Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Instrumental Works: Recordings, Reviews & Discussions - Main Page | Order of Discussion
Recording Reviews of Instrumental Works: Main Page | Organ | Keyboard | Solo Instrumental | Chamber | Orchestral, MO, AOF
Performers of Instrumental Works: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Goldberg Variations BWV 988
Joseph Payne (Harpsichord)
Goldbergs by Joseph Payne

K-1

J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations [K-1]

Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Joseph Payne (Harpsichord)

BIS 519

Dec 3-6, 1990

CD / TT: 77:40 / 77:21

Recorded at Forde Estate, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Review: Goldbergs by Joseph Payne
Buy this album at:
CD: Amazon.com
Music Download: ClassicsOnline

Kirk McElhearn wrote (June 3, 2001):
I just listened yesterday to Joseph Payne's Goldbergs on BIS. I was a bit surprised at first by what I was hearing, then, as the recording went on, I began to appreciate it, and even like it. Here's the rub.

Payne has decided to fully appropriate the score. While in the first playing of each variation he follows the score to the letter, the repeats feature a truly personal ornamentation, augmentation and even improvisation. At first, this stunned me - even in the repeat of the first part of the aria, he goes out on a limb. I recalled how András Schiff's recording rubbed me the wrong way because of his transgressions.

But, then, as the disc went on, I started to understand what Payne was doing. He was adding much more than a mere interpretation to the work, and was doing what, undoubtedly, Bach or other performers would have done at the time.

Don, Brad, do either of you have this recording? Any comments?

Also, question for Brad: am I correct in assuming that this is how repeats were played back in the "old days"?

 

Feedback to the Review

Donald Satz wrote (June 3, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] No, I don't have the Payne recording. I should have bought it before their Suzuki issue was released. It's possible that BIS deleted the Payne at that point.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (June 3, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] I don't think so, because I just got a review copy of it...

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 4, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I haven't heard Payne's disc of the Goldbergs. I have at least a dozen of his other recordings, though.

Speaking of which: the weirdest have to be the several LP's he did called "Spaced-Out Bach" in 1974-5. RCA 0439 and 1042. These of course capitalized on the "Switched-On Bach" craze where single-line synthesizer voices were spliced together or overdubbed to make albums. Payne's project did the same thing, but with the parts played on harpsichord (whether or not the original piece was for harpsichord) and the compositions arranged with as many colors and doublings as harpsichords can do. Then it was assembled into an extreme stereo mix. The front cover of volume 1 proclaims: "The orbiting harpsichord of Joseph Payne illuminates Johann Sebastian's contrapuntal structures in new dimensions of space!" Volume 2's cover has a plaster bust of JSB wearing a plastic space helmet.

-----

As to "how were repeats played in the old days" -- it of course always varied by the performer's skill and taste, as well as cultural taste. By the "old days" are we talking about 1550-1950? There are compositions from all over the place (and time) where ornamented repeats were written out, giving the performer ideas how to make the music more beautiful/fancy/exciting when going through it multiple times. There were also plenty of compositions where these elaborations aren't written out, but the performer is expected to improvise or compose some. As I said, it varied all over the place. This was practical music to be used, not something to dig up 300 years later and argue about. People played it (and still do) however they feel it goes best, and that might be differently at every occasion. As Duke Ellington put it, "If it is sounds good, it is good."

As I mentioned just a few days ago, Bach's English Suites 2 and 3 have Sarabandes where Bach gives examples of how they might be elaborated. The E-flat sinfonia (three-part invention) also exists in several versions, and that's one where there are no repeats. On the other hand, some of his other music is already so highly elaborated (for example, the Sarabande of the sixth Partita) that it sounds silly to add more. It can even be effective to reduce such a Bach piece to a simpler skeleton the first time through, and then play Bach's version as a repeat. Once again it comes back to the taste and skill of the performer. Some can make things sound plenty tasteful and interesting by just playing Bach's notes. Others like to vary things even beyond the point where taste becomes questionable...it's as if they don't trust the music to be good enough without it. It all depends on the music, the occasion, and what the performer is trying to accomplish.

Something to remember: some of Bach's contemporaries criticized him for writing out his elaborations, instead of letting them do their own. Such players were more accustomed to having a skeleton score to play, rather than a fully worked-out piece where all the notes are predetermined. (Sort of like jazz players of today...if everything's written out, they can feel confined by it.) Improvisation was and is a part of learning to play well. Some music is fully determined, some isn't.

Basso continuo is especially left to the performer most of the time. The players in the continuo group are expected to improvise parts that sound good according to the occasion, acoustics, instruments, and the need to support the other players/singers. The exact notes to play can't be predetermined because every occasion is different.

If some of the music is being improvised anyway, how likely is it that the improvising players will play exactly the same thing on every repeat? Not likely at all!

But for non-improvisers, modern editions often have a written-out continuo part, a realization, by an editor. These can be handy as a sketch, but there are many players (especially pianists on harpsichord) who mistakenly play every note of that realization as if it's the only way the music can go...that's more secure than improvising, but it also usually sounds wooden and lifeless. Once again, it all comes down to the taste and skill of the performer. Good players make the music sound good. Bad players make the music sound bad.

