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Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Played by Keith Jarrett

Recording

1

J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations [K-2]

Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Keith Jarrett (Harpsichord)

ECM

Jan 1989

CD / TT: 61:39

Recorded at Yatsugatake Kohgen Ongakudoh, Japan.
Buy this album at: Amazon.com | Amazon.com

Goldberg Variations/Keith Jarrett

Jack Botelho wrote (February 15, 2004):
I had the good fortune yesterday to acquire the 1989 ECM Records release of the Goldberg Variations played by Keith Jarrett, thanks to an enthusiastic reference to this recording elsewhere. I hope to post a few notes later about it. Jarrett seems to play the variations without any repeats, which I dearly appreciate. The performance itself is outstanding, in my opinion, and I doubt I will be able to find another version of this quality played on harpsichord. Any further comments on this recording is most welcome.

PS. Nice to have an expert enthusiast for Bach's solo violin works here as well. I hope to read much more discussion of these here in the future.

Donald Satz wrote (February 15, 2004):
I thnk there are a few harpsichord versions that outshine Jarrett's: Kenneth Gilbert, Scott Ross, Maggie Cole, Joseph Payne, Igor Kipnis, Wanda Landowska, Trevor Pinnock, Blandine Verlet, Gustav Leonhardt, Chirstine Jaccottet, Sergio Vartolo, Robert Hill, etc. I am glad that Jarrett recorded the work on a harpsichord instead of a piano; his smoothed lines are exacerbated by the piano. His is a nice version, but I do tire of the rounded contours, and he doesn't delve much into the emotional weight of the music when called upon.

[To Jack Botelho] Why do you prefer the GV without repeats? I know some folks who won't listen to any version not observing at least most of them, but I've not known of anyone who likes them absent.

Fumitaka Sato wrote (February 15, 2004):
I have Goldberg Variations and WTC (II) by Keith Jarrett on the harpsichord. I prefer the former and it is one of my most favorite CDs. Keith's play seems to make clear the texture of each themes, and phrasings have their places with less emotional weights.

Scott Ross's CD is on my ordering list.

Barry Murray wrote (February 15, 2004):
[To Fumitaka Sato] My only recording of the Goldberg Variations is by the Australian harpsichordist Nicholas Parle. It is on the Tall Poppies label. I heard it on the radio and bought the disc.

Not having anything with which to compare, I can't say how his interpretation measures up to the competition. I'd be curious to know whether anyone else has this recording, and what they think of it.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 15, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] I enjoy this one too (among others). Real international effort here: an American musician playing German music for a German label, recorded in Japan on a Japanese harpsichord. Nice "late-night" performance here to listen to at low volume, for relaxation...all very pleasant.

He has a nice balance of predictability and unpredictability that keeps the whole thing from falling into routine.

- Predictable: easygoing safe tempos underplaying any extraverted flash.

- Unpredictable: his gentle treatment of improvised ornamentation (minimal, but never formulaic when he does it: pretty much the opposite of Tureck where even the ornamentation becomes structural).

- Predictable: he'll take every repeat where Bach wrote out first and second endings, as if there's some duty to deliver every single note.

- Unpredictable: he takes a handful of other repeats as well, it's but impossible to guess before it happens.

(So he ends up with a total of 1/3 of the variations repeated: 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 16, 21, 25, 29, 30.)

- Predictable: warm, gentle-sounding instrument and no real surprises in Jarrett's articulation.

- Unpredictable: sometimes he sounds like a pianist (hitting all the notes together firmly in the meter), other times sort of like a harpsichordist (allowing the notes to be staggered in different voices, a more relaxed surface). By contrast, in his WTC 2 and his other harpsichord recordings he sounds much more consistently like a pianist playing harpsichord.

All around, one of my favorites to put on for sheer enjoyment: undisturbing, unchallenging, yet still interesting enough to hold enough of my attention.

Jack Botelho wrote (February 16, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] Nice to read all the replies. I won't mention any names but you know who you are.

The Scott Ross' Goldbergs drive me crazy these days, but I'll put it on when I get home to see if I can get back into it.

What I love about the Jarrett is a few things. He brings out beautiful melodies in the aria and other pieces (I wish I had the time to be more precise - I have some notes at home for a review which perhaps I'll post later) like I have never heard but always wished for: slow and stately.

Also, we have a harpsichordist who is carefully "listening" to the sound produced by the instrument. The acoustics are lovely, and are doing half the work here.

