an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Announcing your daily Goldberg Variation. Only on Slipped Disc.

The pianist Alisdair Kitchen has approached us with a plan for providing a window of contemplation in your busy day. Each day for the next month, he will post one of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on Slipped Disc, accompanied by a personal note.

Put on the coffee. Here’s the theme.

Here’s the first variation. Run sound.

 alisdair kitchen

Variation 1

Bach kicks his variations off to a flying start with this fleet two-part invention. It is, on the face of it, a radical departure from the mood of the theme; previous of his ground bass compositions, like the organ Passacaglia or violin Chaconne, grow organically from their themes. Yet I have always been puzzled by a mysterious inevitability about Variation One emerging from the Aria. So I felt like quite a numpty when I finally realised during recording that the motives of this variation are derived from those of the immortal sequence that closes the aria. Imagine the right hand of those bars sped up, and you’ll see what I mean, if you haven’t noticed that already…

Alisdair Kitchen
Pianist and Conductor
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. R. M. Jones says:

    Re the Goldbergs, can someone explain why the Aria is always played at a plodding tempo? It seems to me to cry out for a true Andante (in the Toscanini sense of “not dragging” or “moving right along”), or perhaps even a bit faster than that. Every pianist I’ve heard plays it very slowly, even the wonderful Andras Schiff. I find the Adagio molto tempo, as we might call it, boring. Have I missed something?

    • Alisdair says:

      Interesting issue… Have you listened to Wilhelm Kempff’s version? He’s the fastest I’ve heard.

      • Mathieu says:

        The downside is that Kempff’s plays it like a Mozart minuet.

        Maybe Gould is responsible for the slow tempo (although in his first recording (1955) of the Goldberg he plays it much faster). But in general, harpsichordists play the Aria quite faster than pianists, for aesthetical reasons, and also technical ones (it’s impossible to hold notes on the harpsichord as long as on a piano).

        Having said that, I have never been bothered by the tempi (however slow) as long as the interpretation is convincing. But it is true that reading the Aria as a metaphysical conundrum, and weighing each note is by all means excessive.

  2. Peter Klatzow says:

    A variation a day is great, but PLEASE start with the theme!

  3. an inspired, and inspiring, idea

  4. Hi Alisdair, Thank you for this very interesting project. I have some reservations about your choices of ornamentation in the first variation, which do not seem quite natural. I have of course nothing against adding extra ornamentation (cf. Koopman!), but I would love i you could give us some precisions about your choices in this matter.

    But these are minor details of course. Very nice “conduct of lines” as we say in French

    • Thanks for your comments! Ornamentation is a great topic for endless interesting debate, and the choices you make as a player are a balancing act between pure personal taste and academic erudition! I’d say that knowledge of the baroque treatises are essential (esp. C.P.E. Bach) and also the little table of ornaments that Bach himself provides for Wilhelm Friedemann in the notebook for his son. Choice of instrument comes into it too – as you point out, the piano is a sustaining instrument with a (hopefully!) singing tone, and I feel that this capability sometimes negates the need for certain ornaments that may be indispensable for simulating a sustained or vocal effect on the harpsichord… At the end of variation one there is such a sense of building excitement (the rising sequence wants to take off into the air!) so I felt inspired to add those quick little runs at the climax. The mordant-like ones I play in the first half are a whimsical matter of taste and therefore maybe more questionable (!) – I had a spare moment just now so I’ve thrown together a quick edit for you that removes them…

      P.S. I agree with you about Kempff! He is one of my absolute favourite pianists, though his Goldbergs are maybe not his best recording… But they still have that luminous sound quality so characteristic of him.

      • And the thing with Kempff is that he does not play any ornament AT ALL, including the ones written by Bach! Which makes the Aria sound somewhat strange, to say the least…

        Thank you for your answer, and again, congratulations on your project.

  5. Gabor Fuchs says:

    Variations 13 and 25 were my son s lullabies for a long time.

  6. Gabor Fuchs says:

    I think Glenn Gould s first recording influenced many pianists’ interpretation.
    One should be a real scholar to play the ornamentations convincingly.

an ArtsJournal blog