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What’s on YouTube: The Goldberg Variations

One of the world's most famous pieces has a varied presence on Youtube.

Johann Sebastian Bach‘s monumental “Goldberg” variations hardly need any introduction, yet not everyone is familiar with the work.

Simply put, they are a series of movements of varying difficulty based on an “aria,” or first movement.To say they are difficult is probably understating the point slightly. As an integral work, the variations are considered near, if not at the top, of the list when it comes to Bach’s most challenging compositions. They demand a lot from the performer and test every bit of technique required to play them.

For many a harpsichordist they are a necessary pilgrimage or, better yet, they are one of the peaks that must be reached at some point in their lives. Although, not all harpsichordists share the sentiment or ambition.

But, as Youtube shows us, harpsichordists are not alone. Pianists, guitarists (acoustic and electric), harpists, and string trios can all be found performing the variations (represented by a diverse crowd—young and old, neophyte and master, alike).

There a surprisingly few number of live performances on the harpsichord, yet the ones that are present are excellent and worth watching. Here are two performed by harpsichordists and a third by a clavichordist:

Matthew Halls:

Pierre Hantaï:

Benjamin Joseph Steens:

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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