Goldberg Variations, BWV 988: Aria - Johann Sebastian Bach

The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, are a work for solo keyboard by the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Originally written for the harpsichord, the set of 30 variations is one of the most well-known and widely performed musical compositions in the world. Its feature piece, Aria, is widely recognized and its instantly recognizable melody makes it one of the Baroque era's most popular works.


The Goldberg Variations are believed to have been written in the early 1740s and first published in 1741. According to legend, they were commissioned by Count Keyserlingk, a Russian diplomat and a student of Bach's. Keyserlingk had a sleeping disorder and employed young Johann Gottlieb Goldberg to play music for him to help him fall asleep. It is because of this that Bach dedicated the Variations to Keyserlingk with the inscription "to the Virtuoso J.G. Goldberg, for when he's practising, for his diversion in his free hours, I composed and dedicated by reverence and gratitude."


The Goldberg Variations can be broadly divided into four groups. The first group consists of the Aria and the 30 ensuing variations. The Aria itself is a moderately paced Baroque-style melody in three-eight meter, which is then repeated and slightly varied each time. The variations that follow each take on a different tempos and meters, ranging from fast and energetic fugues to slow and more contemplative works. Included among the variations are several canons and dances in the French style. The second, third, and fourth groups offer a succession of arias, either in the form of alternate versions of the original Aria or a number of other, unrelated works.


The unparalleled beauty and depth of Bach's variations has captivated and inspired audiences for centuries. From Bach’s day to our own, the Goldberg Variations have been performed, analyzed, and adored. What makes Bach's masterpiece so special is its perfect balance between complexity and accessibility: variations are at once sophisticated and challenging to play, but, at the same time, incredibly enjoyable to listen to. The Goldberg's beauty comes through its ever-changing melodies and the amazing variety of instruments and performance styles that have been adapted to it.


The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, are timeless works of profound beauty and a captivating resource of Baroque style. They remain widely recognized as one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s most celebrated and widely performed pieces and served as an inspiration to generations of composers that followed. Its original Aria has captivated audiences for centuries and is so iconic that its instantly recognizable melody has become one of the most popular works of the Baroque era.

Publication date: 18. 02. 2023