Petri Kumela

Jürgen Ruck







Whenever I hear organ music by Johann Sebastian Bach, I always think of the time when I was a young organ student trying to play chorale preludes from the so-called Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) in dark, ice-cold village churches with clammy hands. Ever since, Bach’s music has had something elementary to me: it is the opposite of darkness, cold and trepidation. That is why I love his music, and that is why love his fugues especially. For at the beginning of a fugue, there is always this one very special moment when a theme, having been played by one individual voice, appears in a second voice, while the first develops the counter-voice, thus defining the arena of the action, so to speak. It is a sublime, yet somehow nonchalant moment!

Yet as much as this moment fascinated me and continues to fascinate me, I could not manage to transfer it to my own music. Today, it seems to me that there was a kind of aesthetic block – for a long time, this did not even feel like an encumbrance to me, despite leaving open the question why one would deny oneself a source from which composers have drawn for centuries. With time, through some inner process, my aesthetic positions have lost some of their severity and have broadened, and suddenly – to my considerable surprise and even greater joy – I found myself able to compose contrapuntally. This turning-point is marked by Goldberg.

AriaThe thirty variations of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which – divided into two parts of 15 variations each – follow an introductory Aria, are arranged in groups of three, each consisting of a canon and two free-form movements. Within the nine canons, the two voices of the canons grow increasingly apart, meaning that in the first canon both voices begin on the same note, but in each following canon, the second voice starts one note higher, until they are divided by nine notes in the last canon. Bach also added a third voice as a free bass line to each canon (with the exception of the last one), resulting in a type of setting that has no immediate model. The free movements resemble familiar forms and genres, such as dance movements, fugues, toccatas and overtures as well as some bravura pieces. The last variation takes the form of a Quodlibet of artfully interwoven popular tunes, and finally the Aria is repeated.

Var9Much of this can also be found in my Goldberg, and although Bach is not quoted literally at any point, he is often present in the background. Thus, the variations also come in groups of three, containing one canon each, and there are also dances (flamenco, ländler, waltzes), old forms (fugues, toccatas and passacaglias) and bravura pieces. Then there are movements referring to my earlier guitar pieces and the playing techniques used therein (Kolibri and Goya), and movements that cannot be assigned to any of the above-mentioned types of movement. The sequence of the canons follows a serial principle in my case too, yet unlike in Bach’s work, it is not the intervals between the two voices of the canon that are decisive, but the proportions of time between the voices. The time ratios descend in order, i.e. 7:6, 7:5, 7:4, 6:5 and so on, all the way to the ideal ratio of 1:1. Thus, apart from the last canon, there is always a faster and a slower voice – the former either catching up with the slower, or falling behind – depending on whether they begin consecutively or simultaneously. In addition, one voice is always the inversion (horizontal mirroring) of the other, for which the Aria already prepares the ground. Var11Last but not least, the first and the last canon also play a special role, not just due to their position, for as in Bach’s canons, they also include additional free voices. Although the technical construction of all the canons is relatively similar, they remain very diverse in character. There is an unrestrained toccata (5:4), a crotchety ländler (2:1), one canon is to be played “with dark calmness” (7:4), another (5:3, Goya) sounds querulous and derisive (as Goya portrays himself in the first of his Caprichos), another accelerates with threatening blows (4:3), and yet another races by in a few seconds, with bizarre grace notes. The nature of the other, free variations is no less diverse. It ranges from ritual delays (Var. 3) and the shimmering Kolibri Variation (Var. 7) to an Adagio (Var. 24) in which crystalline melodies soar over a regular accompaniment. Furthermore, there are the four fugues, which – as indicated above – have a special importance. There are four of them because the Aria also has four structural parts, each of which is developed into a fugue theme. The themes of the first two fugues refer to models in Bach, unlike the last two. Var10Thus, the first fugue is my bow to the Fugue in A-Major from the Well-Tempered Clavier (Part 1) and the second, with its trills and leaps, refers to the Fughetta (Var. 10) of the Goldberg Variations, even though the latter has a completely different character. In the third fugue, an accelerating theme which concurs with a counter-voice slowing down creates a metrically odd, lurching field of tension, while the last one, with its tone repetitions at different tempos and its fifths, conveys a somewhat feverish impression.

