Song of the Day: Aria (Goldberg Variations) by Johann Sebastian Bach

Tran Nguyen | the dancing rest

The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, is a work for harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach, consisting of an aria and a set of 30 variations.

First published in 1741, the work is considered to be one of the most important examples of variation form. The Variations are named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who may have been the first performer.

The aria is a sarabande in 3/4 time, and features a heavily ornamented melody:


The French style of ornamentation suggests that the ornaments are supposed to be parts of the melody, however some performers (for example Wilhelm Kempff on piano) omit some or all ornaments and present the aria unadorned.

Peter Williams opines in Bach: The Goldberg Variations that this is not the theme at all, but actually the first variation (a view emphasising the idea of the work as a chaconnerather than a piece in true variation form).

Perhaps the most famous cinematic Goldberg moment is in Silence of the Lambs: Hannibal Lecter, chewing the face off one of his prison guards to the strains of the Aria.

image by Tran Nguyen

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