What emerges from all that chaotic experimentation of the previous Variation? Irreverence! Not what anyone would have expected from the dourly-depicted J.S. Bach, devout Lutheran and Cantor of Leipzig. What a refreshing insight we are given here, one which humanizes his monumentalism.
Four part harmony, jocular in tone, this variation is a spirited chorale-like ending akin to those found in his cantatas. Described as a quodlibet – “what you please” – the music has suggestions of two old folk songs, Ich bin so lang night be dir guest (“I have been so long away from you”) and Kraut und Rüben haben mich vertrieben (” Cabbage and beets have driven me away”).
Goldberg Variations, 30 (Irreverence)
BUT, as you can hear, I completely failed with this one. I had wanted to capture some sense of a slightly drunken, mildly bawdy gathering of Bachs in 17th century Germany. Beer steins raised, laughter, and hearty folk songs. Listening to what I recorded eight months ago now, I find that I was in a sedate frame of mind that didn’t serve what I was hearing in my mind’s ear very well. I will certainly go back and re-record this one day soon when I’m feeling less polite.
Next week, the opening Aria returns and brings us full circle from Innocence to Wisdom. Alpha to Omega. The journey will end where it began, but not before a bit of irreverential fun that reminds us not to take ourselves or life’s complications too seriously.
Read more: National Public Radio-Bach’s Enduring Enigma
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.