a list member who can tell which recording of the Goldberg Variations is better than another. She does this without knowing how to play them, so she must know them better than the keyboard artists who recorded them.
There are many artists with hands-on experience who never make it past the level of mere mediocrity. Perhaps by reading/studying what others have found, they might have made it to the next higher level of understanding and proficiency. >

We still haven't heard who this might be, in particular, but merely some allegations without evidence to back them up. Apparently it was polemical fluff and no serious assessment of anyone's work.

And, what's this alleged "next higher level of understanding and proficiency"? How, specifically, might it be attained? Wouldn't the ability to play a piece be a FIRST necessary step toward enlightenment about it? Why, then, are those who don't play it proposing to lecture and "correct" those of us who do, about how it should go? Beyond merely being argumentative, that is. It all looks to me like polemical fluff to try to dismiss the value of real expertise.

=====

To sum up: at the very least, I recommend the reading of John Butt's review of Wolff's book. The exercise itself of obtaining the review through a library will be worth something, as will the example of reading a well-written journal article, in addition to any particular insights into Bach's music gleaned from the review. Enjoy!

Donald Satz wrote (September 27, 2004):
[To Bradley Lerhman] I don't believe one has to be a music expert to realize that Bach had no 'soporific' intent when writing the work. One merely has to listen to it, the bevy of exuberant variaitons that might be a call to wake up and start using energy, but certainly not a call to snooze. This 'soporific' notion is absurd.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 27, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] Well said, Don! I wish I'd been that succinct.....

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 28, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
Donald Satz wrote:
>>I don't believe one has to be a music expert to realize that Bach had no 'soporific' intent when writing the work. One merely has to listen to it, the bevy of exuberant variaitons that might be a call to wake up and start using energy, but certainly not a call to snooze. This 'soporific' notion is absurd.<<
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Well said, Don! I wish I'd been that succinct.....<<
All of this discussion began with message 15270

A response to Don Satz’ statement:
>>Just for clarification, "recent Barenboim endeavor" applies to his WTC Book I. His Goldbergs is from quite a few years ago.<<
To which Brad Lehman replied:
>>And soporific. Save your louis d'or to get something else. Like the ECM Schiff and the Dershavina.<<
To which Charles Francis replied:
>>But "soporific" was the wanted affekt (see Forkel for details).<<
To which Brad Lehman replied:
>>I did see Forkel for details. Forkel disagrees with your assertion.
According to Forkel, the legend is: "The Count was often sickly, and then had sleepless nights. At these times Goldberg, who lived in the house with him, had to pass the night in an adjoining toom to play something to him when he could not sleep. The Count once said to Bach that he should like to have some clavier pieces for his Goldberg, which should be of such a soft and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights." [New Bach Reader, p464]
Cheered up. Not put to sleep through ennui. For whatever Forkel's legend is worth, let's at least be fair to him and report it accurately instead of making up stuff.<<
In message 15277, I responded in detail with a clarification of the translation of the key words in this passage: ‘sanft,’ ‘munter,’ and ‘etwas aufgeheitert.’ More importantly, I included the continuation of the quoted passage, which was cleverly (dishonestly?) omitted because it did not serve any purpose in countering the notion that the Goldbergs were indeed originally intended to be soporific if any credence at all can be given to Forkel’s account.

I will call attention to this missing sentence one last time, this time using the translation given in “The New Bach Reader” [David & Mendel, revised and expanded by Christoph Wolff, Norton, 1998, pp. 464-5]: “Bach thought he could best fulfill this wish [of the count's] by variations, which, on account of the constant sameness of the fundamental harmony, he had hitherto considered as an ungrateful task.” What follows this is the mentioning of the reward/present that the count made to Bach in return for the variations, which the count referred to as ‘his’ variations: a golden goblet filled with a hundred Louis d’ors.

Let’s concentrate on the phrase: ‘on account of the constant sameness of the fundamental harmony.’ Compare this with a citation from the OED explaining the various uses and meanings of ‘soporific’ and we find there: “Too much of one sort [of thing] would be soporific” [Byron, ‘Juan’ VIII, lxxxix.] This is essentially what Bach, according to Forkel, had in mind as the best manner in which to fulfill his musical goal while heeding the count’s wishes: almost like counting sheep (every animal is of the same type yet each one is an individual), the variations suited Bach’s intention best, even though he did not at first relish the notion of composing any more variations [he had avoided composing sets of keyboard variations for decades after abandoning this form early on.]

-----

John Butt? Until anyone, including John Butt, gives evidence that "Bach was unable to play the Goldbergs during the last few years of his life," Butt's statement remains a degradation, a dishonoring of Bach's musical abilities. Such a remark is unworthy of anyone claiming to be a Bach scholar (or of those who deign to defend such a remark by pointing to other things that Butt has written.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 28, 2004):
< I will call attention to this missing sentence one last time, this time using the translation given in "The New Bach Reader" [David & Mendel, revised and expanded by Christoph Wolff, Norton, 1998, pp. 464-5]: "Bach thought he could best fulfill this wish [of the count's] by variations, which, on account of the constant sameness of the fundamental harmony, he had hitherto considered as an ungrateful task." What follows this is the mentioning of the reward/present that the count made to Bach in return for the variations, which the count referred to as 'his' variations: a golden goblet filled with a hundred Louis d'ors.
Let's concentrate on the phrase: 'on account of the constant sameness of the fundamental harmony.' Compare this with a citation from the OED explaining the various uses and meanings of 'soporific' and we find there: "Too much of one sort [of thing] would be soporific" [Byron, 'Juan' VIII, lxxxix.] This is essentially what Bach, according to Forkel, had in mind as the best manner in which to fulfill his musical goal while heeding the count's wishes: almost like counting sheep (every animal is of the same type yet each one is an individual), the variations suited Bach's intention best, even though he did not at first relish the notion of composing any more variations [he had avoided composing sets of keyboard variations for decades after abandoning this form early on.] >
By that "missing" sentence which has been given all-important status here, it appears that Bach's goal was to OVERCOME any soporific sameness which might otherwise be found in a variation form. If the piece turns out
"soporific" in any way, that would mean that Bach has failed his appointed task...even though he chose to publish this piece at his own expense as a supreme example of his art.

I still think it's pretty odd for anyone to assert that a soporific effect would be Bach's primary goal here, considered against this piece of evidence. Still less, to try to use this "missing" sentence as serious (or only) proof of it. If Bach considered variation form an "ungrateful" task (arguably) yet he set out to write a brilliant set of variations anyway (does anybody dispute THAT?), that argues that he took the challenge head-on with a stubborn resolve instead of succumbing to it as a victim.

Besides, it's hard to see how anyone could even try to fall asleep during variations 14, 17, 20, 23, 28, or 29, no matter how badly they're played. That musical content is even stronger and more direct evidence than Forkel's assertions (long after Bach's death) are. Face it: Bach knew how to write lullaby music. (See, for example, the Christmas Oratorio's (BWV 248) "Schlafe, mein Liebster", or the "Schlummert ein" aria brought from cantata BWV 82 back into Anna Magdalena's book.) The "Goldberg" Variations aren't lullaby music.

p.s. I think the part about the sheep is a bit of a stretch. Probably should have been shorn from the presentation.

