Goldberg Variations, 27 (Playfulness)

Buoyancy is the word that first came to mind for this variation, but that’s not a word I could easily use in the context of these posts. Though the music itself made me feel buoyant as I played it, that’s hardly a personal quality to develop. “Buoyant” is a term usually associated with science and Archimedes, as swimming, jumping on a trampoline, or seeing astronauts in space reminds us.

Even scientifically then, buoyancy implies a lightness of being and a sense of playfulness. The word’s second meaning now comes into better focus – that quality of buoyancy which describes someone as cheerful and optimistic.

Musically, Variation 27 is a game of Follow the Leader.  Bach composed it as a canon at the ninth, one note more than an octave, which almost has one part saying, “follow me,” and the other responding, “I can go even higher than you!” It’s all in good fun, having temporarily escaped from the serious bass line’s weight.

When we are playful, we are lighter.  We’ve let go of routine and effort and a need to win.  If we have to win, we aren’t really being playful, are we? Moments of playfulness keep us from taking ourselves, or anything else, too seriously. We are briefly unmoored from responsibility, importance, from a need to control. We risk making a fool of ourselves, of course, but in taking a risk like that we might just find ourselves floating away from those people and problems that threaten to drown us.


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was given to me on January 5, 2016.


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