Had it not been for Sebastian Bach, the name of Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727–1756) might be lost to all but the most astute of musicologists, for it is Goldberg whose name has become attached to Bach’s famous composition—whose formal title is Aria with Thirty Variations. Here is the tale for those who don’t know it; it is paraphrased from the 1802 biography of Bach by Johann Nikolaus Forkel. The Russian ambassador to the Dresden court, one Count Keyserlingk, was a friend and an admirer of Bach. Plagued by insomnia, the count liked to have his young harpsichordist, Goldberg, play in an adjacent room to shepherd him through his sleepless nights. At the count’s request, Bach provided music “of gentle and cheerful nature” for these nocturnalRead more concerts. The variations were the result, Bach was handsomely rewarded, and the rest as they say, is history.
Whether the story is anecdotal or the truth is still being debated by scholars. If Forkel’s account is indeed accurate, then one would naturally expect to find a flowery dedication to the count on the title page, but there is none. Also, Goldberg would have been in his midteens at the time. However, Heinrich Nikolaus Gerber’s four-volume Tonkünstler-Lexikon (1812) offers this description of Goldberg: “his musical gifts were insatiable, so that he played day and night, and cared for nothing else; thus he developed a prowess which reputedly enabled him to sight-read easily and freely, the most difficult of pieces, even with the pages turned upside down.” So, even though Goldberg was only in his teens when Bach humbly presented his example of Nachtmusik to the count, the young Goldberg’s abilities at the keyboard must have been extraordinary, to say the least.
Goldberg had little regard for his own compositions, dismissing them as trifles and inconsequential, but he described his only two harpsichord concertos as “grand and difficult.” Where Goldberg’s surviving liturgical cantatas owe a certain debt to the late style of Sebastian Bach, the harpsichord concertos are of a more up-to-date nature and exhibit abrupt shifts in mood and harmonic and melodic quirkiness that can be found in the music of Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, but without being cheap knock-offs of their music.
These are not slight works. They run as long as several of Mozart’s later piano concertos, and longer than others. However, the Goldberg concertos are not overblown; not so much as a note is superfluous. The music is well planned, laid out with the skill and confidence that a master architect would employ in preparing a set of drawings for a building. As for the technical demands, they are formidable, requiring the utmost in both concentration and dexterity for successful execution. The orchestral writing is assured and idiomatic, and though it is largely supportive, it speaks well of Goldberg’s abilities.
My aging memory may be failing, but I think one of these concertos was available years ago on an old beige-jacket Archiv LP, but don’t ask me to provide the names of the executants. All I remember is that (1) the recording was lead-footed, and (2) what was apparently an old Neupert harpsichord was possessed of an action so noisy that it reminded me of a car sadly in need of a tune-up! No such problems here, though. Waldemar Döling’s instrument (uncredited in the liner notes) is quiet and bright toned, but not strident. His execution is confident and captures the varying moods of Goldberg’s long-lost but interesting scores. Emil Tabakov puts the Sofia Chamber Soloists through their paces, providing assured and attentive accompaniments. As with everything that comes from Musikproduktion Daubringhaus und Grimm, the sound on this 1986 release, now available on MDG Gold, is first-rate and characterized by immediacy and realism.
These concertos will never attain the status of masterworks, but they can confidently stand along side those of Kirnberger, Nichelmann, and other composers of the second echelon whose works have been the object of much belated attention in recent decades. This is an essential item for collectors wishing to bridge the gap in their collection between the keyboard concertos of Sebastian Bach and Mozart.
Do not pass upSeptember 26, 2013By Anthony G. (SANTA FE, NM)See All My Reviews"Do not pass up purchasing and listening to this celestial music which rivals the best in any other Baroque Master's compositions. It is beyond me how such an obviously interesting--and great--composer was overlooked given his linkage to Bach. If you do not purchase these concerti, the loss will be your own."Report Abuse