Johann Sebastian Bach

Goldberg Variations, for keyboard (Clavier-Übung IV), BWV 988 (BC L9)

    Description by John Keillor

    Johann Sebastian Bach completed the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, for keyboard in 1741. The work consists of an aria and 30 variations. Scholars at the end of the twentieth century were still debating the exact details of the work's origin, but many accept that J.G. Goldberg commissioned it. His job was to perform for Count Keyserkingk, a chronic insomniac who needed music to lull him to sleep. Many records suggest that Bach once taught Goldberg, a famed virtuoso, who would have easily been able to play the variations. It is also believed that the technical wizardry required to play the variations comes directly from Bach's study of Domenico Scarlatti's Essercizi for keyboard from 1739, itself a daunting piece for exceptional players only.

    The aria that Bach used is of unknown origin; it was probably not the composer's own, but was related to a now-untraceable French keyboard dance. The basic harmonies and structures of the variations are all the same as the theme's. The work exemplifies Bach's quest for the greatest amount of diversity within relentless unity. The Goldberg Variations are among the most sophisticated works ever written for keyboard, but the work does not sound like the awesomely complex compendium that it is. The music is deceptively simple and heartfelt, with a noble calm even when the performer is obliged to cross hands at lightning speeds. It never seethes or gets gritty, and is, of course, never boring. The aria theme is subjected to ever-new means of contrapuntal manipulation. Every third variation is a different kind of canon. The final variation breaks with this trend in order to offer up a quodlibet which uses well-known tunes for a humorous effect. The tunes, "Cabbage and beets have driven me away" and "I have so long been away from you," were a rousing, popular tune and an end-of-the-evening dance number respectively.

    This work is sublime and compassionate, graceful, warm, and relentlessly intricate, a demonstration of unmatched craft in music history and genuine, poetic imagination. The Goldberg Variations is a work that still engages scholars hundreds of years after its publication and is equally valuable for attracting new listeners to this sort of music.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Aria
    2. Variation 1 a 1 clavier
    3. Variation 2 a 1 clavier
    4. Variation 3. Canone all'unisono a 1 clavier
    5. Variation 4 a 1 clavier
    6. Variation 5 a 1 ovvero 2 claviere
    7. Variation 6. Canone alla seconda a 1 clavier
    8. Variation 7 a 1 ovvero 2 claviere
    9. Variation 8 a 2 claviere
    10. Variation 9. Canone alla terza a 1 clavier
    11. Variation 10. Fughetta a 1 clavier
    12. Variation 11 a 2 claviere
    13. Variation 12. Canone alla quarta
    14. Variation 13 a 2 claviere
    15. Variation 14 a 2 claviere
    16. Variation 15. Canone alla quinta
    17. Variation 16. Ouverture a 1 clavier
    18. Variation 17 a 2 claviere
    19. Variation 18. Canone alla sesta a 1 clavier
    20. Variation 19 a 1 clavier
    21. Variation 20 a 2 claviere
    22. Variation 21. Canone alla settima
    23. Variation 22. Alla breve a 1 clavier
    24. Variation 23 a 2 claviere
    25. Variation 24. Canone all'ottava a 1 clavier
    26. Variation 25 a 2 claviere
    27. Variation 26 a 2 claviere
    28. Variation 27. Canone alla nona
    29. Variation 28 a 2 claviere
    30. Variation 29 a 1 ovvero 2 claviere
    31. Variation 30. Quodlibet a 1 clavier
    32. Aria da capo

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Naxos 8551405
    2018 Warner Classics
    2018 IBS Classical IBS 112018
    2018 Naxos 8573921
    2018 Quartz QTZ 2130
    2018 Delphian DCD 34200
    2018 BIS BIS 2399
    2018 Dynamic CDS 7823
    2018 Parlophone
    2018 Sony Classical 19075851652
    2018 Oehms Classics OC 020
    2018 Harmonia Mundi HMM 902283DI
    2018 Harmonia Mundi HMM 90228384
    2017 Nimbus NI 5946/47
    2017 Warner Classics 559510
    2017 Hänssler Classic HC 17059
    2017 Audite AUD 20035
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295880187
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295849818
    2017 Naïve OP 30575
