J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations
, among the greatest works in Western music history, written in Leipzig in the latter years of his life, represent the climax among Bach's compositions for keyboard, both as regards their comprehensive character and complexity of conception, and as concerns the extreme technical difficulty of performance. Pier Paolo Strona - together with Guido Donati, composer, organist, music master of organ at the Conservatoire of Turin - has devoted several years to studying this work in-depth. Together, they studied and analysed it, but not only from a strictly musical point of view; they also drew inspiration and ideas for much wider, interdisciplinary subjects, freely moving in the worlds of art, architecture, science and, more generally, human creativity, and even writing a book
about this "journey": "Il Giardino delle Meraviglie, una passeggiata all'ombra delle Variazioni Goldberg di J.S.Bach" (The Garden of Eden, a stroll in the shade of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations)
. Music is a universal language, everybody can understand it without the need for translations or mediation, and as such it brings all possibilities of discussion together, allowing to approach any subject matter or discipline. Therefore, starting from the Goldberg Variations, highest example of musical expression, it is possible to get everywhere, building bridges and analogies which open new and intense prospects of knowledge and beauty: an example of this is the parallel the book
draws between the "Garden of Eden" of Bach's work and another garden of wonders, the "Garden of Poliphilus" designed and described in detail in an anonymous 15th century text, the "Hypnerotomachia"; a garden that was never actually built, yet which today virtually exists, since it has been re-created on computer by architects Silvia Fogliati and Davide Dutto. The reconstruction was published in their book "Il giardino di Polifilo" (The Garden of Poliphilus), published by FMR (Franco Maria Ricci, Publisher), Milan, 2002, and the authors have kindly granted us permission to publish some images to illustrate both our book and the booklet for the CD. Going back to the latter, considering that in the end music is always "music", after the study and written words we felt the need to listen and make others listen to the sounds: to complete our journey then, this CD contains the performance and recording of Bach's work.
Considerations on the structure of the Goldberg Variations
The 30 Variations are organised according to a precise structure, where 10 groups of 3 variations each can be identified, all with similar characteristics: a pair of variations of completely different character from each other, and a third, canon, variation. The variations within each pair are characterised as follows: one by a complex contrapuntal structure where several rhythmic as well as melodic patterns merge; the other by a distinctive rhythmic uniformity, where the single items enjoy a wider extension structure which also requires to frequently cross hands. In synthesis, we can define the former as "Concentration" variations, where sounds accumulate and thicken in restricted spaces, and the latter as "Expansion" variations, where sounds dilute and expand more. Canons are at increasing intervals, from unison to ninth. Observing the work as a whole, the impression is that it is governed by a global rhythm reminiscent of breathing, a "breathing of sounds", an alternation of "YIN" moments and "YANG" moments generated by one another, through the exploration of all the theme can offer. The energy crescendo which develops throughout the work leads to the closing QUODLIBET: Bach seems to have dissected the basic theme so much, by means of his research, that he can now do whatever he likes with it, and he even concludes his journey of exploration by inserting in the last variation two light folk songs which were popular in his time. And this is not all! After listening to the whole work, here comes the return to the origins, with the initial aria appearing again: now, though, it is not the same anymore; notes have certainly not changed, but listeners have, and so has the depth of their perception. In line with this view of the Variations, explained in detail in the book, refrains have only been performed in the "Concentration" variations, because of their more complex character stimulating a stronger need for in-depth study (apart from variations 13, 15 and 25, particularly long, in which the refrain would generate unbalance at least in the interpreter's opinion); the "Expansion" sections are instead "simpler" but explosive, and therefore show their dynamic effect within the work as a whole almost instantly, without the need for repetitions.
Pier Paolo Strona
is a civil engineers, researcher in the field of numerical models of structures, photographer, and author of books and calendars. He is a pianist performing both in Italy and abroad, with a repertoire ranging from the most important classical composers to ragtime, Latin American as well as Asian music.
: made in February-March 2004 using valve microphones and pre-amplifiers, 96kHz digital sampling rate. The techniques used aim at highlighting the spatial character of Bach's complex polyphonic lines, in order to make the three-dimensional sound effects more apparent to listeners.
Steinway Grand Piano - model S.155
to Maestro Guido Donati
and Maestro Giuseppe Mirolo
, excellent musicians, who contributed to developing a better awareness of the choices of interpretation with discussions, opinions, suggestions, and advice.