Leila Batarseh wrote (September 28, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< By that "missing" sentence which has been given all-important status here, it appears that Bach's goal was to OVERCOME any soporific sameness which might otherwise be found in a variation form. If the piece turns out "soporific" in any way, that would mean that Bach has failed his appointed task...even though he chose to publish this piece at his own expense as a supreme example of his art. >
Okay, but why choose the variation form in the first place, and be forced to overcome anything? Why do you think Bach might have "thought he could best fulfill this wish [of the count's] by variations", if he didn't want to put the count to sleep by using a soporific form? (Not that I myself think it was Bach's intention to create a soporific effect, it just seems to me that this is a question that could fairly be asked by someone who disagreed with you, given what you've said so far, and I'm wondering what your answer would be.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 28, 2004):
Leila Batarseh wrote:
< Okay, but why choose the variation form in the first place, and be forced to overcome anything? Why do you think Bach might have "thought he could best fulfill this wish [of the count's] by variations", if he didn't want to put the count to sleep by using a soporific form? >

First, let's be clear: those words telling us what Bach allegedly must have been thinking were put there by Forkel, published 52 years after Bach's death, and 60 years after the publication of these variations.

Let's also be clear: Thomas Braatz is the one who asserted that THIS part:
>>"Bach thought he could best fulfill this wish [of the count's] by variations, which, on account of the constant sameness of the fundamental harmony, he had hitherto considered as an ungrateful task."<<
...is more important than THIS part:
>>"The Count was often sickly, and then had sleepless nights. At these times Goldberg, who lived in the house with him, had to pass the night in an adjoining room to play something to him when he could not sleep. The Count once said to Bach that he should like to have some clavier pieces for his Goldberg, which should be of such a soft and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights."<<

Mr Braatz is also the one who pulled out a trick he's used before, which is to try to RE-translate the passage (overruling Mendel, Wolff, et al) to give it whatever spin he wants, explaining for us what sanft and munter
and other words must have meant, as if these scholars have been too ignorant to get it right for publication. But, let's set that aside for now. The focus here should be on Bach's music, not on Mr Braatz and his personal motivations to sandblast the work of musicologists, through his argumentativeness.

=====

Let's see the whole passage here, so nobody is accused of leaving something out that might be important. This is from pp464-5 of the New Bach Reader, Forkel's 1802 biography of Bach. Forkel is giving a survey of Bach's
compositions, starting with the published (engraved) works.

"(5) Clavieruebung, or Exercise for the Clavier; consisting of an Air, with several variations, for the Harpsichord, with two rows of keys. Published by Balthasar Schmid at Nuremberg.
"This admirable work consists of 30 variations, in which there are canons in all intervals and motions, from the unison to the ninth, with the most easy and flowing melody. There is also a regular four-part fugue and,
besides many other extremely brilliant variations for two keyboards, at last, a quodlibet, as it is called, which might alone render its author immortal though it is far from being here the best part.
"For this model, according to which all variations should be made, though, for reasons easily understood, not a single one has been made after it, we are indebted to Count Kaiserling, formerly Russian Ambassador at the Court of the Elector of Saxony, who frequently resided in Leipzig, and brought with him Goldberg, who has been mentioned above, to have him instructed by Bach in music. The Count was often sickly, and then had sleepless nights. At these times Goldberg, who lived in the house with him, had to pass the night in an adjoining room to play something to him when he could not sleep. The Count once said to Bach that he should like to have some clavier pieces for his Goldberg, which should be of such a soft and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights. Bach thought he could best fulfill this wish by variations, which, on account of the constantsameness of the fundamental harmony, he had hitherto considered as an ungrateful task. But as at this time all his works were models of art, these variations also became such under his hand. This is, indeed, the only model of the kind that he has left us. The Count thereafter called them nothing but his variations. He was never weary of hearing them; and for a long time, when the sleepless nights
came, he used to say, 'Dear Goldberg, do play me one of my variations.' Bach was, perhaps, never so well rewarded for any work such as this: the Count made him a present of a golden goblet, filled with a hundred Louis d'ors. But their worth as a work of art would not have been paid if the present had been a thousand times as great. It must be observed that, in the engraved copies of these variations, there are some important errata, which the author has carefully corrected in his copy."

=====

OK, several things about that:

- Forkel's enthusiasm, and his representation of Bach as an all-conquering superhero, is obvious. He gushes about Bach's greatness, even when that causes him to make statements that are not quite true. One sentence in
particular is silly: "This is, indeed, the only model of the kind that he has left us." Hello, Aria variata (BWV 989) from 1710 give or take a few years? Hello, the various sets of variations ("partitas") on chorales, for
organ, also from his early years? Hello, passacaglias and chaconnes? Hello, Canonic Variations with which Bach entered the Mizler society (BWV 769)? Hello, Art of Fugue (the complete workout of a melodic subject, rather than harmonic pattern)? Hello, Musical Offering? Bach was no stranger to variation forms.

- Forkel himself pointed out here that there are "extremely brilliant" variations [none of which could have anything to do with putting anybody to sleep]. As I mentioned yesterday, these include (at least) variations 14,
17, 20, 23, 28, and 29. Especially on the harpsichord (as opposed to the modern piano, an instrument Bach did not write for) these variations are bright and sparkling; there's really no way around that, even if one would
TRY to use them to put someone to sleep by playing slowly or monotonously. The idea is absurd.

- Forkel pointed out here that excerpts could be played. Fine. It's conceivable that one or several variations could be pulled out separately and used as lullabies. I've even done so myself on occasion, either to relax by myself or to play for family and friends. But, that's not the question here under scrutiny. The allegation being discussed was that the whole piece is supposedly intended to be soporific. That's folly.

- As I pointed out yesterday, the title page itself has a dedication:
"Composed for Music Lovers, to Refresh their Spirits". (See page 215 in the NBR.) That, and the character of the music in the book, argues that the whole thing's not merely a schmoozy easy-listening collection to put
people to sleep. It also argues that the origin with a Russian ambassador might not even be true, but merely a later fabrication by the myth-makers (including Forkel). The title page says nothing about student Goldberg or
about any foreign ambassador or any late-night tinkly bits heard from another room, through a wall, as background to induce slumber. It's music for music lovers to play through themselves, and enjoy.

< (Not that I myself think it was Bach's intention to create a soporific effect, it just seems to me that this is a question that could fairly be asked by someone who disagreed with you, given what you've said so far, and I'm wondering what your answer would be.) >
Fair enough. Now, to answer the question above more directly. The question was:
>>Okay, but why choose the variation form in the first place, and be forced to overcome anything? Why do you think Bach might have "thought he could best fulfill this wish [of the count's] by variations", if he didn't want to put the count to sleep by using a soporific form?<<

I believe that Bach chose variation forms (not only here, but especially also in other works of his last ten years as noted above) because they allow the exploration of many facets of the same thing. A harmonic pattern or a melody or whatever germ of an idea gets worked out thoroughly, viewed from many angles, to show the richness of the material and the inventiveness of the creator. This has ZERO to do with any alleged intentions of creating soporific music.

As I said yesterday: if the results are in any way soporific (and I'm not saying they are!), it would mean that he's failed his task of providing enough variety and invention to be continuously interesting. The point of the variation form is to provide variation. Not sameness. The sameness is only the architecture to hold the whole thing together. The variation is in all the detail, the brilliant surface.

And as I've asked before: why would a composer as brilliant as Bach choose to write deliberately soporific music, and then publish it at his own expense (which also takes a huge amount of work, as it still does today) as
a paragon of his art? Such a motive makes no sense.

The premise itself (that the primary purpose of that music is to be soporific) is absurd. Personally, I think the premise itself was put up there by Charles Francis merely to heckle what I had written about Daniel Barenboim's recording (my single line of remark that I didn't fancy the performance), and to try to trump me with Forkel (as if the mere mention of Forkel would show me to be ignorant in some way?). Whatever his motivations, haven't we covered this topic more than thoroughly enough already?

