Hermann Carl von Keyserlingk, Russian envoy at the court of Dresden, suffered from depression and insomnia throughout his life. A misfortune for him, but a blessing for us and the history of music.
In order to drive away his loneliness, his chamber musician Johann Gottlieb Goldberg had to play the harpsichord night after night.
“The count once said against Bach that he would like to have some piano pieces for his Goldberg which would be so gentle and cheerful in character that he could be cheered up a little during his sleepless nights. Bach believed that this wish could best be fulfilled by variations which he had hitherto regarded as ungrateful work because of the same basic harmony.”
As beautiful as this story may sound, the latest research has shown that it is not true.
Nevertheless, the work has gone down in music history under this name and is still regarded today as one of the most beautiful examples of this genre.
One person who spent his entire life working on this piece was the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. There are two recordings of him that were made almost thirty years apart.
On the first one, from 1955, G. Gould plays with the enchanting temperament of a 22-year-old boy wonder and frees the piece from all the patina it has acquired over time.
In the 1982 recording, he seems to have lost all virtuoso brilliance, leaving a mature, clearly disposed interpretation of rare beauty and intimacy that one have to know if one is interested in this work.