Für den kaiserlichen Gesandten in Dresden, Hermann Graf Keyserlingk, sollen die Goldberg-Variationen entstanden sein. Der Graf habe, wie Bach-Biograph Nikolaus Forkel schreibt, die Musik bei Bach bestellt in der Hoffnung, „daß er dadurch in seinen schlaflosen Nächten ein wenig aufgeheitert werden könnte.“ Diese Bearbeitung der Goldberg-Variationen für zwei Gamben setzt die Reihe der schon bestehenden Transkriptionen fort.
Die Goldberg-Variationen sind ein Höhepunkt barocker Variationskunst. Jeder Einzelsatz besitzt seinen ganz eigenen Charakter. Der Zusammenhang der Variationen untereinander ergibt sich durch das gemeinsame Bassthema und durch einen planvollen Gesamtaufbau des Werkes mit regelmäßig eingefügten, in den Oberstimmen streng kanonischen Sätzen.
Bach’s Goldberg Variations have played a central role in harpsichordist Pierre Hantai’s musical life since his early youth. At 28 he recorded the work for the Opus 111 label (now available on Naïve), a highly acclaimed release that stands among the work’s choice versions. Over the past 11 years Hantai evidently has rethought and refined his interpretation, as revealed in this 2003 remake. There’s greater rhythmic freedom and variety of articulation, plus a more subjective approach to ornaments and agogics, especially in the repeats (he observes all but those in Variation 15, 25, and the Aria Da Capo; the 1992 recording honors all repeats save for Variation 25). Variations previously characterized through Hantai’s seamless legato technique (Nos. 3, 6, 8, 11, 17, and 18, for example) are further enlivened by detaché finger strokes and more inflected phrasings. The latter infuse Variations 7, 10, and 16 with greater resilience and rhythmic verve than their earlier counterparts.
He was born in 's-Graveland, North Holland and studied organ and harpsichord from 1947 to 1950 with Eduard Müller at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel. In 1950, he made his debut as a harpsichordist in Vienna, where he studied musicology. He was professor of harpsichord at the Academy of Music from 1952 to 1955 and at the Amsterdam Conservatory from 1954. He was also a church organist.wiki
Here is a package that satisfies intellectual curiosity and is musically delightful. This two-disc set begins with a precise, but still musical, harpsichord performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations by Céline Frisch. Her Aria is clean, with both the melody and the bass line countermelody clear and phrased so that everything comes together well. Her ornaments fit naturally into the melodies throughout the variations, without drawing attention away from the tune, and she always has a sense of direction and forward momentum. The second disc contains the 14 canons on the first eight notes of the bass of the Aria from the Goldberg Variations and the two songs that are contained in the quodlibet near the end of the Variations. The canons are rich and warm performed by Café Zimmermann, a string sextet that includes a double bass, with excellent contrasts in the feel of each canon. The song Cabbages and Turnips Have Driven Me Away is the highlight of the two discs. Period instruments accompany Dominique Visse as he sings about a hunter bringing a girl home to meet his mother. Visse switches from a jolly, idiomatic tenor voice for the hunter to a smooth alto for the girl, and a slightly grating alto for the mother, often in mid-verse.
The title alone is enough to make the heart beat a little faster. It is not coincidental that many music lovers have just this work as a centre in their private musical universe, a piece they return to again and again, always to find something new. A set of variations which stretches the limits; old man Bach with the powers to make the variation-form a display of pure music. This release concludes Ketil Haugsand"s recordings of all Bach"s "Clavierübung" on harpsichord for Simax Classics. The two earlier releases became reference recordings over-night, and Goldberg really is the jewel of the crown. As always Haugsand"s interpretation is no scratching the surface, but taking you through to the deeper layers of this music in breathing and singing phrases, along the map drawn up by Bach.
An air of leisure, if not outright luxury, pervades pianist Ragna Schirmer's 1999 recording of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations. From the deluxe double-disc packaging – many Goldberg recordings make do with only one CD – to the taking of all repeats, this is a set for dedicated listeners who have ample time to appreciate the subtleties of Bach's art of variation, and the patience to devote nearly 87 minutes to hearing this work straight through. It would be unfair to suggest that Schirmer plays the variations too slowly, or that the performance is in any way sluggish or tedious because she takes her time. Indeed, she is quite capable of imparting a feeling of virtuosity and brilliance as she skillfully works her way through the embellishments and the trickier passages of Bach's elaborate counterpoint, …….Blair Sanderson @ AllMusic