Johann Sebastian Bach

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

    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 / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2021
    C.E. Jones
    2020
    King's College Choir
    KGS 0049
    2020
    Deutsche Grammophon
    003244402
    2020
    Deutsche Grammophon
    003244202
    2020
    Linn / Linn Records
    CKD 609
    2020
    Hyperion
    CDA 68338
    2020
    Musicaphon
    M 56981
    2020
    Centaur Records
    CRC 3721
    2019
    Naxos
    8551405
    2019
    Avi / CAvi-music
    AVI 8553145
    2019
    MSR Classics
    MS 1661
    2019
    Simax Classics
    PSC 1353
    2019
    BIS
    BIS 2347
    2019
    Naxos
    8551399
    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 90228384
    2018
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMM 902283DI
    2017
    Nimbus
    NI 5946/47
    2017
    Warner Classics
    0190295880187
    2017
    Warner Classics
    559510
    2017
    Hänssler Classic
    HC 17059
    2017
    Audite
    AUD 20035
    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
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4795929
    2016
    Warner Classics
    554599
    2016
    Paladino Music
    PMR 0073
    2016
    Sony Classical
    88875140142
    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
    Ramée
    RAM 1404
    2016
    Glossa
    GCD 923510
    2016
    Hyperion
    CDA 68146
    2015
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMX 290874244
    2015
    Sony Classical
    88875060962
    2015
    Azica Records
    ACD 71300
    2015
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMX 2902058
    2015
    Ondine
    ODE 12732
    2015
    Erato
    552759
    2015
    Capriccio Records
    C 5243
    2015
    TwoPianists
    TP 1039244
    2015
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMU 807633
    2015
    ATMA Classique
    ACD 22723
    2015
    Orfeo
    C 864141A
    2015
    Skarbo
    DSK 4147
    2015
    Sony Classical
    88875032222
    2015
    Stone Records
    8057
    2015
    Stradivarius
    STR 37001
    2015
    Klanglogo
    KL 1504
    2015
    Alpha
    ALPHA 303
    2015
    MDG
    9031914
    2015
    Vanitas
    VTS 2
    2014
    Various Artists
    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
    Various Artists
    L'Oiseau-Lyre / Decca
    4786753
    2014
    Sony Classical
    888430147621
    2013
    Archiv Produktion
    002894791045AB55
    2013
    TwoPianists
    TP 1039213
    2013
    Erato
    45468
    2013
    Paladino Music
    PMR 0032
    2013
    Stone Records
    5060192780291
    2013
    Newton Classics
    8802206
    2013
    Das Alte Werk
    469853
    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
    Camerata Records
    CAM 15122/23
    2012
    Warner Classics
    682684
    2012
    Bridge
    BRIDGE 9357
    2012
    Centaur Records
    CRC 3202
    2012
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2012
    Piano Classics
    PCL 0042
    2012
    EMI Classics
    2012
    Ondine
    ODE 12092
    2012
    Melodiya
    MELCD 1002049
    2012
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099960231925
    2012
    La Dolce Volta
    LDV 01
    2012
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4783383
    2012
    ATMA Classique
    ACD 22557
    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
    Erato
    2011
    Piano Classics
    PCL0010
    2011
    Virgin Classics
    5099907066429
    2011
    Chandos
    CHAN0780
    2011
    Avie
    AV 2235
    2011
    Auris Subtilis
    ASO 50512000
    2011
    Telarc Distribution
    2011
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMU 907560
    2011
    Sunnyside Communications
    SSC 1284
    2011
    Avanti
    541470610372
    2011
    Dynamic
    CDS659
    2011
    Lontano / Warner Classics & Jazz
    4691996
    2011
    Makiko Hirata
    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
    Alba
    283
    2010
    Warner Classics
    256468393
    2010
    Hyperion
    30002
    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
    2009
    Erato / Virgin Classics
    5099969319
    2009
    Cybele
    030802
    2009
    Berlin Classics
    0184802
    2009
    Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2009
    Sony Classical Essential Classics
    7572432
    2009
    Deutsche Grammophon / Universal
    4778097
    2009
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4778165
    2009
    Document
    231657
    2009
    MSR Classics
    1324
    2009
    Erato / WEA
    3984209722
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Oehms Classics
    636
    2008
    Thorofon / Zebralution
    2008
    Warner Music
    69853
    2008
    Ivory Classics
    77005
    2008
    Oxingale Records
    2014
    2008
    Nimbus
    NI2507
    2008
    Centaur Records
    2899
    2008
    Brilliant Classics
    93765
    2008
    Warner Classics
    2008
    EMI Classics
    215978
    2008
    Bayer Records
    100326
    2008
    Arte Nova Classics
    340110
    2008
    Oehms Classics
    625
    2008
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099950964
    2008
    EMI Classics
    2008
    EMI Classics
    5096472
    2008
    Antes Edition / Zebralution
    2008
    Motette
    13494
    2008
    Goldberg Trio
    8553004
    2008
    Neos Classics
    30801
    2008
    Urania
    344
    2008
    Ongaku
    107
    2008
    Various Artists
    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
    Various Artists
    Brilliant
    93160
    2007
    Analekta
    24022-43
    2007
    Querstand
    601
    2007
    Bluthner
    2004PA02
    2007
    BBC Legends
    4228
    2007
    Telarc Distribution
    80692
    2007
    EMI Classics
