Johann Sebastian Bach
Goldberg Variations

The relentlessly intricate architecture of the Goldberg Variations still engages scholars after hundreds of years, while the soothing, noble poetry and formidable technical demands of the piece continue to captivate players and listeners.

ID: 109
Johann Sebastian Bach

Goldberg Variations
BWV 988

Key: G Major
Year: 1741
Level: 8+
Period: Baroque
piano sheet music Piano score: PS Urtext Download
piano sheet music Piano score: Scanned score Download
Piano Music AST Audiovisual Study Tool Listen & View

Comfort for insomniacs?

The Goldberg Variations opens and closes with the heavenly beautiful "Aria" - an ornate, noble Sarabande. Rather than just varying the melody of the Aria, the thirty variations are built upon its bass line. Every third variation is a canon at increasing intervals, except the final, thirtieth variation, a so-called quodlibet, mixing a number of popular tunes - including one that goes "Cabbage and turnips have driven me away, had my mother cooked meat, I'd have opted to stay". The variations found just after each canon are genre pieces of various types, often based one Baroque dances. The variations preceding the canons are variations in lively tempo with a great deal of hand-crossing. This ternary pattern—canon, genre piece, virtuoso "arabesque"—is repeated a total of nine times, until the Quodlibet breaks the cycle.

Bach wrote the work with a two-manual harpsichord in mind (the score specifies for each variation if it is meant to be played on one or two manuals), which makes the challenge for the pianist even greater – the many hand-crossings, possibly inspired by Scarlatti's keyboard music, is much easier to perform on two manuals.


Johann Nicolaus Forkel wrote in his Bach biography (1802) that the Goldberg Variations had been commissioned by the Russian Ambassador to Saxony Count Kaiserling, who suffered from insomnia. Goldberg was a young musician, who according to Forkel's (probably spurious) version of events, was supposed to play from the Variations during the Count's sleepless nights to cheer him up a little. A number of legendary performances of this monumental work have been recorded on piano as well as on harpsichord and organ - two of the most popular and highly regarded ones were recorded on the piano by Glenn Gould in 1955 and 1981.

Forum posts about this piece:

How should I learn the goldberg variations by xdanielyj
Hello everyone, I want to get started on the Bach Goldberg Variations. This piece has such a large personal value to me (It's possible I may never have started piano if this world did not have...

Suggestions for fingering LH, two bars of Goldberg V.1 by lettersquash
Hi, how would you finger the LH in bars 25 and 26,...

Jörg Demus playing Bach: Goldberg Variations (1974) by pianobern69 What do you think about this 1974 recording of Jörg Demus playing the Goldberg variations? It’s not as good as his 1963 one, but I think it’s really underrated and...

Insane Time Signatures Anyone? by winsto7
Anyone know of any insane time signatures? I know Variation 26 of Bach's Goldberg Variations is pretty crazy, with 18/16 in the right hand and 3/4 in the...

Question for someone who knows how to play Goldberg variations aria by hiroica
My question is in regards to the left hand for the first six measures of the piece.  I’m a novice, but can play the whole aria, yet the first six measures are not working.  I’m using the Glenn...

Goldberg Variations by irina lankova
Hello everyone, I would like to share with you my new series of videos featuring 'Goldberg Variations' of Jean Sebastien Bach, with some personal comments and explanations, here are first 2...

Goldberg Variations by lmpianist
Somehow I never got around to listening to this piece until recently, and I'm now completely hooked on it and bathing in G major ecstasy.  I'm trying to learn a couple of the variations.

Come on man, don't learn it - it's overplayed! by mjames
Anyone else gets pissed off by this? Like I tell a buddy I'm going to learn [X overplayed piece] (rubbish term but whatever) and he's like come on don't, it's overplayed! SO...

My lis(z)t of the 30 greatest piano works by ansgarpiano
Here is my personal list of the 30 greatest piano works. Etudes not included as I see them as small seperate pieces. There is no specific order apart from the cronological. Feel free to agree/disagree and let...

Gould Goldberg variations by clouseau
Listening to Goulds 1981 recording of the Goldberg variations, the immediate impression was that this is too good to be real. 100% polyphonic awareness at all times, each voice executed perfectly and each voice...

Bach's aria by pechi
My teacher tells me to learn this piece without the ornaments which I am about to do.  However, I feel that that will be the hardest way to learn it because my timing which is dreadful,  :( and...

My piano progress after playing for one year by aarey
Hey there! I am a long time lurker and first time poster to this forum and I would love some feedback on my playing after one year.

Gould's hum in his recordings by ssanderz9
Hello, I'm new to pianostreet. I like Gould's recordings of Bach and I know that he hummed when he played. I just love Gould's hum in his recordings, especially his...

Glenn Gould: Goldberg Variations 1981 (Subdividing and multiplying beats?) by marijn1999
Hi everyone, Recently I started studying the way Glenn Gould is unifying the Goldberg Variations in his 1981 recording in terms of a "rhythmic reference point". For example, he caries on...

Goldberg Variations will be streamed live by andhow04
hello friends i will be playing the Goldberg Variations live on the radio next Friday Feb 26 at 7 pm EST, you can stream it here can't remember if i posted an older...

Goldberg variation 1 complete fingering. by mikejmck
anybody know the proper fingering for this...

Goldberg variations by sxsx
I recently started trying to play Bachs goldberg variations, and I am mostly interested in variations 1 and 3, but it is insanely hard for me. I have just a little more than 1 year of piano lessons, and I...

Goldberg Variation: Two Keyboard Variations by aeryck
Does anyone have suggestions for a playable approach to these crossing hands variations in the Goldberg where notes are quickly (and seemingly impossibly)...

Members who like this piece have also downloaded:

Piano sheet music and recordings. This piece is by Johann Sebastian Bach: Goldberg Variations in G Major (published in 1741) . Level 8+, Period: Baroque
Goldberg Variations in G Major, by the baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach. This piano piece was initially published in the year 1741 and is included in Miscellaneous pieces by Bach.

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