Stefanie sobelle on Gabriel Josipovici’s Goldberg: Variations
by Gabriel Josipovici
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Dresden, 1741: A count lies suffering from chronic insomnia. To soothe his misery, he orders a musician to play to him every night, a ritual that necessitates the composition of pieces for the young clavier player. The task is assigned, a set of thirty variations on a theme is written, and one of the masterpieces of Western music is born. The insomniac is Hermann Karl von Keyserling; the harpsichordist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg; and the composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. So goes the creation myth of the Goldberg Variations, a tightly assembled rotation of elements including canons, genres, and arabesques. Its structure is the organizing principle and its conception the theme of Gabriel Josipovici’s captivating novel Goldberg: Variations.
Bach’s composition has earned its own list of variations (not least, Glenn
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