Creative Stuff

Unlike the Goldberg Variations, the Clavierübung für Anna Magdalena Bach is an anthology of pieces of various types and by various authors destined, it seems, for domestic use. With one exception, those we have selected here come from Bach's pen. Most, if not all, of these miniatures give a glimpse of what was his true abode - the church, with its naves and its vaults. The aria, which is not yet the theme of the Goldberg Variations, but is soon to become it, marks the end of the chapter and opens the next.

The 14 canons, built on the first eight pillars of the aria, and played here without a break, constitute a bridge between what went before and what is to follow, but also a sort of foreword to the variations: it is almost as if they are seeking their theme and their spirit.

Is it necessary to warn the listener that from time to time reminiscences of the Anna Magdalena and of Goldberg insinuate themselves into the midst of the 14 canons? Transposed or hidden in the complexities of the counterpoint, these reminiscences will readily be recognised. Whatever the case may be, it is not so much reminiscences and reminders, restatements or repetitions that matter in these variations; it is rather the oblivion; the oblivion by means of which Bach, that great plagiarist by anticipation, happens to be inspired by Mozart and Beethoven. And what Beethoven! Listen to the 6th variation, or the 28th: they seem to come straight from the Diabelli Variations and the thrills of the end of Opus 111.

Bach's work has this in common with the world of number: the absence of the recollection of an ego, a body or of inherent tics. Or almost, for who is singing in Bach's music? And in the suites, supposing that they are real gigues, allemandes and sarabandes, who is dancing? His music does not say nothing. Like the angels in a Grünewald, it protects its mute profundities.

Andrei Vieru
(Translated by Derek Yeld)

Like Glenn Gould, Vieru has a gift of making Bach's counterpoint crystal-clear. He takes few of the repeats.

There are many great moments in this performance. Here are a few. Variation 1 flows along in an easy Allegro, delicate and lyrical. Variation 2 is perky with a fine measure of non legato playing, sudden changes of mood, and clear distinction among the three polyphonic voices. Variations 15 and 25 have a wonderful stillness. (His version of Variation 15 is a great antidote for Metz's businesslike interpretation, which I still had in my mind.) And in the final four measures of the Quodlibet (Variation 30), Vieru makes a remarkable diminuendo and expansive ritardando, as if a celestial music box is winding down to silence.

American Record Guide

Verlet, Gilbert, Koroliov, Hantai, Perahia, Hewitt, and a few others give excellent performances of the Goldberg Variations. Andrei Vieru's performances are better than theirs, and I believe they rival the Gould and Tureck recordings. I could run through each variation and rave about each of them, but I'd rather listen than write.

Intimate, considered and selfless playing of Bach's masterpiece, set in an imaginative context. Andrei Vieru is a sympathetic and lucid companion on the journey, whether it be guiding us carefully through the unexpected twists and turns of variation 12, lending an improvisatory air to 13 or producing a lively harpsichord sonority for No. 20.

Classic CD

His Goldberg is no-nonsense, forthright, sensitive and always appealingly phrased.

BBC Music Magazine


Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach (Auszüge)

Petits livres de notes d'Anna Magdalena Bach (extraits)

1) Choral Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten, BWV 691

2) Choral Gib dich zufrieden und sei stille, BWV 510

3) Choral Gib dich zufrieden und sei stille, BWV 511

4) Choral Gib dich zufrieden und sei stille, BWV 512

5) Präludium C-dur, BWV 846

6) Scherzo a-moll, BWV 827

7) Burlesca a-moll, BWV 827

8) Air e-moll, BWV 830

9) Choral Dir, dir Jehova 299

10) Marche BWV Anhang 122 (Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach)

11) Aria


12) Quatorze canons sur les huit premières notes de la basse des Variations Goldberg


Les Variations Goldberg

13) Aria

14) Variation no 1

15) Variation no 2

16) Variation no 3 Canone all'unisono

17) Variation no 4

18) Variation no 5

19) Variation no 6 Canone alla seconda

20) Variation no 7

21) Variation no 8

22) Variation no 9 Canone alla terza

23) Variation no 10 Fughetta

24) Variation no 11

25) Variation no 12 Canone alla quarta

26) Variation no 13

27) Variation no 14

28) Variation no 15 Canone alla quinta

29) Variation no 16 Ouverture

30) Variation no 17

31) Variation no 18 Canone alla sesta

32) Variation no 19

33) Variation no 20

34) Variation no 21 Canone alla settima

35) Variation no 22

36) Variation no 23

37) Variation no 24 Canone all'ottava

38) Variation no 25

39) Variation no 26

40) Variation no 27 Canone alla nona

41) Variation no 28

42) Variation no 29

43) Variation no 30 Quodlibet

44) Aria



Goldberg Variations - a point of vue





Is this a single, unified and "closed" work, or merely a collection of pieces of a varied character? The question is still the subject of endless debate. There are several indications to be found in Bach's text that lead one to suppose that we are dealing with a strict form that has been thought out from beginning to end:

- Every third variation (Nos. 3, 6, 9, etc.) - except the 30th - is a canon. This internal suite of canons thus divides the cycle into ten groups of three variations, with the tenth group occupying a place of its own, since the 30th variation is not a canon.