And as for Thomas Braatz' motivations to pursue this topic and push the premise far beyond reasonable credibility, which ALSO looks to me like merely an attempt to pique me personally and negate whatever musical/historical observations I might put up, let's let this silly topic come to rest, shall we? As Dr Pike remarked several days ago already, this discussion itself is more soporific than the music is.

John Pike wrote (September 28, 2004):
[To John Pike] Absolutely.

I wish we could get away from all the bashing of top professionals offering their interpretation of these glorious works. By all means say you do or don't like a particular interpretation but end it there. Much of the the rest of the thread has been extremely irritating, with further attempts to discredit professionals and experts.
I particularly enjoyed Brad's account of the joy his young daughter got from listening to various lively interpretations. I think there is much to be said for very young childrens' ability to discern various qualities in performance. They react in an instinctive way, free of all the trash that so often comes into the work of professional critics.

John Pike wrote (September 28, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Big yawn

John Pike wrote (September 28, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Spot on.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 29, 2004):
Brad;ey Lehman wrote:
>>The premise itself (that the primary purpose of that music is to be soporific) is absurd. Personally, I think the premise itself was put up there by Charles Francis merely to heckle what I had written about Daniel Barenboim's recording (my single line of remark that I didn't fancy the performance), and to try to trump me with Forkel (as if the mere mention of Forkel would show me to be ignorant in some way?). Whatever his motivations, haven't we covered this topic more than thoroughly enough
already?
And as for Thomas Braatz' motivations to pursue this topic and push the premise far beyond reasonable credibility, which ALSO looks to me like merely an attempt to pique me personally and negate whatever musical/historical observations I might put up, let's let this silly topic come to rest, shall we? As Dr Pike remarked several days ago already, this discussion itself is more soporific than the music is.<<
The premise is not absurd when simply based upon the subjective viewpoint of individuals who deliberately dismiss Forkel’s account or modify it by construing his German to suit their own prejudices.

It is absolutely necessary to negate and correct the inaccurate m/historical observations advanced by degreed musicologists who would rather conflate historical sequences to make them appear to defend their notions about the ‘Goldbergs’ as a whole rather than to observe and report accurately what, according to Forkel, actually transpired when these variations were first commissioned. They hope that no one will notice the conflation with which they hope to dispel any notion whatsoever that the ‘Goldbergs,’ or Bach’s original conception thereof, were ever, in any way, intended or played in such a manner to induce sleep in order to relieve the count’s insomnia.

What is ‘conflation?’ ‘Conflation’ means “the blending together of different things as a whole or the result of such a composition.” Bach’s music offers good examples of this, but when anyone takes something that is black, mixes it with something white and then states to the observer that what is seen is all white with no visible trace of black anywhere, then such a conflation has resulted, one which does not represent reality, but only the subjective viewpoint of the ‘conflator’ who deliberately overlooks that is really there, only to focus upon what is desired to be seen.

As already pointed out previously in regard to Forkel’s account of the origin of the ‘Goldbergs’ :

First the informal commission (what the count desired) of the ‘Goldbergs’ is discussed:

Einst äusserte der Graf gegen Bach, dass er gern einige Clavierstücke für seinen Goldberg haben möchte, die so sanften und etwas muntern Charakters wären, daß er dadurch in seinen schlaflosen Nächten ein wenig aufgeheitert werden könnte.“ [„Once the Count commented to Bach that he would like to have several keyboard pieces for [his!] Goldberg, such pieces/compositions which would be so soft/gentle and of a somewhat non-depressing (the opposite of weak or sick) character so that he might be freed from his gloomy/melancholy state during his sleepless nights.”]

The count hoped that with the help of Bach’s soft/gentle, non-depressing music, the black cloud of insomnia would be removed so that he might fall asleep blissfully.

This is followed by the all-important statement about Bach’s original intentions and how he hoped to solve the count’s problem with music. Bach believed that he had found the appropriate solution in the use of the variation form because of the repetitive nature of the basic harmonies involved:

Bach glaubte, diesen Wunsch am besten durch Variationen erfüllen zu können, die er bisher, der stets gleichen Grundharmonie wegen, für eine undankbare Arbeit gehalten hatte.“

[“Bach thought he could fulfill this wish best of all by means of variations, the composing of which he had considered to be a thankless undertaking because of the basic harmonies which were repeated over and over again.”]

From Johann Nikolaus Forkel, „Über Johann Sebastian Bachs Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke. Für patriotische Verehrer echter musikalischer Kunst,“ [Leipzig, 1802, pp. 51-2]

Bach, at first, did not look forward at all (composing variations was for him ‘a thankless undertaking’) to this formidable (‘unpleasant’ for Bach?) task.

All of the above is stage one of the conflation which seeks to recognize none of this as being applicable to the ‘Goldbergs’ as we know them today, or even to Forkel, as he viewed them after the fact of actual composition.

David Schulenberg’s statement [“Bach himself would have considered the question of cyclic form somewhat differently from many later composers [and probably many later performers as well!], as the work was presumably not intended for complete public performance. Few purchasers of the original print of the Goldberg Variations would have regarded it primarily as something to be used for playing through from cover to cover; Goldberg’s supposed performances for Keyserlingk would have ended as soon as the latter fell asleep.”] still reflects this proto-stage in the evolution of the ‘Goldbergs’ from its inception to at least a point a few decades later. It tells us how the ‘Goldbergs’ were played (usually not in their entirety.)

Stage two, historically, of the conflation centers upon and wishes to recognize only the final stage of the ‘Goldbergs’ history that begins after 1800 and continues until the present day. This stage wishes to see the ‘Goldbergs’ only as a bravura concert piece that is given only in its entirety with emphasis on its scintillating, technical, displays and wide range of expression with special emphasis on the excitingly loud aspects of variations 14, 17, 20, 23, 28, or 29.

Stage two, with its present-day emphasis, swallows up entirely the very early stages of composition and performance style. This second stage wishes to rewrite the early history of the ‘Goldbergs’ to make it fit the widely-held prejudices of the present. For musicologists, Forkel has become inconvenient and as a result mistranslations of his account are held up as just another way to prove his unreliability. These thoughtless mistranslations are then pointed to as ‘evidence’ and thus Forkel’s account can not be properly understood by those who can only rely on a single translation (New Bach Reader) that is transmitted from one English-speaking generation to another without the hope of any correction.

It would, however, be equally incorrect to interpret the above remarks to mean:

1. Bach did not waver from his initial plan and/or objective.

2. Bach succumbed to the worst aspects of the variation form: boring repetition.

3. Bach immediately envisioned using canons.

4. Bach immediately employed the Scarlatti-like techniques in his variations.

5. Bach knew that he was composing these variations primarily for Goldberg’s use and as keyboard instruction for a relatively small consumer group consisting of a few excellent musicians and possibly some amateurs as well.

6. Works such as BWV 769 Canonic Variation (1747); BWV 1079 Musical Offering (1747); BWV 1080 Art of the Fugue (1742-1749) were not influenced by a return on Bach’s part to the variation form in the ‘Goldbergs’ after a long hiatus in compositions of this type.

7. There is no place today for performances of the ‘Goldbergs’ in any manner other than that prescribed by Forkel’s account.

Let’s avoid the error of conflation and set the record straight. It is not absurd to maintain that the impetus for composing the ‘Goldbergs’ involved the somniferous effect that the repetitions contained in the variation form can have upon the listener. It would be absurd to maintain that, based upon Forkel’s account, Bach never intended the variation form to be conducive to inducing sleep in a suffering insomniac such as the count was.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 29, 2004):
< 7. There is no place today for performances of the 'Goldbergs' in any manner other than that prescribed by Forkel's account. >
Oh. OK then.

