Johann Sebastian Bach: Goldberg Variations

András Schiff

András Schiff returns to the Goldberg Variations in what will be regarded as one of the classical music events of the year. Two decades after his acclaimed account of the Variations for Decca, Schiff documents Bach’s towering masterpiece again, this time in a live recording for ECM New Series. As the New York Times said, “Mr Schiff is, in Bach, a phenomenon. He has quite simply internalized this music. He doesn’t so much perform it as emit, breathe it.” The fluency of the playing in this concert recording from Basel is quietly astonishing, the technical demands of the work transcended with uncanny gracefulness.

Featured Artists Recorded

October 2001, Stadtcasino, Basel

Original Release Date

29.09.2003

  • Goldberg Variations BWV 988
    (Johann Sebastian Bach)
  • 1Aria03:46
  • 2Variatio 1 (a 1 Clav.)01:50
  • 3Variatio 2 (a 1 Clav.)01:22
  • 4Variatio 3. Canone all'unisono (a 1 Clav.)02:02
  • 5Variatio 4 (a 1 Clav.)01:02
  • 6Variatio 5 (a 1 ô vero 2 Clav.)01:32
  • 7Variatio 6. Canone alla Seconda (a 1 Clav.)01:20
  • 8Variatio 7. Al tempo di Giga (a 1 ô vero 2 Clav.)01:33
  • 9Variatio 8 (a 2 Clav.)01:42
  • 10Variatio 9. Canone alla Terza (a 1 Clav.)01:26
  • 11Variatio 10. Fughetta (a 1 Clav.)01:35
  • 12Variatio 11 (a 2 Clav.)02:00
  • 13Variatio 12. Canone alla Quarta (a 1 Clav.)01:55
  • 14Variatio 13 (a 2 Clav.)04:13
  • 15Variatio 14 (a 2 Clav.)01:59
  • 16Variatio 15. Canone alla Quinta. Andante (a 1 Clav.)03:53
  • 17Variatio 16. Ouverture (a 1 Clav.)02:36
  • 18Variatio 17 (a 1 Clav.)02:10
  • 19Variatio 18. Canone alla Sesta (a 1 Clav.)01:16
  • 20Variatio 19 (a 1 Clav.)01:21
  • 21Variatio 20 (a 2 Clav.)01:50
  • 22Variatio 21. Canone alla Settima (a 1 Clav.)01:50
  • 23Variatio 22. Alla breve (a 1 Clav.)01:50
  • 24Variatio 23 (a 2 Clav.)02:07
  • 25Variatio 24. Canone all' Ottava (a 1 Clav.)02:17
  • 26Variatio 25. Adagio (a 2 Clav.)06:54
  • 27Variatio 26 (a 2 Clav.)02:06
  • 28Variatio 27. Canone alla Nona (a 2 Clav.)01:37
  • 29Variatio 28 (a 2 Clav.)02:48
  • 30Variatio 29 (a 1 ô vero 2 Clav.)01:46
  • 31Variatio 30. Quodibet (a 1 ô vero 2 Clav.)01:20
  • 32Aria03:56
20 years after his acclaimed account of the Goldberg Variations for Decca, András Schiff documents Bach’s towering masterpiece again, this time in a live recording for ECM New Series.

As the New York Times said, “Mr Schiff is, in Bach, a phenomenon. He doesn’t so much perform it as emit, breathe it.” Made to address the changes that have taken place in his approach to Bach, (and also in response to numerous requests from fellow musicians and the public), Schiff’s new Goldberg recording is, from multiple perspectives, a major event. The fluency of the playing in this concert recording from Basel is quietly astonishing, the technical demands of the work transcended with uncanny gracefulness.

The old Decca recording, long regarded by music critics as one of the most distinguished Goldberg interpretations, was the work of an exceptional young musician who had already been playing the work for a decade. Indeed, even before his first public performance of the work, in Budapest in 1975, he had been “slowly working on it for four to five years.” Schiff received additional insight via his studies in London with George Malcolm, the great harpsichordist and expert on baroque performance practise. Although the Goldberg Variations were written for a two-manual harpsichord, “Mr Malcolm, a universal musician, always encouraged me to play Bach on the modern piano, with varied articulation, imaginative phrasing and minimal (if any) use of the sustaining pedal… The main question has to be, how do we play Bach’s music? His manuscripts give us very little information on certain aspects of interpretation: tempo, dynamics, phrasing, articulation, ornamentation. The performer was expected to fill in the gaps by following his musical knowledge and instinct. So, the pianist should not be a slave, but rather a re-creator. Bach’s text is sacred, but he gives us the liberty to make certain choices and decisions.”

