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The 'Goldbergs,' Remixed

A portrait of Bach, projected in December 2005 on a skyscraper in his longtime home city of Leipzig, Germany.
Jens Schlueter
/
AFP/Getty Images
A portrait of Bach, projected in December 2005 on a skyscraper in his longtime home city of Leipzig, Germany.

Or call them the 'Incognito Goldbergs.'

All this week, we've been examining Bach's monumental and yet intimate Goldberg Variations from all sorts of perspectives. But we've lavished most of our attentions thus far on various keyboard iterations, from Leif Ove Andsnes' thoughts on Glenn Gould to Andreas Staier on the harpsichord to Jeremy Denk playing a pianistic piece of public art, along with a generous serving of Denkiana all week long.

But what we haven't really addressed up until now is the incredibly vast array of Goldberg arrangements that exist for alternate instruments: some marvelous (I wouldn't be as happy in a universe that didn't contain Uri Caine's joyfully polyglot take on the Goldbergs) and some just plain head-scratching (Moog-ified Variations, anyone?).

At their best, such arrangements and revisions showcase the endless possibilities that Bach's genius presents — and also expand the repertoire for certain instruments, which is not a small thing for, say, the harp or the saxophone).

So here are six very different takes on the Goldbergs, and each one brings out a different quality in Bach's music. As Denk so elegantly explains, the composer spun a "seemingly infinite world of possibility" out of eight simple notes in a bass line.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.