It is "melodic quality" that I search for most in Bach, but have a difficult time finding this in recordings most often.

With regard to repeats, Brad has pointed out that there are some by Jarrett here - I will study his post again (great post!) but these variations have become somewhat too familiar with me (I'm sure I'm not the only one) and lengthy repeats are, well, sometimes tiring to listen through.

Just some thoughts written in great haste ...

With regard to the recordings you mention, Don, if you prefer the Trevor Pinnock I know for sure we have differing taste in performances, but that's o.k. Thanks for the reply.

Jack Botelho wrote (February 16, 2004):
[To Sato] I hope you will like the Ross version when it arrives. That recording is very closed-miked to the instrument, so acoustically it is very different than Keith Jarrett's. I listened to Jarrett's Goldbergs again today and was stunned. Scott Ross is (was) probably a finer harpsichordist, but the several dynamics of time, place, instrument, assistants, engineers, on the Jarrett CD come together perfectly. The end result is greater than the sum of its parts. I will never have to pursue any other recordings of the Goldberg Variations, at least on harpsichord.

Thank you very much for the original recommendation.

Sato Fumitaka wrote (February 16, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] It may take about a week that Ross's CD arrives. I hope I can post my view on listening Ross's performance of Goldeberg Variations.

In the CD, Keith Jarett played Goldberg Variations on the harpsichord made in Japan. Japan has a traditional harp-like instrument "Koto", and it is my conjacture that the harpsichord on which Keith played Goldberg Variations might have been made with the excellent know-how of "Koto" making.

Jack Botelho wrote (February 17, 2004):
[To Sato] Interesting! Please correct me if I'm wrong (anyone on this list) but the "lute stops"(?) played with left hand accompaniment on 2 or 3 of the meditative pieces on Jarrett's Goldbergs really is an outstanding choice, and distinguishes this recording from many others, in my opinion. The effect is simply outstanding.

With regard to Scott Ross' Goldberg Variations (original EMI re-release on Virgin) I had a terrible time listening to it the other day; there is very little that is meditative on that recording, despite his brilliant performance.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 17, 2004):
< Interesting! Please correct me if I'm wrong (anyone on this list) but the "lute stops"(?) played with left hand accompaniment on 2 or 3 of the meditative pieces on Jarrett's Goldbergs really is an outstanding choice, and distinguishes this recording from many others, in my opinion. The effect is simply outstanding. >
No argument from mon this one; "If it sounds good, it *is* good." I agree, it makes a nice effect of contrast here in Jarrett's performance.

Technically it's called a "buff stop" instead of a "lute stop". Little cubes of leather are pressed against the side of the strings to give that muted effect. "Buff" comes from "peau de buffle", buffalo hide, leather.

A "lute stop" on a harpsichord is different from that: a separate set of jacks (sometimes with a different material as the plectrum) plucking the strings closer to the end of the strings (i.e. closer to the player) to get a different set of harmonics from the string, a brighter sound. Guitarists do the same sort of thing to get different effects: pluck different places on the string depending what tone-color they want.

Jack Botelho wrote (February 18, 2004):
Just for the record, to fill in the details of this recording previously discussed:

J.S. Bach
Goldberg Variationen BWV 988
Keith Jarrett, harpsichord
1989 ECM Records 1395/ 839 622-2

Digital Recording, January 1989
Yatsugatake Kohgen Ongakudoh, Japan
Recording Supervision and Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Special thanks for help on this project to:
Toshinari Koinuma, Kenny Inaoka
Harpsichord (1988) by Tatsuo Takahashi
(Double manual Italian/German style)
Total Time: 61'39

Anyone who has "special" recordings they would like to share with us, please feel free to post included notes of these that may not be available online.

Jack Botelho wrote (February 18, 2004):
"[The lack of this is also a telltale sign that Keith Jarrett, fine as he is, is not a harpsichordist ..."
Funny you say that, but I have to agree. He does not play with the subtle nuances that define harpsichord technique in some passages.

Jack Botelho wrote (February 18, 2004):
Brad Lehman wrote: "[The lack of this is also a telltale sign that Keith Jarrett, fine as he is, is not a harpsichordist ..."
Jack Botelho replied: < Funny you say that, but I have to agree. He does not play with the subtle nuances that define harpsichord technique in some passages. >
Just to be clear, the fact that Jarrett is playing a harpsichord on this ECM recording means, to my way of thinking, that he "is" a harpsichordist, though perhaps not an ultimately 'hi' one (o gosh, not this issue again).

