The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, is a musical composition for keyboard by Johann Sebastian Bach, consisting of an aria and a set of 30 variations. First published in 1741, it is named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who may also have been the first performer of the work. The story of how the variations came to be composed comes from an early
biography of Bach by Johann Nikolaus Forkel: (For this work) we have to thank the instigation of the former Russian ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony, Count Kaiserling, who often
stopped in Leipzig and brought there with him the aforementioned Goldberg, in order to have him given musical instruction by Bach. The Count was often ill and had sleepless nights. At such times, Goldberg, who lived in his house, had to spend the night in an antechamber, so as to play for him during his insomnia. ...
Once the Count mentioned in Bach’s presence that he would like to have some clavier pieces for Goldberg, which should be of such a smooth and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights. Bach thought himself best able to fulfill this wish by means of Variations, the writing of which he had until then considered an ungrateful task on
account of the repeatedly similar harmonic foundation. But since at this time all his works were already models of art, such also these variations became under his hand. Yet he produced only a single work of this kind. Thereafter the Count always called them his variations. He never tired of them, and for a long time sleepless nights meant: “Dear Goldberg, do play me one of my variations.” Bach was perhaps never so rewarded for one of his works as for this. The Count presented him with a golden goblet filled with 100 Louis d’or. Nevertheless, even had the gift
been a thousand times larger, their artistic value would not yet have been paid for. Forkel wrote his biography in 1802, more than 60 years after the events related, and its accuracy has been questioned. The lack of dedication on the title page also makes the tale of the commission unlikely. Goldberg’s age at the time of publication (14 years) has also been cited as grounds for doubting Forkel’s tale, although it must be said that he was known to be an accomplished
keyboardist and sight-reader. Williams (2001) contends that the Forkel story is entirely spurious.
Arnold Schering has suggested that the aria on which the variations are based was not written by Bach. More recent scholarly literature (such as the edition by Christoph Wolff) suggests that there is no basis for such doubts.
Played by Robert Koolstra who worked with musicians and conductors such as Jos van Veldhoven, Ton Koopman, Rachel Podger & Peter Dijkstra.