    2017 Blue Griffin Recording BGR 423
    2017 Brilliant Classics 95471
    2017 Brilliant Classics 95591
    2017 Pan Classics PC 10374
    2017 MV Cremona MVC 005012
    2017 Auris / Auris Subtilis AS 5078
    2017 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 16010
    2017 Sony Classical 88843014882
    2016 Warner Classics 554599
    2016 Paladino Music PMR 0073
    2016 Sony Classical 88875140142
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795929
    2016 MDG MDG 9031950
    2016 Genuin GEN 16435
    2016 Capriccio Records C 5286
    2016 Erato 557841
    2016 Sony Classical 88843071652
    2016 Accentus ACC 30372
    2016 Alba ABCD 396
    2016 Glossa GCD 923510
    2016 Ramée RAM 1404
    2016 Hyperion CDA 68146
    2015 Harmonia Mundi HMX 290874244
    2015 Sony Classical 88875060962
    2015 Azica Records ACD 71300
    2015 Harmonia Mundi HMX 2902058
    2015 TwoPianists TP 1039244
    2015 Harmonia Mundi HMU 807633
    2015 ATMA Classique ACD 22723
    2015 Capriccio Records C 5243
    2015 Ondine ODE 12732
    2015 Erato 552759
    2015 Orfeo C 864141A
    2015 Skarbo DSK 4147
    2015 Sony Classical 88875032222
    2015 Stone Records 8057
    2015 Klanglogo KL 1504
    2015 Stradivarius STR 37001
    2015 Alpha ALPHA 303
    2015 MDG 9031914
    2015 Vanitas VTS 2
    2014 Sony Classical 88843047122
    2014 Solo Musica SM 209
    2014 Dynamic CDS 769912
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon 4794177
    2014 Albany Music Distribution TROY 1492
    2014 Claudio CR 60182
    2014 Claudio CR 60186
    2014 L'Oiseau-Lyre / Decca 4786753
    2014 Sony Classical 888430147621
    2013 Archiv Produktion 002894791045AB55
    2013 TwoPianists TP 1039213
    2013 Erato 45468
    2013 Stone Records 5060192780291
    2013 Paladino Music PMR 0032
    2013 Das Alte Werk 469853
    2013 Newton Classics 8802206
    2013 Nonesuch 7559795869
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94621
    2013 Elatus 60010
    2013 Steinway & Sons 30024
    2013 Naïve NC 40029
    2013 IDIS IDIS 6662
    2013 Wergo WER 40432
    2012 Warner Classics 682684
    2012 Ondine ODE 12092
    2012 La Dolce Volta LDV 01
    2012 Bridge BRIDGE 9357
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 4783383
    2012 ATMA Classique ACD 22557
    2012 EMI Classics
    2012 Piano Classics PCL 0042
    2012 Centaur Records CRC 3202
    2012 Camerata Records CAM 15122/23
    2012 Melodiya MELCD 1002049
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099960231925
    2012 Virgin Classics
    2012 Sony Classical 88725411822
    2012 Sony Classical 88725413732
    2012 Stradivarius STV 33925
    2012 Sony Classical 88691912562
    2012 Nimbus NI 6199
    2011 Hyperion CDA 67826
    2011 Auris Subtilis ASO 50512000
    2011 Telarc Distribution
    2011 Virgin Classics 5099907066429
    2011 Avanti 541470610372
    2011 Makiko Hirata
    2011 Lontano / Warner Classics & Jazz 4691996
    2011 Harmonia Mundi HMU 907560
    2011 Sunnyside Communications SSC 1284
    2011 Avie AV 2235
    2011 Chandos CHAN0780
    2011 Piano Classics PCL0010
    2011 Erato
    2011 Dynamic CDS659
    2011 Guild GMCD7350
    2011 Centaur Records CRC 3135
    2011 Zig Zag Territoires ZZT 111001
    2011 Honens 201104
    2011 MSR Classics MS1167
    2010 Hyperion 4442135
    2010 Brilliant Classics 94050
    2010 Harmonia Mundi 902058
    2010 Hyperion 30002
    2010 Alba 283
    2010 Warner Classics 256468393
    2010 Preiser Records 90771
    2010 Gramola 98846
    2010 EPR-Classic 7
    2010 Sony Classical 88697806062
    2010 Linn Records 356
    2010 Dorian 92104
    2010 Tall Poppies 110
    2010 EtCetera Records 1400
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Decca
    2009 Erato / WEA 0927486432
    2009 Document 231560
    2009 Naïve NC 40002
    2009 Erato / Virgin Classics 5099969319
    2009 Erato
    2009 Cybele 030802
    2009 Berlin Classics 0184802
    2009 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2009 Sony Classical Essential Classics 7572432
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal 4778097
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    2009 Document 231657
    2009 Erato / WEA 3984209722
    2009 MSR Classics 1324
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Oehms Classics 636