I have been laughing to myself over this ECM recording since it was made aware of it. It captures my attention because I have many friends who do not appreciate early music like I do. But I know this Jarrett recording stands out, and could sell millions of copies if the masses were made aware of it. Why does mass appeal matter? : because fine art has been pigeonholed into a tight, exclusive corner in our "scientific" society.

Not to tread on anyone's toes, but I'm curious to know how some of you with thousands of cds and numerous recordings of the Goldbergs could overlook this Jarrett recording.

That is part of the reason why this list is titled "Beginners": its time to get back to the basics, folks. Beauty does not need to be complicated. And baroque music may be appreciated by all, not only the specialists.

Jack Botelho wrote (February 18, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<< Interesting! Please correct me if I'm wrong (anyone on this list) but the "lute stops"(?) played with left hand accompaniment on 2 or 3 of the meditative pieces on Jarrett's Goldbergs really is an outstanding choice, and distinguishes this recording from many others, in my opinion. The effect is simply outstanding. >>
< No argument from me on this one; "If it sounds good, it *is* good." I agree, it makes a nice effect of contrast here in Jarrett's performance.

Technically it's called a "buff stop" instead of a "lute stop". Little cubes of leather are pressed against the side of the strings to give that muted effect. "Buff" comes from "peau de buffle", buffalo hide, leather.

A "lute stop" on a harpsichord is different from that: a separate set of jacks (sometimes with a different material as the plectrum) plucking the strings closer to the end of the strings (i.e. closer to the player) to get a different set of harmonics from the string, a brighter sound. Guitarists do the same sort of thing to get different effects: pluck different places on the string depending what tone-color they want. >
Thanks for this, Brad. Please feel free to forward that excellent post on Italian harpsichords from BRML to here if you wish.

Needless to say, BBML would be greatly impoverished without your expert and enthusiastic input.

Donald Satz wrote (February 18, 2004):
Who is overlooking the Jarrett version? With over 100 recordings of the GV, only the most popular are going to get much ink. I snapped up the Jarrett when it was first released and am glad to have and listen to it, but I'm not going to praise a recording that I feel does not scale the heights.

Jack writes: < That is part of the reason this list is titled "Beginners": it's time to get back to the basics, folks. Beauty does not have to be complicated. And baroque music may be appreciated by all, not only the specialists. >
I'm not sure what points Jack is making. I agree that appreciation of any type of music is just as pronounced on the part of non-specialists as specialists. When specialists start crooning about their unique advantages in the listening department, I feel like slamming their fingers into a wall.

Beauty certainly does not require complication of performance or comment. Jack, could you be more specific about your comment?

John Pike wrote (February 18, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] Of course, very different sounds can be created on the violin as well depending on how near the bridge you play. Nearer the bridge is a louder and more penetrating sound. Further away from the bridge, it is quieter and softer. Twentieth century composers onwards frequently specify where the bow should be used in relation to the bridge.

Jack Botelho wrote (February 18, 2004):
Donald Satz wrote: < Who is overlooking the Jarrett version? With over 100 recordings of the GV, only the most popular are going to get much ink. I snapped up the Jarrett when it was first released and am glad to have and listen to it, but I'm not going to praise a recording that I feel does not scale the heights. >
I understand where you are coming from, Don. The Jarrett ECM recording may not scale the heights, but in my opinion it is an ultimately approachable rendering that may be appreciated on different levels: as casual listening, not too profound, but with some surprises, as well as one which does not irritate the ears with idiosyncrasies: it stands up to heavy listening. It has "meditative" qualities and the ultra "sweet" acoustics make it special. It is the "approachability" of this rendering, the ability to appeal to a mass audience, which makes this one a true winner. Wide appeal of early music recordings is important to keep this field vital. Critics should be especially aware of recordings like this. All and only a point of view.

Donald Satz wrote (February 18, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] I think this line of discussion can come to a close. Overall, I share most of the views of the Jarrett that Jack has expressed.

Jarrett also put out a recording on ECM of Mozart Piano Concertos. Although the performance tends to be light (as with the GV), I've enjoyed it even more than his Bach.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 18, 2004):
Donald Satz wrote:
< I think this line of discussion can come to a close. Overall, I share most of the views of the Jarrett that Jack has expressed. >
Me too: Jarrett's does have that direct appeal and repeatable listenability. Very important.

