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Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Played by Andras Schiff

Recordings

1

J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations

Goldberg Variations BWV 988

András Schiff (Piano)

Decca / Penguin / London

Dec 1982

CD / TT: 72:20

1st recording of Goldberg Variations BWV 988 by A. Schiff. Recorded at Kingsway Hall, London, England.
Buy this album at: Amazon.com | Amazon.com | Amazon.com | Amazon.com | Amazon.com

2

J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations [K-10]

Goldberg Variations BWV 988

András Schiff (Piano)

Teldec

Apr 1990

DVD / TT: 80:15

2nd recording of Goldberg Variations BWV 988 by A. Schiff
Buy this album at: Amazon.com

3

J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations

Goldberg Variations BWV 988

András Schiff (Piano)

ECM

Oct 2001

CD / TT: 70:43

3rd recording of Goldberg Variations BWV 988 by A. Schiff. Recorded live at Stadtcasino, Basel, Switzerland.
Review: The New and Improved Goldberg Variations from Andras Schiff
Buy this album at: Amazon.com

New Schiff Goldberg Variations

Nessie Russell wrote (November 24, 2003):
Stephen Benson wrote:
< This enthusiast most certainly does not mind. Moreover, I would like to share a portion of that letter to which Jack was responding, beginning with notes I shared with him that I had made that afternoon while listening to the new Schiff Goldbergs:

"Schiff's voicing is something special. I learned to hear Bach by focusing on one voice and letting the others come along for the ride. I was always aware of them, and at any given time I could switch from one voice to
another, but my baby steps involved single voices. As I listened more and more, however, the voices began to balance, to address each other, and the interplay became just that-- play! What's unusual about Schiff's level of performance is that each voice is strong enough to maintain its own integrity at all times. There is perfect balance throughout. The voices sing, and no single voice is allowed to stand out. At any given moment, a listener, should he so choose, can select an active voice and be confident that it will be solidly there. No one voice clamors to be heard. An easy elegance graces the lines of each variation. The playing is always under control. Nothing is forced. At this level of artistry, the music speaks for itself.

This is what I love about Bach, and I don't need someone suggesting that, because I don't care whether the instrument is well-tempered, equal tempered, mean-tone tempered, Kirnberger-tempered, or whatever, that I
can't possibly appreciate it as much or more than he can. (Sometimes -- how about "always"? -- one has to get
past the facts and figures to get to the heart of a performance.) If that kind of factual information comes, and for whatever foundation it may provide, fine. I'm all in favor of knowledge. The more I can learn, the better. If
it doesn't come, that's OK, too. I will continue to love Bach's music in any case." >
Thank you for sharing these notes. I have been wondering about buying this CD. I already have 7 Goldbergs. Think I might make it 8.

I heard the last two variations and the Aria da Capo on the radio. Sounded good.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (November 24, 2003):
[To Nessie Russell] Interestingly, the review in the French magazine Diapason this month was pretty lackluster.

However, they're head over heels about the new Hantai recording. If anyone didn't see my post on the other list, I've put an MP3 file of an excerpt up for download: http://www.mcelhearn.com/hantai_14_15.mp3

It'll be there for a few more days.

Stephen Benson wrote (November 26, 2003):
Kirk McElhearn wrote:
< Interestingly, the review in the French magazine Diapason this month was pretty lackluster. >
There've been some great reviews and some so-so reviews. It doesn't appear that you've had a chance to hear the recording yourself yet. When you do, your own comments would be most welcome.

One of the more curious reviews came from Andrew Clements of the Guardian, who said, "Admirers of his piano style will know what to expect; the way in which he shapes the very first bars of the theme will seem subtlely poetic to them, but affected and mannered to us non-believers. But even those who find his whole approach intrusively precious should still be able to admire the constant finesse of the playing, the delicately coloured range of sounds he draws from his Bösendorfer, and the musicianship that informs every phrase." Two comments/questions: 1) Is the opening of the Aria "affected and mannered", or does it display "the musicianship that informs every phrase"? Which is it? Clements doesn't seem to be able to make up his mind. 2) His reference to "us non-believers" calls into question his ability to hear -- and review -- this disc objectively.