I can think of a particularly good bad example of wooden continuo playing by a player not comfortable with improvising tastefully. A few years ago I got the B Minor Mass set by the "Ama Deus" Ensemble and started listening through it. Soon I noticed that the harpsichordist was playing really stiffly, and furthermore it sounded familiar. I got out my Baerenreiter organ part (I had recently played this piece with the Toledo Symphony several times, improvising organ continuo from this sketch)...sure enough, she was chunking through every note of it faithfully! Worse, the harpsichord was heavily overmiked, as if all those notes were important in a solo role. It was horrible. Some other aspects of the performance were horrible, too, so I took this set back. It was one of the few times I've ever returned anything for purely musical reasons, demanding my money back. Things aren't usually THAT bad that I would never want to hear them again! I seriously considered throwing that CD set under a bus, but then I'd be out ten bucks. (I learned later from one of the vocal soloists that the recording sessions hadn't been any good, either, and this singer didn't like the finished product enough to give any copies to his family. It was all thrown together with barely one rehearsal, and there was only one take of some of the movements, with no quality control. He also confirmed that the "harpsichordist" was really a pianist, as I'd suspected. He agreed with my decision to return or destroy it.)

Some players ornament in a way that it merely seems they're trying to show off, to demonstrate their own skill in adding notes. Two of the most prominent of these are Anthony Newman and Ton Koopman. After too many minutes of this too-extraverted ornamentation, it just sounds like twitchy nonsense. Why not give the notes more of a chance to come across as sustained tones?

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 4, 2001):
I should have said in conclusion: the point of playing different notes on repeats (or whenever) is not merely to do something that hasn't been heard before. The point is to make the music more expressive than it would be if played plain. To do so might or might not include changing some of the notes to different notes, or changing the rhythms. It's intensified expression.

If instead somebody is ornamenting just "because it's expected" or "because they can" or because they're bored, well, that's something else entirely. That's the type of ornamentation that doesn't move the listener. It might IMPRESS the listener, but that's not the same as moving the listener.

Good ornamentation can be thought of like an extra bit of frosting on a cake. The cake needs to be already good to begin with, so the frosting adds just an intensification of the taste...a little sweeter, or a little more flavor of a different type. If there's too much frosting, ugh. Or if the frosting's bad, ugh, scrape it off and just eat the cake! And some cake is good enough that it doesn't need any frosting at all.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (June 7, 2001):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Good ornamentation can be thought of like an extra bit of frosting on a cake. The cake needs to be already good to begin with, so the frosting adds just an intensification of the taste...a little sweeter, or a little more flavor of a different type. If there's too much frosting, ugh. Or if the frosting's bad, ugh, scrape it off and just eat the cake! And some cake is good enough that it doesn't need any frosting at all. >
While you 're on the topic, would I ask your opinion about Ton Koopman's approach to ornamentation?? Personally, sometimes I find it precisely as the case you dercribed as "ugh". I'd like to know your more that respectable opinion.

 

Goldberg Variations BWV 988: Details
Recordings:
Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Quodlibet in GV | GV for Strings
Discussions of Individual Recordings:
GV - Barenboim | GV - P.J. Belder | GV - E. Dershavina | GV - Egarr | GV - Feltsman | GV - C. Frisch | GV - Gould | GV - Hantaï | GV - R. Holloway | GV - J. Jando | GV - Jarrett | GV - Leonhardt | GV - V. Makin | GV - A. Newman | GV - S. Ross | GV Schiff | GV - R. Schirmer | GV - H. Small | GV - G. Sultan | GV - G. Toth | GV - Tureck | GV - Vartolo | GV - Verlet
Review: Goldberg Variations on Piano:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
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 - Cole | GV - Crossland | GV - Dershavina | GV - Egarr [Lehman] | GV - Egarr [Satz] | GV - Egarr [Bright] | GV- Hantai | GV - Hantaï (2nd) | GV - Haugsand | GV - Hewitt | GV - Holloway | GV- Ingolfsdottir | GV - Jando | GV - Leonhardt | GV- Lifschitz | GV - Newman | GV - Nikolayeva 3rd | GV- Payne | GV - Schepkin, Yudina & Serkin | GV - Schiff [ECM] | GV- Small | GV - Suzuki | GV - Toth | GV - Trich | GV - Tureck (Satz) | GV - Tureck (Lehman) | GV- Verlet | GV - Vieru | GV - Vinikour | GV - Weissenberg | GV - Zhu
Article:
The Quodlibet as Represented in Bach’s Final Goldberg Variation BWV 988/30 [by Thomas Braatz]

Joseph Payne: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Payne’s French suites in the Brilliant Classics box | Goldbergs by Joseph Payne

Instrumental Works: Recordings, Reviews & Discussions - Main Page | Order of Discussion
Recording Reviews of Instrumental Works: Main Page | Organ | Keyboard | Solo Instrumental | Chamber | Orchestral, MO, AOF
Performers of Instrumental Works: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Introduction | Cantatas | Other Vocal | Instrumental | Performers | General Topics | Articles | Books | Movies | New
Biographies | Texts & Translations | Scores | References | Commentaries | Music | Concerts | Festivals | Tour | Art & Memorabilia
Chorale Texts | Chorale Melodies | Lutheran Church Year | Readings | Poets & Composers | Arrangements & Transcriptions
Search Website | Search Works/Movements | Terms & Abbreviations | Copyright | How to contribute | Sitemap | Links



 

Back to the Top


Last update: żOctober 15, 2006 ż16:18:27