Goldberg-Quodlibet Space-Variations. On Bach’s Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Based upon the Goldberg Variations BWV 988 of Johann Sebastian Bach (first published 1741), the ‘Goldberg-Quodlibet Space-Variations’ will be a sonic installation in which a musical object (in this case the Goldberg Variations) is juxtaposed with itself through a number of different techniques in order to bring out new contexts or possibilities hitherto buried within the language of the object in question. The Goldberg Variations have a global architecture that is unusual for the time the work was composed: while the whole work is divided into two parts of equal length (with an Overture starting the second half), it has a regular structure spanning the whole set, as every third variation takes the form of a canon, with the interval of imitation growing with each successive canon. Usually lasting for almost one hour, the Goldberg Variations simultaneously present a display of the widest range of individual character pieces while connecting all of them to a strict common internal architecture. The common ground between all 32 pieces of the cycle (the Aria, 30 variations and a da capo of the Aria) is the harmonic structure, and therefore also the number of bars. All pieces have the same harmonic structure, organized in 4 phrases of 8 bars each.

The Goldberg-Quodlibet installation will enhance the unique identity of this cycle, by creating a sonorous environment where these features are brought to the fore. The cycle will be played simultaneously horizontally and vertically by overlapping and time-adjusting several pieces within a dynamic time grid. Therefore, the listener will hear the work not only horizontally (in the normal time continuum and with the time proportions of each piece), but also juxtaposed – with other variations adjusted to the time scale of whichever movement of the piece is being played at that moment. In the environment of the installation, both the amount and the choice of layers (i.e. variations) playing simultaneously with the main cycle will be decided in a dynamic fashion, varying from solo playing to highly complex textures – the limit being when all 32 movements (the Aria and its da capo becoming ambiguously interchangeable in this context) are played simultaneously. The audio environment will be set in a surround spatialization frame, within which each piece of the Goldberg Variations will be assigned a fixed coordinate in the room, so that the work as a whole occupies the space in total. This spatial dramaturgy connects with the time dramaturgy in such a way that, just like when one plays the original cycle a return to the beginning occurs, in the spatial coordinates, too, a sense of ‘full circle’ is engendered.

Read further: Diabelli Machines