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    2008 Nimbus NI2507
    2008 Centaur Records 2899
    2008 Arte Nova Classics 340110
    2008 Warner Classics
    2008 Oxingale Records 2014
    2008 Ivory Classics 77005
    2008 EMI Classics 215978
    2008 Bayer Records 100326
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93765
    2008 Oehms Classics 625
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099950964
    2008 EMI Classics 5096472
    2008 Goldberg Trio 8553004
    2008 Antes Edition / Zebralution
    2008 Motette 13494
    2008 Neos Classics 30801
    2008 Urania 344
    2008 Ongaku 107
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93668
    2008 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88697281822
    2008 Haenssler 98527
    2008 Sony Classical 88697318972
    2008 Corona Classic Collection 0000792CCC
    2008 Centaur Records 2927
    2008 Raven 905
    2008 Brilliant 93160
    2007 Analekta 24022-43
    2007 Querstand 601
    2007 EMI Classics
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 4776378
    2007 Bluthner 2004PA02
    2007 BBC Legends 4228
    2007 Telarc Distribution 80692
    2007 Naxos Historical 8111247
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    2007 CBS Masterworks 714853
    2007 Gallo 1187
    2007 Doremi Records 7813
    2007 Scandinavian Classics 220590205
    2007 Quartz 2051
    2007 Mirare 048
    2007 MSR Classics 1179
    2007 Cascade Records 2100
    2007 CBC Records PSCD2030
    2006 Brilliant Classics 99697
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    2006 Harmonia Mundi HMU907425/6
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    2006 Decca 000624502
    2006 Analekta 3068
    2006 Bridge 9193
    2006 Sony Classical Essential Classics 82876883522
    2006 Rca Red Seal 67891
    2006 Warner Classics 4636712
    2006 Philips 4761156
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    2005 Urania 4240
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    2005 History 204580
    2005 Tomato 2126
    2005 Skarbo 1059
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 61008
    2005 Sony Music Distribution 82876746512
    2005 Sony Classical Essential Classics 518509
    2005 Glossa / Glossa Platinum GCDP 31508
    2005 Naxos 8557268
    2005 Doppio Movimento 2000
    2005 Claves 2407
    2005 Union Square Music 023
    2005 Classico 416
    2004 BIS 310819
    2004 Decca 000218102
    2004 Rca Red Seal 184593
    2004 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 60146
    2004 Sony Classical 93070
    2004 Sony Music 5174802
    2004 Sony Music 5174792
    2004 Brilliant Classics 92391
    2004 Mirare 9945
    2004 Caprice Records 21695
    2004 4Tay Records 4028
    2004 Artemis Classics 1281
    2004 Deux-Elles 1017
    2004 Alpha Productions 14
    2003 Archiv Produktion 000048502
    2003 Coviello Classics COV 50101
    2003 Naïve 1616
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 74952
    2003 ECM New Series / Universal Music / Universal Music Classics and Jazz
    2003 Zefiro 103
    2003 Sony Classical 90387
    2003 Glissando 42
    2003 Boston Skyline BSD126
    2003 Warner Classics
    2003 Bach Guild 1247
    2003 ECM 000106302
    2003 Sony Music Distribution 87890
    2002 Sony Classical 87703
    2002 Bel Canto Society BCS5016
    2002 CPO 999831
    2002 Columns 99564
    2002 Fie! FIE 9128
    2002 Actes Sud 34112
    2002 Gallante 1018
    2002 Simax 1192
    2002 Labor Records 7037
    2001 Pro Organo 7048
    2001 Seraphim UK 74501
    2001 Angel Records 61869
    2001 Monopoly 2056
    2001 Delos 3279SACD
    2001 Teldec 81143
    2001 Delos 3279
    2001 Classica d'Oro 3008
    2001 Bluebell 043
    2001 Haenssler 92568
    2001 Preiser Records 90435
    2001 HDC 026
    2001 Harmonia Mundi 1951240
    2001 Naïve 8818
    2001 Lifestyles 315017
    2000 Q Records 92936
    2000 Telarc / Telarc Distribution CD 83479
    2000 Opus 111 2024
    2000 Proprius-AudioSource 9999
    2000 ECM / Universal Distribution 8396222
    2000 M.A. Recordings 24
    2000 Hyperion 67305
    2000 Dorian 90281
    2000 RCA 63610
    2000 Arsis 99074
    2000 Motette 12571
    2000 Sony Music Distribution 89243
    2000 Music & Arts 4850
    2000 Teldec 82138
    2000 Angel Records 67200B
