Goldberg Variations


J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, transcribed for String Quartet

— Each part is coil-bound to lie flat on the stand, in a handsome dark-blue cover (90-pound cardstock)

— The parts are laser-printed on heavy paper (24 pound)

Information about this edition, adapted from the Preface:

J. S. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” is a self-contained world, immersion in which is transformative. My goal in offering this transcription is to make this inexhaustible work available to string players “from within”. The range of the thirty variations, the formal complexity of many of them, and the complexity and unity of the structure as a whole, are all remarkable and indeed are often remarked upon But the genius and enduring appeal of the Goldbergs lies beyond all this in an intangible spirit or atmosphere which pervades the work from beginning to end through all its shifting moods.

Bach famously cluttered his manuscripts with almost no indications of tempo or dynamics and few indications of phrasing. The tempo indications offered here, though carefully considered, are editorial and therefore to be taken cum grano salis. I have made only a cursory attempt to relate tempos coherently from one variation to the next (as some might wish to do in performance) and I have suggested dynamics in only a few places. As for phrasing, there are a few authentic dots and slurs, which I have retained; beyond these, I have added slurs only sparingly. Ornamentation in Bach is always an issue. I have written out some ornaments, particularly in the Aria itself. Grace-notes, throughout, are on the beat. My goal in all these respects has been a clean performing edition, rather than a scholarly “Urtext”.

Several of the variations are transparently three-voiced. Accordingly in this version the viola is tacet in five of the variations. Moreover, eleven of the variations require only one violin; for these the music is given in both Violin 1 and Violin 2 parts, with the annotation “Violin 1 or Violin 2 plays, but not both”. Each quartet can make its own decisions about the distribution of these parts; if they are played as indicated by the labels in boldface the tacets will alternate.

Bach avoids triplets in Variation 26 by starting with the treble staff in 18/16 and the bass staff in 3/4; the time signatures subsequently change independently in the two staves as required by the rhythm, and in one instance (measure 24) there is even a mid-measure time-signature change! In this edition I give two versions of Variation 26; the difference is purely notational. The first follows Bach’s convention of avoiding triplets by changing to 18/16, while the second employs triplets and remains in 3/4 throughout.

At the end of Variation 30, Bach writes simply “Aria da capo”. I have written it out for the convenience of the players. This recurrence of the Aria, after its long journey through thirty variations and especially coming after the exuberant Quodlibet (Variation 30), is magical. It is the same Aria, yet subtly different: transformed.

Price, to US or Canadian addresses: set of four parts, $40 + $7 postage ($US).   To anywhere else on the planet, $40 US or equivalent plus my actual postage cost. (Please Inquire before ordering, to confirm cost.)

Customer Comments:

The string quartet that I play in love your arrangement of the Goldberg variations, which I purchased from you many years ago.
— KQ, Ontario