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Goldberg Variations BWV 988
General Discussions - Part 6 (2006)

Continue from Part 5

Goldbergs

Jack Botelho wrote (March 14, 2006):
I wonder about the re-discovered temperament applied to the Goldberg Variations, which on harpsichord in equal temperament always sounds with a timeless sparkle all in equal intervals. I won't go so far as to question this discovery especially as applied to the early WTC bk1, but with regard to the Goldbergs, I can't help but sense some listeners will find the new temperament applied to this work results in a 'slighty flatter, slighty less sparkling rendition; or rather a slightly more mundane, provincial realization.'

happily to be corrected, but eager to read the input of the experienced listeners,

Frankly, with regard to the Goldbergs, the ultimate question to my mind is "Did Bach compose the Goldberg Variations in accordance with the tonal subtleties of such a temperament?"

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 21, 2006):
< I wonder about the re-discovered temperament applied to the Goldberg Variations, which on harpsichord in equal temperament always sounds with a timeless sparkle all in equal intervals. >
It sounds harsh to me in equal, because G major could be so much more resonant and relaxed in character than equal allows it to be....and then have an attractive brilliance to the sharps, as well....but continue...

< I won't go so far as to question this discovery especially as applied to the early WTC bk1, but with regard to the Goldbergs, I can't help but sense some listeners will find the new temperament applied to this work results in a 'slighty flatter, slighty less sparkling rendition; or rather a slightly more mundane, provincial realization.' >
I'm curious: where does this remarkably negative phraseology stem from? "Mundane"? "Provincial"? "Less sparkling"? Does somebody have a predisposition against unequal temperaments, or is this just rhetorical expression?

The main point of any unequal temperament is to let the instrument and music sound better than it does in equal. More resonant in the most frequently played intervals/chords; more clarity of texture; more clarity of harmonic/melodic motion; more interesting things going on all the time.

I'd also suggest (to present the opposite side of the same type of rhetoric!): the layout sounding especially "mundane" and "provincial" nowadays would be the almost-ubiquitous equal temperament! Just about every piano, and most organs, are now stuck in this one-size-doesn't-really-fit-anything-but-atonal-music layout. To
hear better intonation than equal temperament offers, one has to seek out less-mundane instruments, and seek out performers who know how to tune their own instruments well by ear, instead of automatically applying a machine-assisted industry "standard".

This morning I was listening to a Bach organ CD I acquired recently: Koopman playing an 18th century organ that was recently rebuilt. And I found it very disappointing: the modern organ-builders have set it to equal temperament, and the music is consequently dull to listen to. No harmonies ever lock in to give better than average resonance. And, the performance (maybe influenced by the intonation scheme, maybe not) sounds facile and superficial: it never has a chance to settle into any contrast of tension and relaxation. It just keeps moving forward, all sounding the same.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 21, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Does somebody have a predisposition against unequal temperaments, or is this just rhetorical expression?<<
Does someone here have a predisposition against equal temperament?

>>The main point of any unequal temperament is to let the instrument and music sound better than it
does in equal. More resonant in the most frequently played intervals/chords; more clarity of texture; more
clarity of harmonic/melodic motion; more interesting things going on all the time. I'd also suggest (to present the opposite side of the same type of rhetoric!): the layout sounding especially "mundane" and "provincial" nowadays would be the almost-ubiquitous equal temperament! Just about every piano, and most organs, are now stuck in this one-size-doesn't-really-fit-anything-but-atonal-music layout. To hear better intonation than equal
temperament offers, one has to seek out less-mundane instruments, and seek out performers who know how to
tune their own instruments well by ear, instead of automatically applying a machine-assisted industry "standard". This morning I was listening to a Bach organ CD I acquired recently: Koopman playing an 18th century organ that was recently rebuilt. And I found it very disappointing: the modern organ-builders have set it
to equal temperament, and the music is consequently dull to listen to. No harmonies ever lock in to give
better than average resonance. And, the performance (maybe influenced by the intonation scheme, maybe not)
sounds facile and superficial: it never has a chance to settle into any contrast of tension and relaxation.
It just keeps moving forward, all sounding the same.<<
It is interesting to see that documentary evidence from the first two decades of the 18th century indicates that musician/composers such as Georg Heinrich Bümler (a charter member of Lorenz Christoph Mizler's very select Musical Science Society to which J. S. Bach later belonged as a member) gladly gave up all unequal temperaments in favor of equal temperament once they were exposed to it and had given equal temperament a fair trial. Bümler tuned all his keyboard instruments (including the church organs in his town) for almost 20 years (the point when he shared the equal temperament tuning method with Mattheson who then promptly published it and gave it wide exposure) and did not return to any of the unequal temperament tunings that were available at the time. Bümler shared the 'new' equal temperament freely with those musicians who heard the results he had produced with it. Bümler cites, as only one example, Conrad Michael Schneider (Director of Music and Organist at the great cathedral of Ulm) who, while visiting in the region where Bümler held an important musical position, heard the results of equal temperament, learned from Bümler how to set an equal
temperament, and thus quickly changed over to equal temperament and continued to use it throughout his
long career in Ulm.

