Even the newest convert to classical music is likely to agree: Bach rules!
Right now I have the Goldberg Variations on in the background. I feel a little guilty using such great music as the accompaniment to my life, but I often pause and notice particular phrases, stop for a minute and listen to a passage.
Nonetheless, I wish I spent more time actually listening. I regularly resolve to do that (and then forget). But this post gives me an excuse to pay attention right now. And you can do it with me.
Here’s a brief excerpt from Bach’s Goldberg Variations — it’s from the first statement of the theme that all the variations are based on — performed on piano by, respectively, Andras Schiff in 1983, Angela Hewitt in 1999, and Glenn Gould in 1981. Notice how different they are.
The most obvious difference is in tempi (pretentious Latin plural of tempo — speed). Hewitt’s version is a little slower than Schiff’s. Gould’s is like molasses compared to the other two. But there are many other differences.
Here’s an interesting way to compare the versions bit by bit. Start the Schiff version. Listen to just one phrase, one bit of music long enough to be distinctive, short enough to remember. Like this — the first phrase from the Schiff version:
Hit the pause bar at the end of the phrase, then start the Hewitt version. At the end of the phrase in the Hewitt version pause it and start the Gould version. It’s much easier to hear the individual differences that way.
When you’re done with the first phrase you can go back to the Schiff version and hit start, and it will pick up just where you left off. That way you can compare the three versions phrase-by-phrase.
If you want to go back to the beginning at any point, either drag the grey bar back, or reload the page. And if you only want to do a phrase or two now, this page should be here for you to come back to whenever you’re in the mood.
Please do me a favor if you don’t mind. If you enjoy doing this, let me know either by comment (link below) or email email@example.com. I’ll be more likely to do something similar with other music if I get a positive response to this.
Here’s a reward for sticking with me so far — the entire Aria (that we’ve heard part of), performed by Daniel Barenboim this time, on YouTube. (It can’t be embedded, so follow the link.) If you’re interested, you can find all of the variations on YouTube by a variety of artists. And when you find one you like best, why not buy the CD or download MP3s.