Bach: “The Goldberb Variations”: Various Players

Bach: “The Goldberb Variations”

Glenn Gould: 1955:

Gould in this version is speedy and energetic, and trills and ornaments abound. His fingers are light, giving the piece a flouting characteristic to it. It’s like the music is a warm ice that the listener blissfully slides on, where each note is sown right onto the next. In fact, each hand sounds like it’s almost robotically tied to the other, giving a perfect precision. It’s reminiscent of Baroque era music, feeling wise, that is (and because it is). You’d be right to say it sounds like the spirit of a young man played this. A very brilliant one at that.

Glenn Gould: 1981:

In comparison to his other performance, 26 years really changed things. Gould has a gentler, but more sensitive touch for the keyboard. His fingers are no longer just grazing along with jaw-dropping accuracy. However, he still plays amazingly. The fancy ornaments that decorated his music like a Christmas tree are now used sparely. His left hand also sounds like it’s gotten heavier and really drives into the keys in some parts. He’s slowed down as well. The notes flow, but they don’t ties so tightly into one another. He grew, and so did his style of playing, tamed by the years. Gould also sings more.

Joao Carlos Martins: 1981:

Martin most certainly performs this at a slower tempo, but it works. He’s also flirting with rubato though out the song. The effect is minor, yet it adds so much that Gould’s didn’t have. The keys are also being struck even heavier. However, he doesn’t stay slow and all rubato like. Things quickly pick up, and it sounds like Gould with more force behind each hit. I think that’s the biggest difference: he’s really beating the keyboard. This isn’t bad, but difference. In fact, funny enough, the dynamics remind me of that of a harpsichord, which is probably the instrument that would have been played during Bach’s time instead of the piano (because the piano didn’t exist at the time).

Peter Serkin: 1965:

This one sounds like a mix between Martin’s and Gould’s playing. Serkin is fairly slow, but uses more ornaments than Martins. There’s also less rubato. He strikes the keys gently, but with enough force if need be. It sounds very controlled, yet loose enough to allow the piece to not loose it’s light charm. This is also heard (or not so much) in his left hand’s soft touch, much like Gould: it doesn’t command a presence most of the time. However, it does come up and play right alongside with the right hand. Images of a mother playing this to her child congregates in my mind’s eye.

But what’s my favorite of the bunch? I would have to go with Gould’s 1981 rendition. It just sounds so peaceful and relaxed, not like his blissfully lackadaisical 1955 performance. I’m also not a huge fan of the light natured feel of Baroque music, and this one sounds like it was interpreted more so by a Romanic era composer. His light singing does, for me, add something that I didn’t think I would like. But, all in all, words of a man playing what brings him a serene happiness is what this song speaks when I listen, and that resonates with me.



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