Leila Batarseh wrote (September 29, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad, thank you very much for taking the time to give this very comprehensive answer to what was basically an idle question! I just wanted to make sure I understood what you had been saying in bits and pieces in various messages. (And thanks for giving the whole Forkel passage, that was really helpful.) As I agree that this discussion has become interminable, I won't trouble you or the list with any more questions or comments. :~) I think I'll go listen to the Goldbergs instead.

 

the Goldbergs and insomnia & inner logic

Santu de Silva wrote (September 28, 2004):
I guess you have to be mildly insomniac to understand what is needed.

I'm occasionally afflicted by mild insomnia. Being the enlightened guy I am, I don't fight it; I read, or listen to the radio. Now we get to the meaning of the word "soporific". The word is used as if it has a universal absolute meaning, while I believe what it means differs according to the occasion and the person involved.

Sometimes you need quiet, soft music. I compiled a CD including Barber's "Adagio for Strings", Mahler's Adagio from the fifth symphony, the slow movement of the D minor two-violin concerto by Bach (1042, I
believe, or is it 1043?), the popular Vocalise by Rachmaninov, the Air onthe G String (or the Aria from Ouverture 3 for Orchestra), the slow movement from the Brahms violin concerto in D.

Of these, a few actually made the insomnia worse. The best, most calming ones, were those which had a significant degree of inner logic. "Inner logic" is equated with "predictability" by those who despise Baroque music. I think it is this inner logic that is so satisfying, especially when you want to have your thoughts stilled, or soothed, but not necessarily put to sleep. (The thought of actually seeking sleep keeps insomniacs awake at night; but oftentimes simply having your racing thoughts stilled gives you the rest you need. You don't actually
have to fall asleep to get a great degree of rest.)

Finally, the word "soporific" is loaded. It has negative connotations, and to us Bach lovers, it makes us bristle when it is used in conjuction with the work of the master. Indeed, many of us dislike to even think of Bach's music as even soothing. So that leaves us with the option of using words such as "tranquil", "peaceful", "transcendent". Whatever.

So, if I had to guess, a performance of the Goldbergs that brings out their inner logic, but played with quiet expressiveness would have suited the Count. But when Bach played them himself, in the Count's absence, he might well have played them quite differently; who can tell?

Uri Golomb wrote (September 28, 2004):
Arch's message: (http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/15376)
has some interesting points about this sleep-or-relaxation debate, and as someone who has also been afflicted by insomnia, I can relate to what he is saying.

< The best [pieces to hear on sleepless nights], most calming ones, were those which had a significant degree of inner logic. "Inner logic" is equated with "predictability" by those who despise Baroque music. I think it is this inner logic that is so satisfying, especially when you want to have your thoughts stilled, or soothed, but not necessarily put to sleep. (The thought of actually seeking sleep keeps insomniacs awake at night; but oftentimes simply having your racing thoughts stilled gives you the rest you need. You don't actually have to fall asleep to get a great degree of rest.) >
That rings true to my own experiences. My experience with the Goldberg's efficacy in this regard has been variable. Sometimes they seemed just right; other times, the faster, more virtuosic variations were simply too energetic to be soothing. The reaction coudl be different even if, on both nights, I used the same recording. My
most enjoyable experiences of listening to the Goldbergs, however, were not related to insomnia in any way.

< Finally, the word "soporific" is loaded. It has negative connotations, and to us Bach lovers, it makes us bristle when it is used in conjuction with the work of the master. Indeed, many of us dislike to even think of Bach's music as even soothing. So that leaves us with the option of using words such as "tranquil", "peaceful", "transcendent". Whatever. >
But then, there are works by Bach to which these adjectives seem more consistently appropriate than for the Goldbergs -- at least in some renditions (for example, The Art of Fugue in, say, Hexperion XX's or Fretwork's readings. This is not meant as a criticism -- the Hesperion reading is one of my favourite versions of this work).

< So, if I had to guess, a performance of the Goldbergs that brings out their inner logic, but played with quiet expressiveness would have suited the Count. >
Or he could have asked Goldberg to be selective in his choice of variations, and avoid those that are too energetic.

 

drifting OT: rescuing the Goldberg Variations from illogic

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 30, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< I am not suggesting that I doubt that Forkel got his information right when he listened to the accounts by W.F. and C.P.E. Bach. What I am saying is that, to me, it is immaterial. In fact, let us assume for the sake of the argument that Forkel is right and Bach did originally compose the Goldbergs clearly with the objective in mind to aid the count in falling asleep. Bach still had the skill, the genius, and the knowledge to compose a masterpiece that went far beyond its original intentions. >
The flaw of the argument here, of course, is that Forkel did NOT state that that was Bach's objective ("to aid the count in falling asleep"). That's been slipped in here sneakily. Forkel stated that the music was to cheer up the count on sleepless nights. That's not the same thing as aiding him in slumber.

Nobody is demonizing Forkel. Mr Braatz is misrepresenting him, however, by equating "Forkel is right" and "clearly with the objective in mind to aid the count in falling asleep". That's not in Forkel's text. Read Forkel's
account; it's right there on pages 417-482 of the New Bach Reader. The original German is available elsewhere. No amount of honest translation can put the above assertion into Forkel's mouth, for that passage of the text! The English translation is not the problem here. The problem is the insertion of Mr Braatz' OWN premises under the guise of representing Forkel objectively (and under the guise of telling us that we're supposedly not taking Forkel seriously enough!). Forkel has NOT stated, clearly or otherwise, that Bach's primary objective was to put the count to sleep. That's been put into Forkel's mouth.

=====

The logical parallel here is: "Let us assume for the sake of the argument that 0 = 1." Or, "Let us assume for the sake of the argument that Bach had thirteen fingers." But that can't be done. When something completely
implausible is taken as a premise, ANYTHING can follow. Start from such a premise, and ANYTHING can be derived. There's no way to determine if the conclusion is true or not, sufficiently from the presentation of the
argument. It might be, or it might not be. That's why it (starting a syllogism with an implausible premise) is disallowed from formal logic.

Here's a fun little tool to demonstrate that: http://www.duniho.com/fergus/sillysyllogisms.html
I clicked on the button to get some random implausible premises generated,
and it gave me:
"All mammals are princes."
"Some princes are kittens."
"Thus: All kittens are mammals."

The conclusion is certainly true, but not on the basis of those premises. And the premises themselves are both implausible.

Note the distinction. TNT's presentation at: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/15400
gave us this:
"I am not suggesting that I doubt that Bach could play the Goldbergs himself. What I am saying is that, to me, it is immaterial. In fact, let us assume for the sake of the argument that Prof. Butt is right and Bach couldn't
play the Goldbergs. He still had the skill, the genius, and the knowledge to compose a masterpiece that, while demanding, is not awkward or impossible to play idiomatically."

That third sentence makes sense to take as a premise, for the sake of argument, because Prof Butt really did make that conjectural assertion about the aged Bach. Even if one doesn't fancy the premise, the construction is valid. TNT's observation makes sense. Whether Butt is correct or mistaken about that premise, it doesn't change the greatness of Bach's achievement as a composer. That's TNT's point. He's said it well. Even if Bach couldn't play the harpsichord at all, this is still a great piece of harpsichord music. Bach's alleged ability to play it (or
his disability that prevented him from playing it) is immaterial.