- Finally, the 16th variation is called an Ouverture, which denotes the opening of the second half of the cycle and points to a certain formal symmetry.

However, these indications do not explain the order of the other variations. In addition, the 16th, the only one in which the writing is not homogeneous, presents a particular enigma: the second half is of a quite different character from the first, and constitutes a sort of independent fughetta. But the structure of the Goldberg Variations will become clearer if we regard the three above mentioned signs of formal unity as being allusions to the existence of other, more secret keys.

If we scrutinise the second variation (Nos. 2, 5, 8,..., 29) in each of the groups of three, we easily discern that, apart from the 2nd, they all possess common features that make it possible to link them together into another internal suite, which we might call a suite of toccatas.

Let us, for the time being, put aside the first and the last groups, because the periodic recurrence of toccatas and canons does not apply to them, and consider the remaining variations as a succession of eight groups of three. Although the first variation of each group is different, we can still discern the element of periodicity. Thus the 4th, 10th, 16th and 22nd betray a common aspect and it is permissible to see them as an internal suite of fughettas. The dance-like character of the 7th and the 19th link them into an internal suite of gigues(these names are approximations), while the 13th and the 25th stand out, by virtue of their common melodic traits, as an internal suite of arias, which had already been inaugurated by the theme itself.

Here is the general plan of the work (F is for fughetta, C is for canon, T is for toccata, A is for aria and G is for gigue):


It will be noticed that the succession of the eight groups of three described above is divided into two sections of which the second reproduces exactly the same pattern of forms and genres as the first. And now the enigma of the 16th becomes clear: the character of its first part (Ouverture) is necessary as an introduction to a new section; the second part (fughetta) is a pendant to variation 4 with which the first section begins. This leads us to the conclusion that the two groups of variations 1-3 and 28-30, which we had temporarily set aside, take on the significance of an exordium and a conclusion the theme, heard at the beginning and then again at the end, reinforces the impression of a unified, closed and finished composition.

It would, however, be hazardous to bestow equal significance on this pattern and on the composition itself. In the structure of every work of art one may discover two opposing tendencies: the one consists in subordinating all of the elements of a text to a system, to a kind of mechanical grammar, without which communication would be impossible; the other tendency is to annihilate its mechanical quality in order that the real vehicle of the message should not be the grammar but the work itself, its unique and individual structure.

In the Goldberg Variations we find a propensity for establishing rules (e.g the logic of periodicity), and, at the same time, for breaking them, for destroying them. As in the opening and in the concluding group, where we find little trace of the structural attributes of the other groups. Moreover, the "internal suites" intersect in many places not provided for in the general design. Thus we find that the 11th variation is both a toccata and a gigue; the 24th is a gigue and a canon: while we are hearing a "predictable" canon, we perceive an unexpected gigue as well, which contributes to the breaking down of the "automatism" of our perceptions. Without going into details, we may point out that the frequency of the infringements of the rules increases as we approach the end of the work. It is well known that the composition of many of Bach's works contains both a formal significance and a symbolic sense of a kind of "picture of the world". The predominance of symmetry, the periodic recurrence of certain numbers, the "circular" design of the

Goldberg Variations are the reflections of the model of a multiform, although strictly organised, world, of which the beginning coincides with the end. This, too, is one of its many manifestations. The model of this world was founded on the empire of numbers, and it has long been known that Bach was susceptible to the ardour of their cold flame.

The theory of numbers goes back to a cultural tradition whose roots lay deep in the Middle Ages and which parenthetically establishes a kinship between Bach and another giant of European art, Dante. Baroque culture contributed to reviving certain elements of contemplation as conceived in the Middle Ages and which had become obsolete during the Renaissance. In addition, there is the question of the presence in Bach's work of one of the most astonishing features of the medieval perception of the world: that of universality - the expression of universal coherence and Unity. In art this feature responds above all to the artist's attempt to expand the field of thought beyond all hitherto known frontiers: he strives to embrace and to realise the All, without neglecting a single detail, because the objects of this world, beyond their mundane and secular significance, are endowed with another, secret sense, the symbol of profounder forces.

Boris Aronovitch Katz
(Condensed and translated from Russian by A. V. and Derek Yeld)

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