Goldberg Variations

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Friday, April 4, 2014 @ 7:30pm

MOVSES POGOSSIAN, violin
GUILLAUME SUTRE, viola
ANTONIO LYSY, cello

California Heights Methodist Church | 3759 Orange Ave Long Beach, CA 90807

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This internationally acclaimed string trio performs J.S. Bach’s monumental Goldberg Variations.

$30 General Admission

J.S.Bach Goldberg Variations BWV 988

The Goldberg Variations are believed to have been a gift to a Count Kayserling, an influential musical devotee who had secured for Bach an appointment as official composer to the Saxon court. Beyond being a deep honor, the title provided Bach much-needed royal protection against the pettiness of his employers, with whom he rarely got along. From his earliest days as a church organist, Bach was faulted for confusing congregations with flights of invention rather than strictly accompanying their hymns. Throughout his career, he constantly railed against the inadequacy of the players and resources with which he had to work.

The Count suffered from bouts of insomnia and had hired one of Bach’s finest pupils, the fourteen-year old Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, to play for him during his restless nights. To soothe the Count, Bach wrote this piece, formally entitled Aria with Diverse Variations for Harpsichord with Two Manuals, in 1741. In gratitude, the Count sent Bach 100 louis d’or, an extraordinary sum far exceeding his annual salary. Bach clearly cherished the Variations himself, as they comprised one of only four volumes of keyboard works he published. Yet, while Bach was revered during his lifetime as a great organist who could brilliantly improvise an entire two-hour concert, his compositions were largely dismissed as the type of functional and disposable material which all performers of the time were expected to produce routinely for their own use.
We now acclaim Bach’s art as the culmination of a millennium of musical development. Serious Western music began in the Middle Ages with Gregorian chant, a stylization of speech in which a bare melody imitated the verbal inflection of prayer. Chant was a continuous horizontal art, using a single note at a time. The first glimmer of change came around 1100 by adding another voice at the octave, fifth or fourth. Next, melodies were added above the foundation of a chant. Polyphony flowered as up to four independent voices competed for attention. By the 18th Century, the system had matured into an extraordinary profusion of forms, harmonies and rhythms.

Bach’s Art of Fugue and Well-Tempered Clavier are often considered the apex of polyphony and the purest expression of his creativity. But perhaps the ultimate display of the full range of Bach’s art, as well as the outlet for his deepest, most personal feelings is the Goldberg Variations. Like all great music, the key to understanding it lies in admiring its fantasy and ingenuity within formal restrictions – freedom within limits.