Bach. Goldberg Variations. Variatio 25


October 01, 2016


Bach at my side, Goldberg Variations


Variation 25 is the third and last variation in G minor; a three-part piece, it is marked adagio in Bach’s own copy and is in 3
4 time. The melody is written out predominantly in sixteenth and thirty-second notes, with many chromaticisms. This variation generally lasts longer than any other piece of the set.

Wanda Landowska famously described this variation as “the black pearl” of the Goldberg Variations. Peter Williams writes that “the beauty and dark passion of this variation make it unquestionably the emotional high point of the work”, and Glenn Gould said that “the appearance of this wistful, weary cantilena is a master-stroke of psychology.” In an interview with Gould, Tim Page described this variation as having an “extraordinary chromatic texture”; Gould agreed: “I don’t think there’s been a richer lode of enharmonic relationships any place between Gesualdo and Wagner.”

In my opinion, the interpretation of this Variation has been very much influenced by the fact that Bach was re-discovered during the Romantic period. For this reason, and for the fact that there is the marking “adagio” in Bach’s own copy, the almost totality of pianist has always played this variation in a very slow tempo. However, the musical figures that Bach used to compose this wonderful piece, consist to a large extent of 32nd and 64th notes. We know that Bach took the trouble of asking his son-in-law Altnikol to copy the Prelude in B flat minor BWV 893 of the second book of the Well-Tempered Clavier with semiquavers rather than quavers, because he wanted it played faster (see Hermann Keller, Il Clavicembalo Ben Temperato di Johann Sebastian Bach. L’opera e la sua interpretazione, Ed. Ricordi, Milano, 1994, p. 194.). If Bach really wanted Variation 25 to be played this slow, why did he write it by using the fastest musical figures?
I think that “Adagio”, more than a tempo marking, here represents the “affection”, the attitude in which to perform this piece. My interpretation respects this vision.