A passage of music could have a ‘semantic range’ that is essentially the same as that of any word in a language, only much broader in scope—sharing the same kind of elasticity but of a much greater degree than is typical in language... Choosing whether the French overture [Var. XVI] in Bach’s Goldberg Variations connotes ‘sublime confidence’ or ‘deep despair’ is easy because the semantic fields of those expressions are so completely separate. One seems coincident with the music—and the other, far from it!”
Joseph Swain, p. 55.
T he hypothesis that syntax mediates tension—and its corollary, that if there is no sense of tension and resolution then there is no sense of syntax—do not entail that all tension is ‘syntactic’ in origin... The tension and resolution of this passage depend more on harmonic progression and meter than on the variety of rhythmic durations and texture.”K onstantin Lifschitz’s performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations BWV 988 last night was staggeringly beautiful, unified in conception and spiritually cohesive all the way through the Variations to the reprise of the Aria at the end.
Joseph Swain, p. 32.
T he left-hand/right-hand equality of voices that Lifschitz maintains is astounding—that it is biomechanically/anatomically very difficult goes without saying, but it is conceptually/expressively exceedingly difficult as well. (The intentions of the composer—and of the performer, and, now, of ourselves—are complex and tremendously varied through the course of this work. And they must emerge in the performance as fresh and totally genuine—a factor that learning and technically mastering and memorizing the musical text threaten to a degree, as anyone who has ever memorized and performed music in recital knows well...)
I ntentionalism [in music]... not so much a coherent philosophical position but rather a kind of ‘antidote’ to hermeneutic analytic approaches that treat musical works as ‘organic matter’—in short, like vegetables—rather than as products of thinking [,feeling] people. Ideally, this means encouraging analytic results that might please composers if they were told about them... Intentionalism is meant as a heuristic device that asks that we pose the question: What might the composer have thought about this composition and its sense? It has become common practice for musicologists to invoke the warning of the Intentional Fallacy as if it were law accepted by everyone. In fact, the entire hermeneutic tradition stands opposed to this doctrinaire apologia for New Criticism, so that merely calling the quest for intentions structuring a work of art a ‘victim’ to a fallacy does not make it so.”T he interplay between the rhythmic, metric, melodic, harmonic, and textural tensions in Goldberg variation—notably in the French overture (Var. XVI)—was fascinating. When harmonic tension predominates, it “frees-up” the melodic syntax and vice versa. The realism of the multi-line, multi-voice dialogue or story-telling is enabled and augmented by the parity/equality of the hands, each tension-generating modality taking its “turn” and providing scope and opportunity for other modalities to express things freely.
Laurence Dreyfus, p. 171.
L ast night our imaginations were permitted to run, taking all the “rope” they could, until close to the end near the 70-minute mark, when we realized in retrospect that the “story” explored by Bach (and Lifschitz) through all of these Variations is our very own. We had not only understood the story; we had in a palpable, true sense ‘said’ [to ourselves] the things that Bach—and Lifschitz—had just said. The story and these thoughts had come a huge distance to find us, as if meant (intended) to be found by us.
W e were inscribed by them, but we found that we, too, were, in a real sense, inscribing/authoring the thoughts. The attentiveness, the transcendent wide-awakeness that Bach has impelled us to with these Variations: like a newly-discovered, implausibly effective form of prayer. An unforgettable performance and a really wonderful evening.
A poem as a persisting manifestation of language—and, therefore, essentially ‘dialogue’ [that can be indefinitely-extended, with unnamed or yet-to-be-named respondents]—can be a message in a ‘bottle’: sent out in the not-always-greatly-hopeful belief that somewhere and sometime it might wash up on land—on some heartland. Poems [and music] in this sense, too are ‘under way’: they are making toward something... Wirklichkeit ist nicht! Wirklichkeit will gesucht und gewonnen sein! [Reality is nothing apart from our individual construction of it. It must be sought and won!]”
- Konstantin Lifschitz website
- Goldberg Variations BWV 988 score at IMSLP
- Ciardi J, Williams M. How Does a Poem Mean? 2e. Houghton-Mifflin, 1975.
- Dreyfus L. Bach and the Patterns of Invention. Harvard Univ, 1997.
- Levin B. A performer's survey of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Part 1. La Folia, JAN-2007.
- Levin B. A performer's survey of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Part 2. La Folia, FEB-2007.
- Levin B. A performer's survey of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Part 3. La Folia, MAY-2007.
- Rosen C. ‘Bach and Handel’, in Keyboard Music, D. Matthews, ed. Parkwest, 1972, pp. 95-120.
- Swain J. Musical Languages. Norton, 1997.
- Williams P. Bach: The Goldberg Variations. Cambridge Univ, 2001.
- Wimsatt W, Beardsley M. ‘The Intentional Fallacy’, in The Verbal Icon, W. Wimsatt. Univ Kentucky, 1954, pp. 3-20.
I ’ve come to feel over the years that a musical work, however long it may be, ought to have basically—I was going to say ‘one tempo’ but that’s the wrong word—one ‘pulse rate’; one constant 'rhythmic reference point'. Now, obviously, there couldn’t be anything more deadly dull than to exploit one beat that goes on and on and on indefinitely. That’s what drives me up the wall about rock and about minimalism. Anyway, I would never argue in favor of an inflexible pulse. That just destroys any music. But you can take a basic pulse and divide or multiply it—not necessarily on a scale of two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, but often with far-less-obvious divisions—and make the result of those divisions or multiplications act as a subsidiary pulse for a particular movement or section of a movement... So in the case of the Goldbergs, there is in fact one pulse, which, with a few very minor modifications—mostly modifications that I think take their cue from ritards at the end of the preceding variation, something like that—one pulse that runs all the way throughout.” Glenn Gould, 1982 radio interview with Tim Page.