Monday, January 3, 2011

Variations on a clue for ARIA

Aria:  Battle lines?  (think -- soprano Kathleen Battle)

ARIA is a crossword recidivist, almost always clued in terms of opera.  "La Scala offering." "Caro nome, e.g." and the like.

But after watching this extraordinary Glenn Gould documentary last week, I'm reminded of a famous non-vocal ARIA that predates Puccini, Bizet and Bellini. This "Aria" is the beating heart of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations - the first and last "movements" on which variations are based.

Every New Year's Day I listen to the Goldberg Variations (preferably alone, lights off, glass of wine) as a way of honoring the miracle of human creativity. This year I chose Glenn Gould's mature, later-in-life 1981 recording. He is a genius. Some critics dismiss the "Aria" as too slow and labored. But I think it's exquisite -- honest, spare and clean as a Vermeer kitchen; and reminiscent of the majestic tempo in Wanda Landowska's 1945 harpsichord version.

What's your favorite recording of the Goldberg Variations?

Here's the Aria, performed by Glenn Gould. Happy New Year.


Deb Amlen said...

My goodness, how extraordinarily beautiful. I knew that Gould was known for his interpretation of the Goldberg Variations, but I had no idea. Thank you for posting that.

Looking forward to our lunch!

Joanne said...

I don't think I've listened to the Goldberg Variations in about five years now and after hearing this, it is truly a tragedy. Just beautiful!

Anne E said...

Am I a musical infidel if I admit to preferring faster tempos in general? Liz, did you see the recent New Yorker article that talked about Renaissance performance practice and the idea that some pieces from that time have been performed much too slowly based on various misinterpretations that have been made? I loved this idea, as an "uptempo" fan, but I do agree about the contemplative beauty of the aria.

Here's a question back at you - what's your favorite variation?

La Liz said...

Anne, I missed that New Yorker article -- the scholarship that revolves around tempi is fascinating. I'd love to read it.

My favorite variation? I love No. 8 because it sounds like Bach to the highest power. But my favorite part is the end, the da capo; it's like the Mile 26 of a marathon. You've been through so many ups and downs, and then back to the Aria. It gets to me every time.

The uptempo versions (e.g.,Turick's) are awesome. Have you noticed that, as pianists and conductors age, they embrace slower tempi? Turick's later recordings of the G-bergs sound more contemplative.

Do you have a preferred recording?

Anne E said...

I have Pieter-Jan Belder's version, which is too slow for my taste, plus he takes ALL the repeats... It's a harpsichord version, though, which I like. I understand he was in his 30s when he made the recording, so I wouldn't want to hear how much slower he might get in his 60s! (That said, I have a a VERY slow and contemplative recording of some of the Bach organ pieces played by, of all people, Albert Schweitzer, when he was quite elderly - they're technically not impressive, but it's the most thoughtful recording I've heard of these pieces.)

If you'd like to see the New Yorker article, Liz, I have a pdf of it - just let me know how to get it to you.

Anne E.