J. S. Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988

Fazil Say

J. S. Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988

The acclaimed Turkish composer/pianist Fazıl Say made his first recording of music by J.S. Bach in 1998 and turned to the composer’s epic Goldberg Variations for special illumination and solace when the pandemic struck in early 2020. “The Goldbergs were a significant omission from my life as a musician and from my repertoire,” he tells Apple Music. “And the pandemic gave me the space to devote a considerable amount of time to analyzing the entire work, which is a masterpiece of music and mathematics. Composed 280 years ago, reportedly as a remedy for an insomniac aristocrat, it carries with it a great historical legacy—it has been recorded many hundreds of times, yet each has its own unique character and approach to tempo, dynamics, and articulation.” The Goldbergs were originally conceived for a two-manual harpsichord and feature passages of hand- and finger-overlapping that are impossible to reproduce exactly on a single keyboard. Yet listening to Say’s mellifluous, velvet-toned pianism, the listener is completely unaware of any such problems. “In order to maintain the fluency and flavor of the music, every pianist interpreting the Goldbergs on a modern piano must find their own solutions to these difficulties,” Say explains. “I wanted my interpretation to convey the unique song, dance, and story of each part of the piece, so that was the bar I set myself.” Working on the Goldbergs during the early stages of the pandemic afforded Say the luxury of being able to study a handful of variations every week, thereby gaining invaluable insights into the work’s evolving structure. “The interpreter must deeply internalize this long piece,” he adds, “to the degree of presenting it as though it were their own composition. Approaching a musical work of this kind is a lifelong journey. Who knows? Perhaps years later, having made fresh discoveries, we’ll decide to record it all over again.”

Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
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