Blog / Our Steinway expert discusses the Goldberg Variations

Our Steinway expert discusses the Goldberg Variations

Posted on 14 Aug 2018 by ACO Marketing

Ara from Theme & Variations on stage with a Steinway piano

Ara Vartoukian OAM, one of Australia’s top piano specialists and proprietor of our partner Theme and Variations Piano Services, discusses what strikes him about Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and the detail that goes into preparing an instrument for a performance of this scale:

The Goldberg Variations was published in 1741…the same year that Book II of the Well Tempered Clavier was in the final stages of completion, so both of these great works were to some extent completed side by side.

The Goldberg was composed for a two manual harpsichord. All 32 pieces are built upon the same thirty two note ground bass and it’s implied harmony. 

The opening sublime Aria which also appears at the end da capo,  is a Sarabande, a binary dance movement with repeats, each half 16 bars long. This symmetry prevails throughout all the variations. The concept of symmetry is prevalent throughout the work, as the thirty two pieces are grouped into two halves of fifteen…the second part begins with number sixteen which is a French Overture.

Bach’s use of the canon here is unparalleled and it plays a strategic formal role in the overall structure. All are systematically arranged from the first, a canon in unison no 3, until no 27 which is a canon at the ninth.

Amongst other variations are to be found Two Part inventions, Fughetta, French Overture, Trio Sonatas and various other dance movements.

The Goldberg are also monumental, epic in their scale of musical achievement.  Throughout we experience Bach’s stunning keyboard technique, dazzling hand crossing movements and rich ornamentation of inner parts a tour de force of his compositional brilliance and virtuosity in performance.

The challenge of transforming this masterpiece into an orchestral transcription has been undertaken with great sincerity and brought to you by the energy that the ACO can truly impart.

In preparing the piano to blend in with the music and orchestra I will be tuning the piano with a sympathetic look at the stretch in the tuning and containing it to a narrower degree than usual to give a purer sound.


The ACO trust Theme and Variations Piano Services to provide and maintain the pianos for our tours and rehearsal spaces. Visit their website via the link below to learn more about their sales and upkeep services.


Theme and Variations Link