I, too, had not been expecting much based upon what I had heard previously of Schiff's Bach, particularly his WTC which to my ears is dispirited and even flaccid. I was not, as Clements put it, "an admirer of his piano style". But the past is the past, and the present is the present, and this present puts the past in the shade.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (November 26, 2003):
Stephen Benson wrote:
< There've been some great reviews and some so-so reviews. It doesn't appear that you've had a chance to hear the recording yourself yet. When you do, your own comments would be most welcome. >
No, I haven't. I'm not sure I'm going to go out and buy it though.

Sato Fumitaka wrote (November 26, 2003):
I am now listening to Schiff's 2001 recording of Goldberg Variations. I have never imagined that this piece could sound in this marvelous manner. I believe this recording would be always referred to when talking about the performance of Goldberg Variations.

 

Schiff's Goldbergs (the ECM remake)

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 12, 2004):
About Scarlatti's corpulence:
< I find it puzzling that Schiff is propagating this myth even in the liner notes to his latest recording of the Goldberg Variations (ECM records). >
Yeah, and the big deal he makes of the Keyserlinck mythology, too (while admitting that it's questionable).

And a couple other assertions of his in the booklet also seem to me like wishful thinking and/or convenient rationalizations:

"He probably felt a certain prejudice against this form. Many of his illustrious contemporaries had produced brilliant examples that had received much applause. Bach was never interested in cheap success and his goal was to try to elevate the usually extroverted variations onto a hitherto unknown artistic and spiritual level." (How does Schiff know what Bach's goals really were, beyond writing a very good piece for publication? Who's to say that Bach didn't want the extroverted variations simply to kick ass? What's all this over-spiritualization, a remnant of 19th century hero-worship or something? For Bach pieces that kick ass as extroverted "cheap" success, what about the prelude & fugue BWV 894, and the D major toccata 912, and the C minor fantasia 906, and Brandenburgs 4 and 5? How about the pedal solos in 549 and 564 and 531? And the E major violin partita?)

"It is also hardly believable that Goldberg (born in 1727) would have been sufficiently developed as a musician (at the ripe old age of 14!) to handle the extraordinary musical, technical and intellectual difficulties of this composition." (Why? Technically, the piece is not that difficult on the harpsichord when one simply works diligently at it, as it's so well-written for the instrument. And what intellectual difficulties, unless Schiff is referring to his self-appointed task of bringing out symmetry? And why should anyone assume that good players 250 years ago weren't good by the age of 14? Dimitris Sgouros and Yevgeny Kissin and Sarah Chang were terrific at 14, as have been many other musicians.)

Variation 21, "The bass line's wild chromaticism suggests a gigantic storm." (Why?)

Re the necessity of playing the whole thing, with all repeats: "Today nobody would dare to play bits and pieces of this work, it would be considered a sacrilege." (No, it could be considered a nice way to spend 15 minutes or 20 minutes or whatever; who's to say what "sacrilege" is here?!)

"To many others the tone of the piano is preferable to that of the harpsichord and let's not forget we are talking about an hour and a quarter of music--hands on heart, can you listen to the harpsichord that long?" (Isn't that just Schiff saying he doesn't like to listen to harpsichord that long, and projecting it on everybody else? I gladly listen to harpsichord a lot longer than that, when it's played well!)

"This length indicates that all the repeats must be observed, because with a design of perfect symmetry there are only two options. One either plays all the repeats or none of them. (...) Observing certain repeats while omitting others is frankly incomprehensible." (It's not incomprehensible to me! I don't believe a structure-above-all approach is the only valid way to play this piece! And the logic of his reasoning: just because the piece looks reasonably symmetrical on paper, why should any performance have to sound that symmetrical? What if the symmetry is merely a formal device of organization, into which Bach has poured remarkably asymmetrical and quirky music...why force it into too much symmetry?)