On the structure of the work: “The strict observance of repeats is quite crucial in these Variations. When I was younger I tried to use all the resources available to achieve variety. These included transposing certain sections an octave up or down, something that could easily be done on the two-manual harpsichord with registration. So this was my homage to the harpsichord. It also emphasizes one aspect of my approach: the joy of playing, playfulness. Nevertheless twenty years later we may prefer subtler means.”

ECM recorded several performances of András Schiff playing the Goldberg Variations in the autumn of 2001, from which the pianist selected the Basel concert for release. Schiff feels the concert setting is optimal for the Goldberg:

“My view of the Goldberg Variations is largely helped by the live recording. It is a long journey and I believe in continuity. It’s not a fragmented sequence of 32 excerpts. The overall plan, the division of groups, rests, silences – they all depend on careful timing, which can only be achieved naturally in a live performance.”


One point in which this recording is clearly superior to its predecessor is the sound – attributable to Schiff’s ever more subtle touch and also to the instrument employed. András Schiff: “These days I always play a piano prepared by Maestro Angelo Fabbrini in Pescara, Italy. These instruments are perfectly voiced and tuned and possess a special ‘shining’ quality. I believe in the cantabile art of piano playing and this piano can sing. Twenty years ago I played the best available piano in London because I didn’t know anything better. There are, however, great differences between pianos, and technicians. Today I travel with my own piano and technician, Mr Rocco Cicchella, and I’m very happy.”

The CD booklet contains a “Guided Tour” of the Goldberg Variations, specially written by András Schiff for this release. At its conclusion he asks: “Isn't it understandable that every musician would want to play this wonderful work? Its deep humanity, spirituality, optimism and intellectual power speak to us directly in these 'distracted times'. This is one of those few journeys that can be repeated again and again.”

Also exclusive to this edition: a prologue, in acrostic form, by Indian writer Vikram Seth, well-known author of “An Equal Music”, “A Suitable Boy”, and “The Golden Gate”.
YEAR DATE VENUE LOCATION
2024 April 26 Queen Elizabeth Hall London, United Kingdom
2024 May 02 Teatro Olimpico Vicenza, Italy
2024 May 03 Basilica de Ss. Felice e Fortunatus Vicenza, Italy
2024 May 04 Teatro Olimpico Vicenza, Italy
2024 May 05 Teatro Olimpico Vicenza, Italy
2024 May 06 Teatro Olimpico Vicenza, Italy
2024 May 07 Teatro Manzoni Bologna, Italy
2024 May 11 Casals Forum Kronberg, Germany
2024 May 15 Casals Forum Kronberg, Germany
2024 May 18 Casals Forum Kronberg, Germany
2024 May 20 Haus für Mozart Salzburg, Austria
2024 May 26 Schloss Esterházy Eisenstadt, Austria
2024 May 28 Laeiszhalle Hamburg, Germany
2024 May 30 Teatro Donizetti Bergamo, Italy
2024 June 01 Teatro Communale Ferrara, Italy
2024 June 06 Wigmore Hall London, United Kingdom
2024 June 08 Wigmore Hall London, United Kingdom
2024 June 11 Musikverein Vienna, Austria
2024 June 26 Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Germany
2024 June 30 Château du Clos de Vougeot Burgund, France
2024 July 04 Palacio Carlos V Granada, Spain
2024 July 11 Kunstpalast Düsseldorf, Germany
2024 July 16 Pfarrkirche Lockenhaus, Austria
2024 July 23 Église de Verbier station Verbier, Switzerland
2024 July 25 Église de Verbier station Verbier, Switzerland
2024 July 27 Menuhin Festival- Kirche Saanen Gstaad, Switzerland
2025 May 18 Herkulessaal Munich, Germany