Goldberg Variations

It was in one of William F. Buckley’s sailing books, I think, that I was first tantalized by his description (really, his praise) for Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations:

The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, is a work for harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach, consisting of an aria and a set of 30 variations. First published in 1741, the work is considered to be one of the most important examples of variation form. The Variations are named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who may have been the first performer.

I was in Miami in January 2013 when I had the chance to attend a solo performance of the complete variations by Simone Dinnerstein. In effrontery to the Bill Buckley, Dinnerstein’s rendition was not on harpsichord but, instead, piano. Luckily for me as an amateur appreciator with little ear for the technical soundness of a performance, it was a delightful hour and a half experience.

Sharing impressions jotted down at the time: the Goldberg Variations can be tough listening even on piano at a slower tempo than almost anything a millennial would typically hear. Tonight’s rendition had strength and force enough to keep me attentive even as I shut my eyes to wander mental landscapes. It was a pleasant but not particularly transformative experience. I’d like to hear it again with someone able to dissect the performance’s quality and judge it sufficiently rather than sentimentally.

Worth hearing? Absolutely.

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