But the mockery of TNT's presentation, by Thomas Braatz: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/15409
shows a disdain for such logic, by slipping in as his own premise something that J N Forkel did not assert, as if that's the same construction. It's not!

=====

I, for one, believe that Bach have the skill/genius/knowledge to compose a masterpiece that went far beyond his original intentions...whatever those intentions might have been. But my assessment of that has nothing to do with Forkel, one way or another. Perhaps Forkel's account helps us understand Bach's motivations. Perhaps it does not. Either way, the music itself is a masterpiece (judged completely on his own, as an existing piece of music) and it really doesn't matter so much what Bach's intentions behind it were. It would still be the same
masterpiece if it were written by X or Y or Z rather than Bach. Its value is not that Bach (specifically) wrote it for whatever specific purpose. Its value is that it's an astonishingly inventive and well-balanced piece of music that lets the harpsichord sound good and refreshes the spirits of music-lovers. It would refresh the spirits of
music-lovers even if the title page did not state that as a purpose!

Zzzzzzz.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 30, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>The flaw of the argument here, of course, is that Forkel did NOT state that that was Bach's objective ("to aid the count in falling asleep"). That's been slipped in here sneakily. Forkel stated that the music was to cheer up the count on sleepless nights. That's not the same thing as aiding him in slumber.<<
The English translation is faulty. I have pointed this out quite carefully and in detail. Why should other list members be bored by the inability of the correspondent to speak intelligently on this matter of translation. It is remarkable what a literalist the correspondent has become. A true musician would understand the range of flexibility allowed in the process of translating a word in a given context. Accusations do not replace detailed understanding of everything that goes on in taking Forkel's account and 'twisting it' by means of mistranslation. David & Mendel's translation of the key words could easily be incorrect when they have not taken into account, as it appears in their book, the possible meanings of these words as they were construed in Bach's time.

Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel were most likely not trained in German philology. One would have to assume that the professional training given on p. xiii of the preface to the first edition sums up their individual situations: Both having studied here and abroad (Mendel did not even study in Germany, the emphasis of their studies were focused on various aspects of music which then allowed both of them to become professors of music at the U. of Michigan and at Princeton University respectively.

The Forkel passage is given only in English without the German original and without all the scholarly footnotes contained in the Bach-Dokumente volumes. This is unfortunate since every reader of the English translation is deprived of seeing the original (like the autograph score vs. a Stokowski arrangement of Bach's music.]

>>The original German is available elsewhere.<<
Yes, I always give the original along with the German whenever I can. It is still available in the Group Archives and eventually it will show up on Aryeh's Bach-Cantata Website.

>>No amount of honest translation can put the above assertion into Forkel's mouth, for that passage of the
text! The English translation is not the problem here. The problem is the insertion of Mr Braatz' OWN premises under the guise of representing Forkel objectively (and under the guise of telling us that we're supposedly not
taking Forkel seriously enough!). Forkel has NOT stated, clearly or otherwise, that Bach's primary objective was to put the count to sleep. That's been put into Forkel's mouth.<<

And all of this comes from a commentator without much more than a smattering of German and relying with great faith in the infallibility of a single translation. Passing the German language test for beginning doctoral studies is not the equivalent to understanding a translation of this type. 'To turn the weapons against' the commentator: Describe the language qualifications (graduate degrees in Germanic philology, etc.) that allow the commentator to make such assertions and accusations.

As for the lesson in basic logic: zzzzzz

Where have we heard all of this before?

Summary:

More evasive and digressive commentary which does not focus on the critical issue at hand: What did Forkel really say, or mean to say, in his account of the origin and purpose of the 'Goldbergs?'

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 30, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< More evasive and digressive commentary which does not focus on the critical issue at hand: What did Forkel really say, or mean to say, in his account of the origin and purpose of the 'Goldbergs?' >
That it cheered up an insomniac Count.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 30, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
"That it cheered up an insomniac Count" so that he could promptly fall asleep!

Uri Golomb wrote (September 30, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
"That it cheered up an insomniac Count"
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< so that he could promptly fall asleep! >

Here is Thomas Braatz's own translation of Forkel again (from: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/15277):

"Once the Count commented to Bach that he would like to have several keyboard pieces for [his!] Goldberg, such pieces/compositions which would be so soft/gentle and of a somewhat non-depressing (the opposite of weak or sick) character so that he might be freed just a bit from his gloomy/melancholy state during his sleepless nights. Bach thought he could fulfill this {the count's} wish best of all by means of variations, the composing of which he had considered to be a thankless undertaking because of the basic harmonies which were repeated over and over again."

IMHO, the words "so that he might be freed just a bit from his gloomy/melancholy state during his sleepless nights" support Brad's interpretation: there is nothing here, or elsewhere in Forkel's text (in any translation), about actually inducing sleep!

Gabriel Jackson wrote (October 1, 2004):
Thomas Braatz writes:
"The English translation is faulty"
And later
"It is remarkable what a literalist the correspondent has become. A true musician would understand the range of flexibility allowed in the process of translating a word in a given context."
Aside from yet another gratuitous insult - and why is expertise in the theory and practice of translation a necessary pre-requisite for being a good musician? Of course it's not - these two statements are contradictory.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 1, 2004):
Uri Golomb wrote:
>>"Once the Count commented to Bach that he would like to have several keyboard pieces for [his!] Goldberg, such pieces/compositions which would be so soft/gentle and of a somewhat non-depressing (the opposite of weak or sick) character so that he might be freed just a bit from his gloomy/melancholy state during his sleepless nights. Bach thought he could fulfill this {the count's} wish best of all by means of variations, the composing of which he had considered to be a thankless undertaking because of the basic harmonies which were repeated over and over again."
>>IMHO, the words "so that he might be freed just a bit from his gloomy/melancholy state during his sleepless nights" support Brad's interpretation: there is nothing here, or elsewhere in Forkel's text (in any translation), about actually inducing sleep!<<

Yes, there is something elsewhere in the same passage, the very same sentence that was cleverly omitted when this passage was cited the first time and which is too easily overlooked because it is inconvenient to think too much about it:

Bach settled on the idea of composing variations for the insomniac count "der stets gleichen Grundharmonie wegen" ["on account of the basic harmony {pattern} which remains forever the same."] It seems almost ridiculous to point this out because it is quite clear that repetition can (not 'must') most often be somniferous or soporific. Here's a quote from the OED: "1879 McCarthy 'Own Times' xxvii, II, 297 'Most of those who tried to listen founthe soporific influence irresistible.'" Repetition first captures the imagination (the count is removed from his doom and gloom insomnia), but then as it continues, it lulls the individual who needs sleep and can't find it into the sought-after rest and sleep. Success occurs before all the variations are played, not in order to stay awake for yet another hour to hear all the repeats and finally get to the end of the composition.

The count, with the help of the ;Goldbergs,' could be freed again and again from his sleepless nights, not to remain 'cheerfully awake' in order to hear all the variations, but to fall promptly asleep, which was the desired objective in the first place. Who knows? Perhaps Goldberg played the variations backwards moving gradually from the loudest, most spectacular to the earlier, softer, less agitating ones. In any case, remember what David Schulenberg reported on way the 'Goldbergs' were probably played in the mid to end of the 18th century.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 1, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
"That it cheered up an insomniac Count"

and Thomas Braatz ADDED:
< so that he could promptly fall asleep! >
< Thomas Braatz
"so will ichs mehr in der That, als in Worten
darstellen
." 25.6.1708 Johann Sebastian Bach
{judge me not by my words, but rather by my deeds} >

That's what Forkel really meant, even though he didn't say so? Wow. What wondrous powers of divination we are seeing demonstrated before our very eyes!

