Thursday, March 5, 2015

"Bach Goldberg Variations"

Image credit: iTunes
I was driving home from work listening to the Sirius XM Symphony channel when I heard a piano piece that absolutely captivated me, “Goldberg Variations,” written by Johann Sebastian Bach and played by Murray Perahia. I happened to be passing a Barnes and Noble store and pulled into the parking lot. I bought the CD at full price, which I rarely do. I love music-old school rock, country, and classical. I listen to classical music to help me concentrate on the task at hand, like writing or driving.

The Artist

Murray Perahia has become my favorite classical pianist. Born in the Bronx, New York in 1947, he first debuted at Carnegie Hall in 1968 at just 21 years of age. In his professional career over 40 years, all most all of his recordings have been for Columbia/Sony.

In the album liner notes, even Perahia himself called the piece “one of the most challenging experience a pianist can face.” The recording was released in 2000 after he recovered from a debilitating hand injury that required several surgeries. I’m not a musicologist but his playing sounds light and bright to me. Starting and ending with “The Aria,” the variations transition smoothly one to the next. I simply can’t use the shuffle option on this recording as it would destroy the flow of the music. This recording won the Gramophone Award for Best Instrumental Recording in 2001.

Originally written for the harpsichord, I have found two recordings on that instrument. The first was performed by Wanda Landowska and released in 1933. A more recent recording by Andreas Staier was released in 2010.  I'm not really a fan of period instruments and prefer the piano recordings. I’ve heard other artists play the "Goldberg Variations," such as the Glenn Gould recording of 1955, but this is the best one for me. The magnificent ballet choreographer, Jerome Robbins, even created a ballet based on the Goldberg variations.

The Composer

Johann Sebastian Bach is the greatest composer of the Baroque period, in my opinion. He wrote for the organ, the harpsichord, lute, violin and orchestra.

The “Goldberg Variations” were published in approximately 1741 when he was 56 years old, living in Leipzig,Germany and working at the St. Thomas School (German: Thomasschule). Bach wrote the "Goldberg Variations" for one of his patrons, the Russian Count Kaiserling who suffered from insomnia.  Johann Gottlieb Goldberg was the Count’s favorite harpsichordist and had to play the piece so that the Count could fall asleep. I have Anxiety Disorder and have read that classical music can help. This is my “go to” music when I’m upset or can’t sleep. I know that by end of the album I will be calm and/or asleep. I’ve made a playlist of the "Goldberg Variations" followed by “The Complete English Suites.” I’ve found that Bach and Mozart are the best composers for musical “medication” for me.

This is a terrific recording of marvelous music and is available both as a CD and iTunes download. I highly recommend it for enjoyment and relaxation of any kind.

About the recording

Available for download on iTunes for $9.99
Available on CD from Barnes and Noble for $9.49
Run time: 1 hours 13 minutes
Released in 2000 on the Sony BMG Music Entertainment label

Goldberg Variations Excerpt - Choreography by Gregory Dawson

Bach: French Suite No 4 - Murray Perahia

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