    2007
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4776378
    2007
    Naxos Historical
    8111247
    2007
    EMI Classics
    81745
    2007
    CBS Masterworks
    714853
    2007
    VDE-Gallo
    GAL 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
    2006
    Brilliant Classics
    93102
    2006
    Analekta
    3068
    2006
    Decca
    000624502
    2006
    Analekta
    23132
    2006
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMU907425/6
    2006
    Bridge
    9193
    2006
    Sony Classical Essential Classics
    82876883522
    2006
    Rca Red Seal
    67891
    2006
    Warner Classics
    4636712
    2006
    Philips
    4761156
    2006
    Farao / Farao Classics
    108024
    2006
    Brilliant Classics
    92284
    2006
    Decca
    000639402
    2005
    Nonesuch
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    Parlophone
    2005
    Sony Music
    93101
    2005
    Decca
    476282
    2005
    Urania
    4240
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    Brilliant Classics
    92217
    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
    Naxos
    8557268
    2005
    Glossa / Glossa Platinum
    GCDP 31508
    2005
    Doppio Movimento
    2000
    2005
    Claves
    2407
    2005
    Various Artists
    Union Square Music
    023
    2005
    Classico
    416
    2004
    Decca
    000218102
    2004
    Rca Red Seal
    184593
    2004
    BIS
    310819
    2004
    DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
    60146
    2004
    Sony Classical
    93070
    2004
    Sony Music
    5174802
    2004
    Sony Music
    5174792
    2004
    Various Artists
    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 Music Distribution
    74952
    2003
    ECM New Series / Universal Music / Universal Music Classics and Jazz
    2003
    EMI Classics
    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 Classical
    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
    Delos
    3279SACD
    2001
    Teldec
    81143
    2001
    Monopoly
    2056
    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
    Motette
    12571
    2000
    Hyperion
    67305
    2000
    ECM / Universal Distribution
    8396222
    2000
    RCA
    63610
    2000
    Arsis
    99074
    2000
    Sony Music Distribution
    89243
    2000
    Proprius-AudioSource
    9999
    2000
    M.A. Recordings
    24
    2000
    Dorian
    90281
    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
    CBC Records
    1130
    1999
    Deutsche Grammophon
    289459599
    1999
    Channel Classics
    12798
    1999
    SR
    1013
    1999
    Haenssler
    92112
    1999
    Virgin
    61555
    1999
    Various Artists
    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
    VAI Audio
    1142
    1997
    Capriccio Records
    10577/78
    1997
    Arte Nova
    74321 34011-2
    1997
    L'Empreinte Digitale
    ED13065
    1997
    Point Classics
    265011
    1997
    Eclipse Records
    64350
    1997
    Grammofono 2000
    78715/16
    1997
    Pearl
    9265
    1996
    Biddulph Recordings
    FLW001
    1996
    Teldec
    97994
    1996
    Arcobaleno
    93972
    1996
    Erato
    16170
    1996
    Globe Records
    5129
    1996
    BIS
    819
    1996
    Infinity Digital
    62582
    1996
    Teldec
    4509-97904-2
    1996
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    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
    VAI Audio
    1029
    1995
    Virgin
    61153
    1995
    Nonesuch
    79341
    1995
    L'Oiseau-Lyre
    444866
    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
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    4399782
    1994
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    52685
    1993
    Opus 111
    3084
    1993
    MusicMasters
    67093
    1993
    Dorian
    90110
    1993
    Deutsche Grammophon
    435436
    1993
    Sony Music Distribution
    52619
    1993
    Dorian
    90138
    1993
    Astree Auvidis
    8745
    1992
    Sony Music Distribution
    48173
    1992
    Hyperion
    66589
    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
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    1901240
    1986
    Decca
    1986
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    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
    Brilliant
    92391/14
    Tactus
    680290
    Brilliant
    93102/34
    Raymond Vacchino
    Open Goldberg Variations
    OGV 001
    Teldec
    843632
    Dives Publishing
    3
    Brilliant
    99702/11
    Bergen Digital
    7033
    Visionmark
    Brilliant
    93160/5
    Musical Heritage Society
    513260
    Brilliant Classics
    93668/14
    Musical Heritage Society
    5190592
    D'Note
    1013
    Serenfinity Records
    Sony Classical
    G010001399424T
    ECM
    21395
    EMI Music Distribution
    7475462
    BBC Music
    MM 334
    EMI Music Distribution
    47546
    Kontrapunkt
    32023
    Albany Music Distribution
    007
    Bluebell
    43
    Denon Records
    73677
    Newport Classic
    60024
    Ermitage
    412
    Ars Musici
    1103
    Gasparo Records
    282
    Polskie Nagrania
    055
    RCA
    7841
    Collins Records
    7003
    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
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    52619
    CBS Records
    37779
    Meridian Records
    84291
    Forces of Virtue Records
    8376
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    703350
    Fonit-Cetra Italia
    118
    Digital Concerto
    710
    Memoria
    991007
    Price-Less
    15119
    Pilz
    160127
    Cheung, Pius
    Classical West, Inc.
    Collins Records
    70032
    EMI Classics
    14123
    Pius Cheung