J.S.Bach: Variatio 25 from Goldberg Variations (Catrin Finch, harp)
J.S.Bach: Variatio 25 from Goldberg Variations
Catrin Finch, harp
The tale of how the variations came to be composed comes from an early biography of Bach by Johann Nikolaus Forkel:
[For this work] we have to thank the instigation of the former Russian ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony, Count Kaiserling, who often stopped in Leipzig and brought there with him the aforementioned Goldberg, in order to have him given musical instruction by Bach. The Count was often ill and had sleepless nights. At such times, Goldberg, who lived in his house, had to spend the night in an antechamber, so as to play for him during his insomnia. … Once the Count mentioned in Bach’s presence that he would like to have some clavier pieces for Goldberg, which should be of such a smooth and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights. Bach thought himself best able to fulfill this wish by means of Variations, the writing of which he had until then considered an ungrateful task on account of the repeatedly similar harmonic foundation. But since at this time all his works were already models of art, such also these variations became under his hand. Yet he produced only a single work of this kind. Thereafter the Count always called them his variations. He never tired of them, and for a long time sleepless nights meant: ‘Dear Goldberg, do play me one of my variations.’ Bach was perhaps never so rewarded for one of his works as for this. The Count presented him with a golden goblet filled with 100 louis-d’or. Nevertheless, even had the gift been a thousand times larger, their artistic value would not yet have been paid for.
Forkel wrote his biography in 1802, more than 60 years after the events related, and its accuracy has been questioned. The lack of dedication on the title page of the “Aria with Diverse Variations” also makes the tale of the commission unlikely. Goldberg’s age at the time of publication (14 years) has also been cited as grounds for doubting Forkel’s tale, although it must be said that he was known to be an accomplished keyboardist and sight-reader. In a recent book-length study, keyboardist and Bach scholar Peter Williams contends that the Forkel story is entirely spurious.
The aria on which the variations are based was suggested by Arnold Schering not to have been written by Bach. More recent scholarly literature (such as the edition by Christoph Wolff) suggests that there is no basis for such doubts.
After a statement of the aria at the beginning of the piece, there are thirty variations. The variations do not follow the melody of the aria, but rather use its bass line and chord progression.
Variation 25 is the third and last variation in G minor; a three-part piece, it is marked adagio in Bach’s own copy and is in 3/4 time. The melody is written out predominantly in 16th and 32nd notes, with many chromaticisms. This variation generally lasts longer than any other piece of the set.
Wanda Landowska famously described this variation as “the black pearl” of the Goldberg Variations. Peter Williams writes that “the beauty and dark passion of this variation make it unquestionably the emotional high point of the work”, and Glenn Gould said that “the appearance of this wistful, weary cantilena is a master-stroke of psychology.” In an interview with Gould, Tim Page described this variation as having an “extraordinary chromatic texture”; Gould agreed: “I don’t think there’s been a richer lode of enharmonic relationships any place between Gesualdo and Wagner.”
For many years Catrin has delighted audiences with her performances in the UK and worldwide. Inspired to learn the harp at the age of five, her rise to prominence started almost immediately, achieving the highest mark in the UK for her Grade VIII exam at the age of nine. She studied with Elinor Bennett for eight years before entering the Purcell School. Catrin graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in 2002 where she studied with Skaila Kanga and received the Queen’s Award for the most outstanding student of her year. More about Catrin Finch: http://www.catrinfinch.com