Bach. Goldberg Variations. Variatio 15


August 06, 2016


Bach at my side, Goldberg Variations


Variatio XV is a canon at the fifth in 2/4 time. Like Variation 12, it is in contrary motion with the leader appearing inverted in the second bar. This is the first of the three variations in G minor, and its melancholic mood contrasts sharply with the playfulness of the previous variation. Pianist Angela Hewitt notes that there is “a wonderful effect at the very end [of this variation]: the hands move away from each other, with the right suspended in mid-air on an open fifth. This gradual fade, leaving us in awe but ready for more, is a fitting end to the first half of the piece.”

Glenn Gould said of this variation, “It’s the most severe and rigorous and beautiful canon … the most severe and beautiful that I know, the canon in inversion at the fifth. It’s a piece so moving, so anguished—and so uplifting at the same time—that it would not be in any way out of place in the St. Matthew’s Passion; matter of fact, I’ve always thought of Variation 15 as the perfect Good Friday spell.”

As Quintilian teaches in his “Institutio Oratoria”, the last piece of a series should represent what, in Oratory, is called “Peroratio in Adfectibus”. For this reason, being this Canon the last Variation of the first part of the Goldberg series, this is the only piece in which Bach wrote the tempo marking. Here the tempo marking doesn’t indicate the speed in which to perform this variation, but it indicates the affection, the feeling of it. The real speed of the piece is indicated with the use of the musical figures and the mathematical equivalences with the other Variations.

I’m trying to play Variation 15 in a very simple way, without exceeding in sentimentalisms, which would be anachronistic and inappropriate.