13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT THE GOLDBERG: Bach Reimagined
ABOUT THIS ALBUM
The music on this recording looks back to Bach through different lenses, and calls back to Bach with different voices. It tells a story about musical evolution, about the balance of inheritance connecting generations, and variation creating change across centuries. It tells about musical lineages and legacies, about how everything old is new again.
Bach’s Goldberg Variations are what I remember as my first music. It’s such a vivid memory: a little girl in my father’s big chair, listening to Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of the Goldbergs, wondering at the twists and turns of Bach’s creation and Gould’s imagination. My sound memory of the music is indelibly combined with a visual one – that iconic Columbia record jacket with its collage of wildly expressive photos of Gould in his studio sessions, transported by his travels through Bach. Transported, as all of us have been by Bach, at one time or another.
13 Ways of Looking at the Goldberg is a set of new variations on the Goldbergs, written by a group of today’s most remarkable composers. The collection is astonishing proof of the permanence of Bach’s music, its ability to travel through time to influence today’s musical voices in myriad ways.
Along with 13 Ways, I’ve chosen Bach-inspired works by two great American composers, Dave Brubeck and Lukas Foss, who have both, in their inimitable and sometimes surprising ways, been deeply shaped by their love of Bach.
And to bring this musical journey to its end – or back to its beginning - I turn to another piece of music that brought me early and forever to Bach, the sublime Sarabande from the Fifth French Suite.
13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT THE GOLDBERG
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Stanza V: 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
These thirteen reimaginings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations evoke both the beauty of inflections and the beauty of innuendoes. They pull from Bach’s music inspiration that ranges from the concrete to the metaphoric, from the tangible to the intuitive. These new works echo and respond to the melodic lines, the beating pulse and the timeless humanity of Bach’s magnificent piece of music, which has inspired countless listeners in countless ways, for over 250 years.
In 2004, thirteen composers were asked to write new variations based on Bach’s Goldberg Variations. They were an eclectic and diverse group, coming from musical backgrounds and languages far and wide. They created their contributions independently, without consultation or collaboration. The result is, like Wallace Stevens’ poem that inspired this project’s title, a set of thirteen short and totally separate pieces that represent a panoramic span of perspectives on the Goldbergs: an extraordinary collection of contemporary responses to this most extraordinary and timeless work of art.
To accept the challenge of putting notes to paper in tribute to Bach is an act of considerable courage and humility. The thirteen composers who have met this challenge so beautifully have my greatest admiration and appreciation.
Dave Brubeck’s Chorale is the second movement of his Chromatic Fantasy Sonata, a large-scale concert work inspired by Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue. Brubeck’s fascination with Bach has been life-long, with numerous Bachian moments surfacing throughout his monumental musical output. In 2006, Brubeck was the subject of Vanity Fair magazine’s Proust Questionnaire. In answer to the question: “ If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?” Dave answered: “Johann Sebastian Bach.”
FOSS: PRELUDE IN D
Lukas Foss was one of the great Bach interpreters of the last century. As a pianist and conductor he returned time and again to Bach; as a composer, his work was influenced from the very beginning by his passion for Bach. His lush, elegiac Prelude in D reminds me of Bach’s arioso preludes from the Well-Tempered Clavier.
The Sarabande from the 5th French Suite is the piece that made me fall in love with playing Bach, when I first learned it as a 7-year-old. I include it here in acknowledgement of everything that Bach has been in my life, and in the collective life of all of us who make music in the world.