Read about Bümler's illustrious musical career and his choice of equal temperament over any other non-equal
temperament (all before Bach published the WTC1 in 1722) at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/EqTemp1722.pdf

For Bümler and others like him (perhaps even J. S. Bach), equal temperament was a better choice overall
for the sound of all instruments and for the ability to move freely as a composer from regular, normal keys
to the more remote keys where non-equal temperaments reveal inadequacies which cause the listener to be
distracted by the more widely divergent intervals that occur with non-equal temperaments.

It appears that those who presently wish to persuade listeners to abandon equal temperament and instead
prefer for Bach's music or that of his contemporaries an unequal temperament whether from the first two
decades of the 18th century in Germany, or from the past half century of newer discoveries of additional
unequal temperaments, will have a difficult time attempting to explain why Bümler and others used equal
temperament for at least 20 years or longer without abandoning it or indicating that instruments 'suffered
a loss of good intonation, volume and resonance (that the harmonies never lock in to give better resonance),
or a loss of texture, or that the harmonic/melodic motion was less clear, or that there was a lack of contrast of tension and relaxation.' On the contrary, their quick acceptance of equal temperament and the length of time they continued to use in all aspects of their music making, speaks volumes about their affirmation of equal temperament and their recognition of all the advantages which were connected with its use.

Jack Botelho wrote (March 22, 200):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks anyway for the reply to my own very stupid post which I have felt badly about. I suppose I've done a little too much amateur reading which has uncovered much pre-1750 repertoire un-recorded and lacking accessible editions, thus the ignorant scepticism about another recording of the 'Goldberg Variations'. Nice to read also from F.Sato.

in the doghouse in any case,

Santu de Silva wrote (March 22, 2006):
Brad Lehman wrote:
>>Does somebody have a predisposition against unequal temperaments, or is this just rhetorical expression?<<
Thomas Braatz replies
>Does someone here have a predisposition against equal temperament?<
I say:

Let's not get into the psychology of this; why not say some of us like unequal temperaments, and others like equal temperament? The expression that someone is 'predisposed' towards something or other is an indirect way of saying that their opinion is worthless, since they are prejudiced. We're all prejudiced, and so equally predisposed to whatever. Show me someone who says: I'll keep an open mind" about something he or she really cares about, and I'll show you a liar, albeit possibly someone who lies without realizing it.

As to what Bach would have preferred: let us perform it both ways; that way we would have heard it as he would have liked it, as well as how he would not have liked it. To know all is to forgive all, if I might coin a phrase, however inappropriate.

(These psychologists have done so much harm, it is unbelievable. They have also done much good, but the harm they do seems to outweigh the good . . .)

Juozas Rimas wrote (March 23, 2006):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< As to what Bach would have preferred: let us perform it both ways; that way we would have heard it as he would have liked it, as well as how he would not have liked it. >
I cannot have any preferences between equal and unequal temperament because I can't hear the difference. Can you?

Are there any resources online (with sound samples) comparing at least a short passage of any music (even a sequence of any notes) played on the harpsichord or organ in equal temperament and then the same in unequal temperament?

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 23, 2006):
comparing tunings

< I cannot have any preferences between equal and unequal temperament because I can't hear the difference. Can you?
Are there any resources online (with sound samples) comparing at least a short passage of any music (even a sequence of any notes) played on the harpsichord or organ in equal temperament and then the same in unequal temperament? >
http://www.io.com/~hmiller/music/warped-canon.html
presenting the Pachelbel Canon in hundreds of temperaments, where equal temperament is "12-TET".