For an absolute beginner who has never heard the Goldberg Variations before, interested in that most direct listenability, I'd go with any of the following: Hantai, Jarrett, or the bargain-basement Jaccottet on harpsichord; the new Schiff or Dershavina on piano. (Or Zhu or the 1959 Salzburg Gould if they can find it.)

I'm in one of those "big brother" programs with a high school kid, and a couple years ago I gave him the 1959 Salzburg Gould, for his birthday. I don't think he'd ever heard any Bach before. He says he liked it.

< Jarrettalso put out a recording on ECM of Mozart Piano Concertos. Although the performance tends to be light (as with the GV), I've enjoyed it even more than his Bach. >
Oooo, Don! There it opens back up. I too picked up that Jarrett disc of Mozart recently, with high hopes for it from liking his GV, and from liking his solo improv concerts (especially the Vienna one). But as it turns out, I *hate* this Mozart recording by him. The problem (in my opinion) is in his phrasing, the way he never groups the notes across the beat. I can say more about that if anybody's interested.

Right now my favorite Jarrett disc for relaxed/casual listening is this one: Amazon.com
So simple and serene. The way he listens between the notes....

Donald Satz wrote (February 18, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] You just never know. I wouldn't have thought that a silky-smooth and relatively serene performance of Mozart Piano Concertos would be hated by anyone. I don't play the Jarrett when I want to experience Mozart's drama, but I do find the performances relaxing. Also, I feel that a relaxed Mozart tends to engage me more than a relaxed Bach.

For better or worse, I haven't listened much to Mozart in recent years, preferring the more austere music of a Bach/Buxtehude, British/Russian composers, and some obscure material.

 

Jarrett Goldbergs

Steven L. Guy wrote (October 1, 2004):
Mr. Lehman's & Johan van Veen's comments

Thankyou for your comments vis-à-vis the Manze and Egarr recordings. I joined this group because I am interested in the opinions others have of recordings I own and those I may buy in the future.

The Keith Jarrett recording of The Goldberg Variations is available to me. I seem to remember Mr. Lehman making some positive comments about this recording in relation to his child? I am a parent, too. My twelve year old son, Christopher, and I were doing some work at my desk the other day - he was doing homework and I was finishing the score of an aria from Rameau's opera Platée. We were listening to Berlioz's Harold en Italie - the John Eliot Gardiner / Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique recording on PHILIPS. Christopher said, "Dad, what are we listening to?"
"Oh, just Harold in Italy a piece by a French composer called Hector Berlioz."
"I like this music, Dad. Can I take the CD to school to play to my friends?"
I try to make music part of pleasant moments at home. Who knows if it works?! I suppose some of it seeps in through osmosis? As a parent playing Classical music to my child (and his friends), I feel like a modern Pop culture 'refusnik'.
I digress.

Mr. Lehman's comments about the Jarrett recording of The Goldberg Variations seemed to be positive. I am well aware of Keith Jarrett's fine achievements in the field of Jazz. However, I remain a little skeptical about his work in Classical music. I have frequently found that expertise in one area does not necessarily carry over into another. I detested Wynton Marsalis's Baroque trumpet recordings, I'm afraid to say. Keith Jarrett has been playing and recording Classical music for a long time, perhaps he's an exception? He seems to 'grunt' a little - like Glen Gould (I am not a fan of Mr. Gould). I find this habit a little 'off-putting' - especially in a recording.
Does Mr. Lehman or anyone else have any comments or suggestions for recordings of this work? Please be aware that it is highly unlikely that I will ever buy a recording of this music played on a modern piano. Please understand and respect my decision and feelings about this.

Again, thankyou all for your advice or wisdom about Bach recordings in the past, present and future.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 1, 2004):
[To Steven L. Guy] Some of the earlier discussions of Jarrett's recording of Goldbergs:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV988-Jarrett.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV988-Gen1.htm

...and the long series of pages starting here:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NonVocal/Klavier-Goldberg2-Part1.htm

Personally, I'm not very fond of Jarrett's *other* Bach records, but I feel those Goldbergs have something special the way he plays them.

(About time to get Christopher a viola? I like that Gardiner recording of Harold, too....)

Enjoy!

 

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]

Keith Jarrett: Short Biography | Recordings of Non-Vocal Works
Discussions:
Goldberg Variations BWV 988 - played by Keith Jarrett

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Last update: ýMay 20, 2006 ý16:14:38