Frankly, I'd think it just as likely that Count K on a sleepless night, with his music playing in the background, would put on a candle and get out a good book instead of bashing the head into the pillow. Being up at night
anyway, might as well get something productive done. If he was feeling crappy anyway, according to the report that he was "sickly", he could whip up a good Hot Toddy and kick back and relax, trying to make the best of the
situation. Who knows. Everybody has different ways of combating insomnia, without NECESSARILY having the goal of getting to sleep as quickly as possible.

Another good way to cheer up on a sleepless night is to go over to the 24 Hour Wal-Mart and run the whole rack of Dancing Elmo toys in canon. They do their little take-off of the Village People's "Y-M-C-A" but it's
"E-L-M-O" and it's just the cutest thing for about 30 seconds. Of course, such an option was not available to Count K. What days of miracle and wonder we live in!

Then again, what few words Bach himself wrote about the variations on the title page, it's even more important to study closely the music inside the book. Judge him more by his deeds than his words, y'know. And those deeds in that piece of music are pretty lively stuff indeed.

John Pike wrote (October 1, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Quite apart from all the insults, I am finding this thread extremely tedious. Music is not just some dry subject for linguists and musicologists. It is first and foremost about glorifying God and giving pleasure to the soul, to (very roughly) quote the great man himself. Does any of this stuff about what Forkel did or did not say matter THAT much that we have to be subjected to such a prolonged argument.

There are a very large number of recordings of this sublimely beautiful music out there, many of them extremely moving despite many differences in interpretation. Many of these recordings succeed in giving very great pleasure to many people worldwide, including many on this list. Surely that is more important than anything else.

John Pike wrote (October 1, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I think there is a medical issue here as well. Some of the commonest causes of difficulty sleeping are anxiety (difficulty getting off to sleep) or depression (early morning waking). An appropriate treatment for the underlying cause would be to cheer someone up. Just sending them to sleep is not addressing the underlying cause.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (October 1, 2004):
John Pike writes:
"Quite apart from all the insults, I am finding this thread extremely tedious. Music is not just some dry subject for linguists and musicologists. It is first and foremost about glorifying God and giving pleasure to the soul, to
(very roughly) quote the great man himself. Does any of this stuff about what Forkel did or did not say matter THAT much that we have to be subjected to such a prolonged argument."

I agree. No it doesn't! But this isn't really about what Forkel did or didn't say, it's (yet again) about Thomas Braatz seeking any and every opportunity to insult, vilify and discredit Brad Lehman and, by extension, any other musicologists and musicians.

"There are a very large number of recordings of this sublimely beautiful music out there, many of them extremely moving despite many differences in interpretation. Many of these recordings succeed in giving very great pleasure to many people worldwide, including many on this list. Surely that is more important than anything else."
Well said.

Douglas SA wrote (October 2, 2004):
The Goldbergs, the insomniac, the biographer, and the iconoclast

OK, folks, here is I how see it:

-- it is commonly said that the Goldbergs were written by Bach for a particular German aristocrat (von Keyserlingk) who was an insomniac. It is commonly said that the variations were intended to put him to sleep.

-- the source for these statements is Forkel, who prepared a detailed biography of Bach after his death. Not everything Forkel wrote is 100% accurate, as we now know from laborious research and study of sources which were unavailable to Forkel.

-- Forkel's entire story about the Goldbergs has been examined by numerous musicologists, quite of few of whom question its veracity on a number of counts

-- Forkel did not say, in plain German or in plain English or in any other language, that "Bach wrote the Goldbergs to help von Keyserlingk get to sleep". It is a common, though somewhat trivial, misconception that he did say that.

-- Mr Braatz is apparently determined to get us to believe that Forkel did say that the Goldbergs were intended to help put someone to sleep. Here are his words: "Bach settled on the idea of composing variations for the insomniac count "der stets gleichen Grundharmonie wegen" ["on account of the basic harmony {pattern} which remains forever the same."] It seems almost ridiculous to point this out because it is quite clear that repetition can (not 'must') most often be somniferous or soporific. Here's a quote from the OED: "1879 McCarthy 'Own Times' xxvii, II, 297 'Most of those who tried to listen found the soporific influence irresistible.'" Repetition first
captures the imagination (the count is removed from his doom and gloom insomnia), but then as it continues, it lulls the individual who needs sleep and can't find it into the sought-after rest and sleep. Success occurs before all the variations are played, not in order to stay awake for yet another hour to hear all the repeats and finally get to the end of the composition. The count, with the help of the ;Goldbergs,' could be freed again and again from his sleepless nights, not to remain 'cheerfully awake' in order to hear all the variations, but to fall promptly asleep, which was the desired objective in the first place. Who knows? Perhaps Goldberg played the variations backwards moving gradually from the loudest, most spectacular to the earlier, softer, less agitating ones."

-- those are all interesting statements, but you can't connect them with Forkel (or certainly not with Bach) for love nor money. If Bach intended the variations to be played in backwards order, he really didn't indicate that very clearly! And if Forkel thought the Goldbergs were written to put von Keyserlingk to sleep, why didn't he
just say that?

-- the most distressing thing is that Mr Braatz wastes no opportunity to disparage accredited musicologists and their work. But here he is reading a meaning into something which very clearly is not there; and when anyone points this out to him, he attacks them by saying that they are not qualified German philologists, that they haven't done their homework etc etc

-- I used to think Brad sometimes over-reactedto Mr Braatz. But now I can see very clearly what Mr Braatz is up to. It is mischief of the most malicious kind. It is hateful, destructive, bullying, and ugly, and it does nothing to promote the music of Bach, the acquisition of knowledge about Bach, or anything else but his own mind games.

This is a very sad day for me. Mr Braatz's statements have given me a real insight into his character, and I suppose that I have had a glimpse of things which I would never hope to see in a fellow music lover.

So, an apology to Brad, for my occasional feelings of doubt: you were right all along to point out the snide insinuations and downright insults in Mr Braatz's postings. You were right to insist that we should not tolerate discourse of that kind. You were right to believe that while everyone has the right to their own opinions, and this
list exists for us to exchange information, ideas and likes and dislikes freely, no one has the right to embark on a persistent campaign to belittle the accomplishments of others.

But the best response to a bully of this kind is simply to ignore him. So, Mr Braatz, say whatever you like about whomever you choose to insult (and I'm sure that I will be on your list now - I should accept your nomination with pride), but I won't read a word of it. And my advice to other list members is to do the same. I gave this
man the benefit of the doubt for a good long while, but I understand him clearly now.

 

Goldberg excerpts

Juozas Rimas wrote (October 2, 2004):
Forkel in English

Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Myself, I'm quite happy to listen to (at least) 40 different recordings of the Goldbergs, and play through them, and dance with my kid, and read Don Satz' reviews, and otherwise enjoy the music in any way I please. >
A quick off-topic: one of the funny things I still remember from the big Lampson's classical music list is Bradley Lehman criticizing Don Satz' meticulous reviews of lots of Goldbergs renditions as being analysis of separate parts of many frogs' livers :)

The quote:
"Is the lower left quadrant of frog A's liver better than the lower left quadrant of frog B's liver... or the livers of fifty other frogs?"

However, Don Satz' reviews were always interesting to read and helpful. ;)

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 2, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] Yes. At the time I was joshing Don about his disinclination to listen to (and review) several variations flowing together, in whatever recordings. That bigger picture of the flow from variation to variation is important in a performance; the interpretive choices in one variation may very well affect interpretive choices made in its neighbors, to make musically reasonable transitions.

