I love variations. The concept is simple: the composer presents a material, and he/she continues to change it with different tools such as counterpoints, harmony, rhythm, etc. Each time she/he changes the original theme, we have a new variation.
For a composer, it is a great framework to show off one's mastery of music and creativity. For a listener, it's interesting, amusing, and often surprising to observe how the music unfolds.
The Goldberg Variations
One of the most iconic and monumental variations is probably the Goldberg Variations, which was composed by Bach (BWV 988)—supposedly for Count Keyserling to be played "for him during his insomnia."
There are recordings after recordings coming out to the market even today (we even continue to remaster the same old ones), and which of the two recordings you prefer(1, 2) has become a cliché topic among the Goldberg/Gould (or rather Gould-berg) aficionados. In fact, NPR Music did a fun series titled the Goldberg Week, exploring the variations in multiple angles. Yes, the variations carry "a heavy load of compelling baggage." And yet centuries after the original inception, we are keep coming back to it—including myself.
In this series, I plan to write short posts about my recent obsession, the Goldberg Variations. Here is the list of posts completed so far: