Goldberg Variations (Johann Sebastian Bach) (Pi-hsien Chen/ Wolfgang Seikritt) (Naxos: 8.550078)
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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
(Aria mit verschiedenen Veraenderungen,BWV 988)
The Aria and 30 Variations, known as theGoldberg Variations, constitute a superb example of Johann Sebastian Bach'sachievement as a composer for the clavier. The work was published in 1741 or1742 as the fourth part of the Clavier-Uebung, a title that had been used byhis predecessor as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau. The first part ofthis collection of compositions for the clavier had been published complete in1731 and included six Partitas, which had appeared annually, one by one, from1726, three years after his appointment to the Leipzig Thomas-schule. Thesecond part, published in 1735, contained the contrasted Italian Concerto and Overturein the French Style, and the third part, issued in 1739, contained a series oforgan compositions and the keyboard Duets.
Doubt had been cast on the storyassociated with the Goldberg Variations, the source of the title by which theyare commonly known. Bach's early biographer Forkel alleged that Count HermannKarl von Keyserlingk, Russian ambassador to the court of Saxony in Dresden, hadcommissioned the work for performance by his protege, the young harpsichordistJohann Gottlieb Goldberg, to amuse him during hours of sleeplessness.
Goldberg himself was born in 1727 inDanzig (Gdansk), where he came to Keyserlingk's attention ten years later. Hewas said to have taken lessons not only from J. S. Bach but also from thelatter's eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, who was working in Dresden from1733 until 1746.
Goldberg may have remained in Dresdenafter Keyserlingk's departure in 1745 to Potsdam, and in 1751 he entered theservice of the First Minister in Dresden, Count Heinrich von Bruehl. He died oftuberculosis at the age of 29 in 1756, leaving a reputation rather as avirtuoso performer than as a composer.
There was, of course, a close connectionbetween J. S. Bach and Count von Keyserlingk, his patron at the court ofDresden. It was through Keyserlingk that Bach had in 1736 finally secured thetitle of Court Composer to the King of Saxony, and the ambassador's only sonwas a student in Leipzig from 1741, so that both Keyserlingk and Goldberg mightwell have visited Bach. Wilhelm Friedemann Bach owed his introduction to thecourt of Dresden to Keyserlingk, whose house was open to other Dresdenmusicians of distinction. The Aria and Variations, however, have no printeddedication, and it has been argued that Goldberg was remarkably young at thetime of their composition, although their technical difficulties should havebeen within the competence of the young virtuoso even at the age of 14. Forkelconcludes his story by adding that Bach was rewarded by Keyserlingk with a goldcup filled with a hundred louis d'or. His biography of Bach, published in 1802,is the only evidence for this.
The Aria on which the variations are basedwas included in the Clavier-buechlein copied in 1725 by Bach's second wife AnnaMagdalena, a Sarabande, not necessarily the work of Bach himself. Thevariations that follow are derived from the harmonic structure and the bassline of the Aria and are grouped in threes, every third variation a canon at ahigher numerical interval, with the final variation a quodlibet, a hotch-potchseemingly remote from the original aria, that follows in conclusion.
The first three variations, ending with acanon at the unison, are for one manual, while the second group includes afifth variation for an optional second manual, leading to a canon at thesecond. The seventh variation offers the same option for a gigue-like movement,followed by a two manual variation and a canon at the third.
The fourth group opens with a fughetta andends with a canon at the fourth, and the fifth, designed for two manuals, endswith a single manual G minor canon at the fifth. An Ouverture opens the sixthgroup, a solemn introduction in the French style, followed by a fugal section,the group ending with a canon at the sixth.
The seventh group ends with a G minorcanon at the seventh, and the eighth with a canon at the octave. This isfollowed by a ninth group opening in G minor and closing with a canon at theninth. The final group, providing opportunities for greater brilliance ofperformance, ends with a quodlibet, a mixture of popular tunes that include Krautund Rueben haben mich vertrieben (Cabbage and turnips have driven me away)and Ich bin so lang nicht bei dir g'west (It is so long since I was atyour house), set against the variation ground.
The Goldberg Variations offer a conspectusof Bach's wit and technical accomplishment, and herald a final period in whichhe would continue to explore the possibilities of canon and the use of a singletheme, notably in The Musical Offering and The Art of Fugue.
Chen Pi-hsien was born in Taiwan in 1950.
When she was four, she began to take piano lessons. At the early age of fiveChen Pi-hsien gave her first public performance. The nine year old girl wassent to Germany to continue her studies at the Musikhochschule in Koeln withHans Otto Schmidt, where she received her diploma as a concert pianist in 1970.
In the following years she pursued her studies with Hans Leygraf and took partin piano courses given by Wilhelm Kempff, Tatjana Nikolajewa and Geza Anda. In1972 she won international appreciation with a prize at the Concours ReineElisabeth and the first prize in the competition of the Rundfunkanstalten inMunich. Since then she has given performances at important places such asLondon, Amsterdam, Zurich, Berlin, Munich and Tokyo as well as at the Festivalsof Lucerne, Schwetzingen, Hong Kong and Osaka. Chen Pi-hsien has played withfamous orchestras and conductois, such as the London Symphony Orchestra, theBBC Symphony Orchestra, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Residentie Orchestra,the ORTF, the Sinfonie-orchester of the Bayerische, Hessische, Suedwestdeutscheund Norddeutsche Rundfunk and the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Berlin as well as theZuercher Kammerorchester, Tonhalle Orchester and the Collegium Musicum Zurich,appearing with conductors Haitink, Davis, Martinon, Leitner, Neumann, Klee,Rieger, Janowski, Inbal, Sacher, de Stoutz, Bour, Stein, Eotvos and Foster.