Composing variations, some of them extremely short, feels different from writing a work in only one movement or several longer ones. The individual idea takes centre-stage much more strongly and more exclusively, and each final bar feels a bit like pushing a reset button, so that during the process of writing, one has the impression that there are far more moments of new beginnings. Yet there are elements and developmental lines in Goldberg which reach beyond the individual movements. These include rising and falling lines which are already part of the Aria. They can be found explicitly in the counterpoint of the third fugue (Var. 21), during the course of which descending scales become increasingly dominant. Var21They appear chromatically in the bass line of the Boogie-Woogie Variation 12 and very clearly as a parody “melody” in the waltz (Var. 27). Like Bach’s Variation 26, Variation 22 features two structures of demisemiquavers and quaver impulses which keep crossing each other. Throughout the entire work, the microtonal parts of the tone material gain increasing independence, culminating in the last canon (Var. 29). The microtones located between the conventional tones defined by the guitar’s frets are first prepared subliminally by the glissando structure in Variation 13. Var13They are introduced for good by the diffuse bell sounds at the beginning of Part 2 (Var. 16), reminiscent of the Aria. In Variation 18 microtones are first heard in clear definition, as equals of the conventional tones and indistinguishable from them. The fact that the guitars take turns here makes the movement seem like a microtonally ornamented version of the Aria resounding from another, far-off world. There, in this intermediate world, is also where we might find the Music Box (Var. 19), for in this short movement we hear only notes which are located exactly in the middle between two frets (quarter-tones). Only the very last note, which is played normally again, ends this wondrously enraptured episode. Towards the end, in the penultimate variation, it becomes apparent that a process of division has occurred, for the last, simple and almost fragmentary canon features the tonal material in two layers: the actual voices of the canon in the customary tonal system, and their delicate, fragile accompaniment consisting of microtonal material. At the same time, the disposition of the time ratios reaches the somehow unreal ratio of 1:1, caused by the simultaneous beginning of the two voices of the canon. This brings Variation 29 into a state of strange yet final order. However, despite many developments reaching their end point in this movement, I find that a term like “end” or “finale” does not seem appropriate, for everything seems too delicate, too fragile. In this spirit, there is nothing for the following, last variation to continue, and therefore it is quite different: there are no concrete pitches, rhythm can only be detected as a pulse, and instead of strict construction, the players are given choices. Thus, the Quodlibet mediates between a final stage or Fine and the beginning of the recurring Aria.

Joachim F.W. Schneider

Translation: Alexa Nieschlag

Goldberg - Tracking List

Joachim F.W. Schneider: Goldberg | Aria mit verschiedenen Veränderungen

01. speaker Aria (2’02) • 02. Variation 1 (1’07) • 03. Variation 2 (Kanon 7:6) (1’42) • 04. Variation 3 (4’28) • 05. Variation 4 (1’18) • 06. speaker Variation 5 (Kanon 7:5) (0’42) • 07. Variation 6 (Musik aus Glas) (1’14) • 08. speaker Variation 7 (“Kolibri”) (1’35) • 09. speaker Variation 8 (Kanon 7:4) (2’03) • 10. speaker Variation 9 (“Flamenco”) (1’31) • 11. speaker Variation 10 (Fuga a 3 voci) (1’04) • 12. speaker Variation 11 (Kanon 6:5) (1’28) • 13. Variation 12 (nicht zu breit) (0’47) • 14. speaker Variation 13 (0’27) • 15. Variation 14 (Kanon 5:4, Toccata) (0’37) • 16. Variation 15 (Fuga a 4 voci) (3’35) • 17. Variation 16 (1’44) • 18. Variation 17 (Kanon 5:3, “Goya”) (0’45) • 19. Variation 18 (1’46) • 20. Variation 19 (“Spieluhr”) (1’20) • 21. Variation 20 (Kanon 4:3) (0’58) • 22. speaker Variation 21 (Fuga a 3 voci) (2’12) • 23. Variation 22 (0’52) • 24. Variation 23 (Kanon 3:2) (0’25) • 25. Variation 24. Adagio, sempre rubato (4’30) • 26. Variation 25 (Fuga a 4 voci) (1’32) • 27. Variation 26 (Kanon 2:1) (0’48) • 28. speaker Variation 27 (Walzer) (2’10) • 29. Variation 28 (“Passacaglia- Miniatur”) (0’36) • 30. Variation 29 (Kanon 1:1) (1’02) • 31. Variation 30 (Quodlibet) (1’27) • 32. Aria da Capo e Fine (2’09)


Johann Sebastian Bach: 6 Choralvorspiele aus dem Orgel-Büchlein
Bearbeiter: Jürgen Ruck

33. “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” BWV 639 (2’57) • 34. “Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland” BWV 599 (1’02) • 35. “O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig” BWV 618 (2’37) • 36. “Herr Gott, nun schleuß den Himmel auf ” BWV 617 (2’09) • 37. “Das alte Jahr vergangen ist” BWV 614 (2’10) • 38. speaker “Alle Menschen müssen sterben” BWV 643 (1’54)

Total Time: 63’00

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