=====

Anyway...I think the way he actually plays the piece on this recording is wonderful, and even better than his first one; and I didn't buy it to read his booklet notes, but to hear the performance. And this is now one of my favorite three or four sets of the Goldbergs on piano, ever.

Schiff's musical vision of the piece (as a player, not as a program-note writer) is a brilliant blend of his structural concerns and (what sounds like) in-the-moment freedom to simply play, with improvisational spirit...his willingness to let the local rhythms and dynamics have a looseness to them is one of the best things in this performance, IMO. (A performance that kills the music through too much symmetry is Tureck's on DG, the way she made even the ornamentation itself so structural; I'm thankful that Schiff doesn't do that here!) And Schiff does so well at letting the variations influence one another in mood, as the whole thing flows along in one big performance; it doesn't sound like 30 isolated nice little pieces of music, but like a natural evolutionary process from a cell, the aria. With his 20+ years of experience in this piece it still sounds spontaneous in his fingers, and that's a big and remarkable plus.

If his booklet notes would be a freer-flowing rhapsody free of logical dead-ends, like the way the performance is...wow! Something like Russell Sherman's book Piano Pieces...now there's a brilliant book of musical insights, drawing all sorts of things together.
Amazon.com

Jack Botelho wrote (February 12, 2004):
"To many others the tone of the piano is preferable to that of the harpsichord and let's not forget we are talking about an hour and a quarter of music--hands on heart, can you listen to the harpsichord that long?"
I was downright shocked when I read this in those notes as well. After the decades it has taken to revive the art of harpsichord playing and listener appreciation, such a statement is, well ... blindly offensive.

Benjamin Mullins wrote (February 13, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] Indeed, it makes him sound quite arrogant. I dare say there are those that would say just the opposite!

Johan van Veen wrote (February 13, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < (Andras Schiff:)
Re the necessity of playing the whole thing, with all repeats: "Today nobody would dare to play bits and pieces of this work, it would be considered a sacrilege." (No, it could be considered a nice way to spend 15 minutes or 20 minutes or whatever; who's to say what "sacrilege" is here?!) >
In Konrad Küster (ed), Bach Handbuch (Kassel 1999), there is a reference to a theory of Werner Breig, that there has been a first version, consisting of only the Variations 1 - 24, preceded and followed by the Aria.

As much as I believe there is something of a broad concept in the work as it has been published, this theory - if it is true - makes one wonder whether that concept was in Bach's mind from the start. It reminds me of the way the B-minor Mass has gradually developed into the architectonic masterwork we are familiar with.

As far as a performance of the whole work: in regard to the repeats I wonder what in generalthe treatment of repeats in the 18th century was. Were repeat marks always observed or could they be omitted at random?

As far as the performance of single variations is concerned I found the argument in favour of doing so in the booklet of Pierre Hantaï's new recording quite convincing: After having referred to the well-known story about Keyserlingk and Goldberg, the former asking the latter "My dear Goldberg, pray play me one of my variations!" the essay (by Gilles Cantagrel) goes on:

"However much myth-making embellishment there may be in this account, at least it indicates that in the practice of the period this new Clavier-Übung (...) could be considered as a musical exercise book from which it was possible to select such and such a piece that one wished to hear, without, as is the case today, feeling the moral obligation to perform the whole collection, one page after another: "Play me one of my variations!" For each variation is indeed a piece in its own right, wholly coherent, which may be performed separately".

We know other collections which are clearly based on some concept, like the Clavier-Übung III, but nobody would object to organists playing some chorales from that collection.

Is there a fundamental difference between Clavier-Übung III and the Goldberg Variations in regard to the relationship between the sum and its parts?