That composition gives a rather static effect, as it never modulates out of D major...and therefore never uses any "wrong" enharmonic notes, either (such as ever using the note D# while the instrument was tuned to use an Eb).

Try especially "1/6 comma" and "1/4 comma" meantone, and the music will sound more resonant already....

The main thing that sticks out, to my ear, is that in equal temperament (12-TET) the F# is so much higher above the D that it sounds (to me) like a marginal dissonance instead of a consonance. It makes the whole piece sound more tense. Likewise, the B is high above G, and the C# is high above A: the three main chords in the Pachelbel Canon. D major, G major, A major triads.

In "1/4 comma" meantone, all three of those intervals D-F#, G-B, and A-C# happen to be pure major 3rds. Does it seem more calm/relaxed/warm, to you?

The author has recently added a second page to that site, to feature irregular (asymmetric) 12-note temperaments: http://www.io.com/~hmiller/music/warped-canon-12note.html
Click on "Bach/Lehman 1722" to hear the Pachelbel Canon performed strictly in mine.

Santu de Silva wrote (March 23, 2006):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
< I cannot have any preferences between equal and unequal temperament because I can't hear the difference. Can you? >
Well, all I can say is that I have this CD --recommended by Brad Lehman-- played on a Rodgers organ, in which different tunings are used. On organs, the tuning does indeed make an audible difference, because of the homogeneity of tone, and reinforcing of upper partials by the coupling of stops. I can tell you that the piece does sound different in different tunings. If you ask me what the difference is, I would be hard put to explain it in words. It is more a matter of my inability to use words to describe the very subtle differences!

 

Top 5 Goldbergs on Harpsichord?

bwv846_893 wrote (March 23, 2006):
Although I am somewhat disappointed and ultimately dissatisfied with Egarr's new Goldbergs (I do like the "sound" of the harpsichord, though), I am grateful for its release because it has given me the chance to review the virtues and shortcomings of other recordings, as well as appreciate anew Bach's genius in condensing so much beauty and imagery into these variations.

After immersing myself in the Goldbergs on harpsichord over the last week, I have a shortlist of my three most favorite recordings (for whatever its worth):

1. Trevor Pinnock, Archiv. This recording, for me, stole back the GV from Glen Gould. Pinnock's second recording of the Partitas (Hannsler) inspired the hope in me that he would do more solo Bach. How about the English Suites? The Well-Tempered Clavier?

2. Pierre Hantaï (I), Astree. I like this one for its color and "variation" - here we see Hantai (and perhaps Bach himself though Hantai) as virtuoso and poet. Driving and staccato in some variations, free-and-easy in others

3. Christophe Rousset, L'Oiseau Lyre. Virtuoso par excellence. Some critics find Rousset's playing too "superficial," but this is a thrilling and incisive account. It highlights the grand architecture of the GV, and is rhythmically assured.

 

The Goldbergs Ride Again

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 1, 2006):
In January 2004, I informed you of a list I had compiled of the complete recordings of the Goldberg Variations BWV 988 (GV). The list included then 261 recordings. During the past two years I have gathered info of additional recordings, using every possible source I could find, including websites as a+30+a Goldberg Variations, J.S. Bach Home Page, All Music Guide, web-stores as Amazon, and other websites I have been able to find with Google search engine, as well as various catalogues and my private collection. Many members of the BRML and other Bach fans have supplied me info of unfamiliar recordings. Their names are mentioned as contributors at the bottom of the relevant pages. I am sincerely grateful to them all.

You can find the list of 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, 299 complete (or near complete) recordings of GV are listed (yes 300 minus one!). I am sure that somewhere an unfamiliar recording is hiding, waiting to be reported to make a round number. As a rule of thumb, each recording is listed only once. All the issues of each recording are presented together. If a performer has recorded the GV more than once, the info includes also the recording number. Unsurprisingly, the most prolific is Rosalyn Tureck with 7 recordings.

I have also compiled all the discussions of the GV 2000-2009 onwards (hundreds of messages). The discussions are arranged chronologically. If the recordings of GV of a certain performer are discussed, they are compiled into a dedicated page. Links to the discussion pages can be found at the starting page above, and at the recording pages.

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.

Thank& Enjoy,

 

Continue on Part 7

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 ý14:12:31