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Canons of the Goldberg Variations

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How the Variations Came to Be

The eminent harpsichordist, Ralph Kirkpatrick, writes: "However much it is an act of impudence thus to discuss something which is far too profound and complex to be grasped in words, it seems necessary in order to explain all that has been said before, to confess some of the feelings which inevitably come with the playing of this music." The music about which Kirkpatrick writes is the set of variations commissioned of Johann Sebastian Bach by Dresden's Count Von Keyserlingk for his court harpsichordist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg.

It seems that the Count, an insomniac, had asked Bach to compose something that might occupy his restless nights. For his trouble, Bach was rewarded with a golden goblet filled with 100 louis-d'or. Keyserlingk was so pleased that he thereafter referred to Bach's music as "my variations," but history has remembered "Keyserlingk's Variations" by the name of his harpsichordist: Goldberg.

The Goldberg Variations begin with an Aria Bach had composed in 1725, possibly for his wife This Aria appears in Anna Magdalena's Notebook, where it is written in her own hand. The Sarabande-like Aria becomes theme for a set of 30 variations to follow.

Analysis of Each Canon

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