Each performer's CD is published with at least some expectation that listeners will be listening to at least 10-minute chunks of it at a time, flowing forward, maybe even the whole thing from first note to last. Phrasing and articulation doesn't happen in the vacuum of each individual variation...the album has to hold together as a whole. (So does a concert performance or private performance in which one picks some subset of the variations, making a new and smaller whole. Whatever's chosen for the situation, the resulting performance has to have some coherence justifying the choice of subset that has been made...some musically satisfying sense of control, and not just a bunch of little snippets hung next to one another on a clothesline.)

But, Don's reviews of individual variations (jumping from one CD to another to another) are also interesting as another way to see the piece.

Take, for example, Gould's 1981 recording of the Goldbergs. Commercial CDs did not exist in his lifetime. There was no such thing as a published Gould recording of this piece, broken down to 32 convenient little
tracks. The LP of the 1981 performance had no sub-tracks within each side. It was just side 1 and side 2. (Ditto for the LP releases of his 1955 performance. Put the LP on, listen through side 1, maybe take a little break during the turn-over, then all of side 2.) And the early issues of that same 1981 performance on CD, soon after Gould's death, also had the whole piece in one big track instead of 32. And the film version of the same was one film, straight through, to be watched in a single session. Sure, it was assembled from plenty of little bits through editing, but from the consumer's point of view it's one straight-through performance, to be assessed (usually) as such.

That's why I was questioning Don a bit about it, on his microscopic approach of taking that performance and all his others down to individual microscope slides, instead of stepping back to the bigger picture and asking, which of these albums as a whole make musically satisfying experiences? My suggestion was (and remains) that we should judge a performer's work by taking the totality of it as published, more than by trying to peer into every little moment where musical decisions are not all local ones. Context is important.

Donald Satz wrote (October 2, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad is correct. Taking the work as a whole is more significant that each variation at a time. Back then, I did tend to listen to a few minutes of a work at a time. The reason was that I was so used to listening to rock music with its limited minutes for each song. However, time has moved on, and I have acclimated to larger listening blocks such as the Goldbergs at one sitting.

To take a simple example, small blocks of listening to the newer Schiff Goldbergs is very rewarding, but those rewards are multiplied when listening to the whole performance at one time. Schiff's joy of playing the work and
the wonderful exuberance he conveys has much more impact.

Mocfujita wrote (October 3, 2004):
The time length between one variation and another @
After the first aria finishes, then the first variation starts and then ends, and the next variation starts..... The interval between one and another, let's say it the length of the silence, is an important factor for performance. Gould's silences or timings are excellent. The time length depends on the characters of the previous part and next part. We have to listen much carefully to the silences of performances. However it is not clear how to determine the time length of silence. If there is one thing, it could be the continuity of the rhythm. Of course one and next usually have a different tempo and/or rhythm, but there should be an inner and unseen continuity. The performance of Glenn Gould has an inevitable 'space'.

It is rather easy to control this 'space' manipulating MIDI data. The tempo of 'space' could be changed.

Juozas Rimas wrote (October 3, 2004):
Donald Satz wrote:
< Brad is correct. Taking the work as a whole is more significant that each variation at a time. >
I think that both methods of reviewing are compatible: the main should be "holistic" approach, supplemented by analysis of separate parts.

However, doesn't this apply only to the works who barely can be performed or listened to when dissected? Of course, it's strongly advisable to listen to the Goldbergs as a whole, to a whole concerto, a whole quartet, but what about certain cantatas?

Yesterday I listened to BWV 23 "Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn". Afterwards I read, for the sake of interest, what S. Crouch impressions of the cantata were and found out that the last chorus of the cantata seems to be "tacked on to the end of something already complete".

Whether it is true or not, it poses a question: was it important to Bach to make cantatas integral units where no movement can be dropped or substituted by another movement without harming the whole picture?

Specifically, would the quality of BWV 23 deteriorate, if its first chorus "Aller Augen warten, Herr" were substituted with some other splendid chorus and the same were done with the last chorus/chorale "Christe, du Lamm Gottes"?

Could you give an example of a cantata were Bach's aim was to ensure integrity or even make it a set of variations?

(right now I remember "Gottes Zeit ist die alZeit" (BWV 106) and "Christ lag in Todes Banden" (BWV 4); I'm sure there are more but it seems there are many cantatas that are assembled from detached bits as well).

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 4, 2004):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
>>Whether it is true or not, it poses a question: was it important to Bach to make cantatas integral units where no movement can be dropped or substituted by another movement without harming the whole picture?<<
Yes, you have mentioned BWV 4 and BWV 106 as good examples.

>>Could you give an example of a cantata were Bach's aim was to ensure integrity or even make it a set of variations?<<
BWV 100 has the verses of a chorale in sequence (they can not be switched around.) There are no recitatives, only arias and a duet with choral mvts. at the beginning and end. Bits and pieces of the chorale melody appear in some of the arias (and duet) so that the inner mvts. could almost be considered variations of the chorale melody.

Members of Bach's congregation would have been appalled if any of the mvts. had been switched around or omitted since most of them would know the chorale text by heart.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 4, 2004):
switching mvts around

[To Thomas Braatz] People who have purchased the complete NBA and whose listening habits are to follow along with recordings, judging their accuracy by the NBA holy conflated text and their own further interpretive guesswork as listeners, are the ones who would be appalled if the mvts get switched around or omitted. It would throw off their day, and confuse them, and cause them to fear that performers are taking too many liberties and have improper morals. They might even assume that all reasonable people would be similarly appalled, but it really isn't so. Only a projection of their own tastes and expectations and prejudices.

Not that this has anything to do whatsoever with the people who attended Bach's church services in the 18th century.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 4, 2004):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
< So can we view most of Bach's cantatas as compilations, where some rules are applied (start with a chorus, end with a chorale, precede arias with recitatives - with LOTS of exceptions) but in general most movements can be changed with analogous other ones from any other cantata? >
No, nobody's saying that at all!

But, keep in mind that liturgical bits of a church service might be interpolated during performance of a cantata, and before and after. Those practical considerations (practical church musicianship, where the worship service as a whole has to have some reasonable flow) do have some role to play.

Juozas Rimas wrote (October 4, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< fear that performers are taking too many liberties and have improper morals. They might even assume that all reasonable people would be similarly appalled, but it really isn't so. Only a projection of their own tastes and expectations and prejudices. >
So can we view most of Bach's cantatas as compilations, where some rules are applied (start with a chorus, end with a chorale, precede arias with recitatives - with LOTS of exceptions) but in general most movements can be changed with analogous other ones from any other cantata?

I brought up this issue to compare it with the recommended way to approach (listen or review) the Goldbergs and other integral works. Apparently, there is no point in approaching cantatas recordings in the same way to step back "to the bigger picture", as Bradley put it, and to state that "context is important" in cantatas.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 5, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>But, keep in mind that liturgical bits of a church service might be interpolated during performance of a cantata, and before and after. Those practical considerations (practical church musicianship, where the worship service as a whole has to have some reasonable flow) do have some role to play.<<
What does this mean? Is this a personal reference to a church in the USA (the respondent speaking only of his limited experiences), or a German Evangelical Lutheran church (including what occurred under Bach's direction in Leipzig)? Does the historical practice in Bach's churches mean nothing at all here, where the cantatas were given in two blocks (as either separate entities or part 1 before the sermon after the reading of the Epistles and Gospels, and part 2 after the sermon during communion? There is no evidence whatsoever that the sequence of movements within a cantata was altered (nor special liturgical insertions included,) even for later performances where occasional changes were made to comply with the soloists, instrumental and vocal, who were available to Bach at the time.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 5, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] As another list member is fond of pointing out (why hasn't he yet?), it's very unlikely that valid reasoning can be constructed upon an assertion that "there is no evidence whatsoever" about a topic. Translation: if there's allegedly "no evidence" that things were altered, that doesn't constitute proof that things were not altered! (Furthermore, the existence of alternate versions of some cantatas is evidence that things were altered by Bach to fit circumstances!)