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon / Polygram 4696732
    2000 Harmonia Mundi 2951240
    2000 Direct Source Special 6253
    2000 Sony Music Distribution 60278
    2000 Mandala 4950
    2000 Direct Source Special 62162
    1999 Teldec 25705
    1999 Teldec 25704
    1999 Magic Master 37006
    1999 Phil.Harmonie PHIL 06006
    1999 Channel Classics 12798
    1999 CBC Records 1130
    1999 SR 1013
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 289459599
    1999 Haenssler 92112
    1999 Virgin 61555
    1999 Teldec 3984-25715-2
    1999 Sony Music Distribution 37779
    1999 Astree 128745
    1999 Sony Classical 64226
    1999 Philips 456 979-2PM2
    1999 Philips 454987
    1999 Philips 456994
    1998 Harmonia Mundi 901666
    1998 Decca / London 460611
    1998 Sony Music Distribution 60257
    1997 Music & Arts CD976
    1997 Arte Nova 74321 34011-2
    1997 VAI Audio 1142
    1997 Capriccio Records 10577/78
    1997 L'Empreinte Digitale ED13065
    1997 Point Classics 265011
    1997 Eclipse Records 64350
    1997 Grammofono 2000 78715/16
    1997 Pearl 9265
    1996 BIS 819
    1996 Globe Records 5129
    1996 Erato 16170
    1996 Biddulph Recordings FLW001
    1996 Arcobaleno 93972
    1996 Teldec 97994
    1996 Infinity Digital 62582
    1996 Teldec 4509-97904-2
    1996 Amati 9602
    1996 RCA / RCA Victor Red Seal 09026 68188-2
    1996 Harmonia Mundi HMT790 1240
    1996 Decca 452279
    1996 Composer's Corner 11
    1996 Concord 42030
    1995 L'Oiseau-Lyre 444866
    1995 Nonesuch 79341
    1995 VAI Audio 1029
    1995 Virgin 61153
    1995 CBC Records PSCD2007
    1995 Antes Edition BM-CD 319048
    1995 Denon Records 78961
    1995 Connoisseur Society 4176
    1994 Naxos 550078
    1994 BIS 519
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon 4399782
    1994 Sony Classical 52685
    1993 Opus 111 3084
    1993 Deutsche Grammophon 435436
    1993 Dorian 90110
    1993 MusicMasters 67093
    1993 Sony Music Distribution 52619
    1993 Dorian 90138
    1993 Astree Auvidis 8745
    1992 Hyperion 66589
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 48173
    1992 Sony Classical 52594
    1992 Archiphon 105
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 52519
    1992 BMG 60919
    1992 Sony Classical 52694
    1991 Erato 45468
    1990 MYK 38479
    1989 Thorofon 2047
    1989 ECM
    1987 Harmonia Mundi 1901240
    1986 Decca
    1986 London 417116
    1985 Archiv Produktion 415130
    1985 Orfeo 138851
    1983 CBS Records 37779
    Brilliant 93102-VOL2
    Brilliant 99702
    Music & Arts 4976
    Analekta 4041
    Mecenat Musical 2000
    Koch Discover International 920595
    Claves 508601
    ECM 21395
    Dives Publishing 3
    Brilliant 92391/14
    Sony Classical G010001399424T
    BBC Music MM 334
    Serenfinity Records
    Brilliant 93102/34
    Raymond Vacchino
    EMI Music Distribution 7475462
    Teldec 843632
    Visionmark
    Musical Heritage Society 5190592
    Brilliant 99702/11
    Brilliant Classics 93668/14
    Tactus 680290
    Musical Heritage Society 513260
    D'Note 1013
    Open Goldberg Variations OGV 001
    Bergen Digital 7033
    Brilliant 93160/5
    Kontrapunkt 32023
    EMI Music Distribution 47546
    Newport Classic 60024
    Bluebell 43
    Denon Records 73677
    Ermitage 412
    Albany Music Distribution 007
    Ars Musici 1103
    Gasparo Records 282
    Collins Records 7003
    RCA 7841
    Polskie Nagrania 055
    Sony Classical Essential Classics 52594
    Music & Arts 850
    The Piano Library 219
    Gasparo Records 2823
    Magic Talent 48004
    Cascade Records 2121
    History 204585
    Sony Classical Essential Classics 88697292082
    Berlin Classics 0017162
    Sony Classical Essential Classics 52619
    CBS Records 37779
    Meridian Records 84291
    Forces of Virtue Records 8376
    Sony Classical Essential Classics 703350
    Fonit-Cetra Italia 118
    Digital Concerto 710
    Memoria 991007
    Price-Less 15119
    Pilz 160127
    Classical West, Inc.
    Collins Records 70032
    EMI Classics 14123
    Cheung, Pius
    Pius Cheung
    Vanguard 2004
    P&P Classica
    Opus 2566
    Monopoly 3026
    Musical Heritage Society 1410084
    Nineteen-Eight
    Archiv Produktion 000303002
    Concord 42023
    Decca 475 8058DB5
    Deutsche Grammophon 4776210