< "To many others the tone of the piano is preferable to that of the harpsichord and let's not forget we are talking about an hour and a quarter of music--hands on heart, can you listen to the harpsichord that long?" (Isn't that just Schiff saying he doesn't like to listen to harpsichord that long, and projecting it on everybody else? I gladly listen to harpsichord a lot longer than that, when it's played well!) >
I assume Mr Schiff is an intelligent man. Doesn't he see how stupid this argument is? Only if just one person says he can listen to a harpsichord that long, or even longer, the whole argument loses its value (if it had ever any).

Donald Satz wrtote (February 13, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] For what it's worth, I consider both the Tureck/DG and Schiff/ECM among the best piano versions on disc - just different.

Donald Satz wrote (February 13, 2004):
I have a little time now to elucidate what I hinted at below. When I want to hear a serious, introspective, and determined GV, I find that Tureck's can't be beat. When wexuberance and sweep, Schiff's ECM disc is great. If I'm in the mood for staggered lines and rhythmic hesitations, I turn to Vartolo on Tacet, etc.

Fumitaka Sato wrote (February 13, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] Though on a CD, I prefer a repeated playing of Keith Jarrett's Goldbergs on the harpsichord. The recorded sonority of the harpsichord used is so good.

Jack Botelho wrote (February 13, 2004):
[To Fumitaka Sato] Scott Ross' Goldberg's would do that for me also. After about 60 minutes things really began to "burn" - so at the end, it was back to the beginning - the start of a harpsichord listening day.

 

Goldberg Variations BWV 988: Details
Recordings:
1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019
Comparative Review: Goldberg Variations on Piano:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Comparative Review: Round-Up of Goldberg Variations Recordings:
Recordings | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
GV - R. Barami, J. Crossland, O. Dantone, D. Propper | GV - M. Cole | GV - J. Crossland | GV - E. Dershavina | GV - S. Dinnerstein | GV - R. Egarr [Lehman] | GV - R. Egarr [Satz] | GV - R. Egarr [Bright] | GV - Feltsman | GV- P. Hantai | GV - P. Hantaï (2nd) | GV - K. Haugsand | GV - A. Hewitt | GV - R. Holloway | GV- H. Ingolfsdottir | GV - J. Jando | GV - B. Lagacé | GV - G. Leonhardt | GV- K. Lifschitz | GV - A. Newman | GV - T. Nikolayeva 3rd | GV- J. Payne | GV - W. Riemer | GV - C. Rousset | GV - S. Schepkin, M. Yudina & P. Serkin | GV - A. Schiff [ECM] | GV- H. Small | GV - M. Suzuki | GV - G. Toth | GV - K.v. Trich | GV - R. Tureck [Satz] | GV - R. Tureck [Lehman] | GV- B. Verlet | GV - A. Vieru | GV - J. Vinikour | GV - A. Weissenberg | GV - Z. Xiao-Mei
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Quodlibet in GV | GV for Strings
Discussions of Individual Recordings:
GV - D..Barenboim | GV - P.J. Belder | GV - E. Dershavina | GV - S. Dinnerstein | GV - R. Egarr | GV - V. Feltsman | GV - C. Frisch | GV - G. Gould | GV - P. Hantaï | GV - R. Holloway | GV - J. Jando | GV - K. Jarrett | GV - G. Leonhardt | GV - V. Makin | GV - A. Newman | GV - S. Ross | GV - A. Schiff | GV - R. Schirmer | GV - H. Small | GV - G. Sultan | GV - G. Toth | GV - R. Tureck | GV - S. Vartolo | GV - B. Verlet
Article:
The Quodlibet as Represented in Bach’s Final Goldberg Variation BWV 988/30 [T. Braatz]

András Schiff: Short Biography | Recordings of Non-Vocal Works
Reviews:
The New and Improved Goldberg Variations from Andras Schiff
Discussions:
Goldberg Variations BWV 988 - played by Andras Schiff
Articles:
András Schiff/Philharmonia Orchestra: Johann Sebastian Bach, 2000 [by U. Golomb]

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Last update: ýMay 22, 2006 ý19:54:51