As for practical considerations? I've been performing and directing Christian church music for 27 years, maybe 28, I've lost count; and my university minor was in that. Flexibility is part of the job requirement in church music; last-minute improvisatory decisions have to happen all the time (scribbled down hastily or not written at all), it's in the nature of the work, even when things have been planned very well. It's very rare that I encounter people so cynical, prejudiced, and antagonistic that they cite the practical understanding of a field as a LIABILITY (in an opponent) rather than an asset.

It's much easier for me to believe, from experience in church music, that things might be altered and not well documented, than that things were absolutely never altered, or to believe that any alleged lack of documentation constitutes valid proof. Heck, I've never documented what I spent the last 27 years playing in churches, or the last-minute additions or omissions when extra time needed to be filled or lopped out. It's just
part of the job, and it doesn't get written down!

Besides, as Mr Braatz points out himself here below, "part 1" before the sermon or readings, and "part 2" after sermon during communion. (Whatever "part 1" and "part 2" might mean in any given cantata....) How is that a
disproof of my point to which he's responding, where I said that liturgical things happen during cantatas? It sounds more as if he's AGREEING with what I wrote, and merely offering a gratuitous ad hominem attack against me that my allegedly "limited experience" is preventing me from having a clue about historically valid practices.

Looks like a fluffy non-argument to me.

Furthermore, I never asserted that the movements themselves would get switched around! That's from Juozas Rimas' question! And it stems (evidently) from Mr Braatz' own assertion that composers such as Bach allegedly would have offended the congregation had he switched around or omitted stanzas of hymns they knew, and that's why Bach allegedly did not do so. Another attempt by Mr Braatz to "prove" a negative.........

It seems to me that the person who'd be most offended by things getting switched around is Mr Braatz himself (score-reader from the NBA, bringing his cynical suspicions and judgments of morality against all performers and scholars), and then he's reading his own personal preferences back into the congregations of the 1730s as if he's thereby "proven" that such things historically were not done...... Church musicians are wrong to do the
job as required, by experience? Really?

I don't buy it. His process is not a valid method of proof.

Teri Noel Towe wrote (October 9, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< People who have purchased the complete NBA and whose listening habits are to foalong with recordings, judging their accuracy by the NBA holy conflated text and their own further interpretive guesswork as listeners, are the ones who would be appalled if the mvts get switched around or omitted. It would throw off their day, and confuse them, and cause them to fear that performers are taking too many liberties and have improper morals. They might even assume that all reasonable people would be similarly appalled, but it really isn't so. Only a projection of their own tastes and expectations and prejudices. >
Many, many years ago, when I did a weekly radio show on WBAI-FM in New York City, I decided to see just how observant listeners were.

By cutting and splicing audiotape, I moved some of the "less familiar" variations in the "Goldberg" Variations around. I was careful to make sure that every third variation was still one of the canon variations, and I didn't tamper with the placement of 1 - 5, 15, 16, 21, 25, and 28 - 30, as I recall. Most, if not all, of the others got moved to an unfamiliar spot.

If any of the listeners noticed the scrambled order, none phoned or wrote me about the deception.

One should draw no definite conclusions from the lack of any response to my wicked and arguably unethical experiment, however.

After all, there is always the possibility that no one could bear to listen to me on that particular morning, and there are also those who are convinced that the "Goldbergs" are intended to put the listener to sleep.

{;-{)}

 

understanding the Goldberg_Variations

Mocfujita wrote (October 3, 2004):
Glenn Gould pointed out, on the occasion of his first recording, that it was very much doubtful if 'Maestro' Goldberg had been playing this bitter taste work truly and precisely with any success of making effect as a lullaby, and said that the theory "Music for Sleep" was not more than an episode. It is understandable as Gould's comment about this work, because he himself had chosen this work for his debut recording in 1955, as the ultimate object for his intellectual challenge, and resultantly millions of people supported his outcome. Ralf Kirkpatrick indicated, in the scorebook edited by himself in 1934, "The musical feeling for the true expression of Bach's phrases is usually, or should be, developed by intellect mainly." So he may have said, "This is the Music of Intellect."Now, contemporary listeners are listening to this work in order not to cure insomnia but to explore ultimate world of musical sense in the ship of the Music of Intellect. So the cracks laid between "intellect" and "sleep" cannot be fixed up. Anyway they are entertaining this intellectual challenge in the field of music.A musical work based on the necessity for sleep is now the one for the intellectual challenge. A musical work for a Count is now shared by many people all over the world. Many performers have played this work by now. But Glenn Gould has contributed greatly to promote more people to love the Goldberg Variations. The relation between "Music of Intellect" and "Music for Sleep" is profoundly interesting. Both Intellect and Sleep are related directly with human soul, heart and will. So I would like to study and investigate it from various aspects. Through this process I want to find out fun of Intellect, and at the same time verify the comfort of Sleep.

 

Continue on Part 5

Goldberg Variations BWV 988: Details
Recordings:
1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019
Comparative Review: Goldberg Variations on Piano:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Comparative Review: Round-Up of Goldberg Variations Recordings:
Recordings | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
GV - R. Barami, J. Crossland, O. Dantone, D. Propper | GV - M. Cole | GV - J. Crossland | GV - E. Dershavina | GV - S. Dinnerstein | GV - R. Egarr [Lehman] | GV - R. Egarr [Satz] | GV - R. Egarr [Bright] | GV - Feltsman | GV- P. Hantai | GV - P. Hantaï (2nd) | GV - K. Haugsand | GV - A. Hewitt | GV - R. Holloway | GV- H. Ingolfsdottir | GV - J. Jando | GV - B. Lagacé | GV - G. Leonhardt | GV- K. Lifschitz | GV - A. Newman | GV - T. Nikolayeva 3rd | GV- J. Payne | GV - W. Riemer | GV - C. Rousset | GV - S. Schepkin, M. Yudina & P. Serkin | GV - A. Schiff [ECM] | GV- H. Small | GV - M. Suzuki | GV - G. Toth | GV - K.v. Trich | GV - R. Tureck [Satz] | GV - R. Tureck [Lehman] | GV- B. Verlet | GV - A. Vieru | GV - J. Vinikour | GV - A. Weissenberg | GV - Z. Xiao-Mei
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Quodlibet in GV | GV for Strings
Discussions of Individual Recordings:
GV - D..Barenboim | GV - P.J. Belder | GV - E. Dershavina | GV - S. Dinnerstein | GV - R. Egarr | GV - V. Feltsman | GV - C. Frisch | GV - G. Gould | GV - P. Hantaï | GV - R. Holloway | GV - J. Jando | GV - K. Jarrett | GV - G. Leonhardt | GV - V. Makin | GV - A. Newman | GV - S. Ross | GV - A. Schiff | GV - R. Schirmer | GV - H. Small | GV - G. Sultan | GV - G. Toth | GV - R. Tureck | GV - S. Vartolo | GV - B. Verlet
Article:
The Quodlibet as Represented in Bach’s Final Goldberg Variation BWV 988/30 [T. Braatz]

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Last update: ýJanuary 20, 2009 ý14:12:30