We began by listening to the aria and the first 4 variations of Bach’s Goldberg Variations played on the piano by Murray Perahia. The work was originally commissioned by Count Kaiserling the former Russian Ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony. Apparently, the count suffered from insomnia and either to while away the sleepless nights, or to send him off to a dreamless slumber he employed his own personal harpsichordist, Johann Gottleib Goldberg to play for him. History does not record whether or not Goldberg suffered from insomnia but I suppose it hardly mattered! The Count also enrolled Goldberg as a pupil of Bach. In around 1738 he commissioned him to write a series of variations for Goldberg to play to him. While this is an attractive story there is little hard evidence to support it and there is some doubt as to its authenticity. Normally such music is known by the name of the commissioner, unusually in this case the variations are known by the name of the humble player. While the piece was originally written for the harpsichord, it is better known today in its transcription for the piano. The work was first published in 1741 by the gloriously named Balthazar Schmidt of Nuremberg with no mention of the commission by Kaiserling.
One of the more gruesome episodes of this magnificent set of variations is the scene in the film Silence of the Lambs where the aria is played whilst Hannibal Lecter is chewing the face off one of his prison guards. This use of Bach’s music is, depending upon your point of view, is either a stroke of genius or an act of cultural cannibalism!
After that soothing music we heard the part of the Quintet in E flat major for oboe, 3 horns, and bassoon one of the lesser known works by Ludwig van Beethoven. The version we listened to was played by an ensemble consisting of Jenó and Janos Kevelházi and Sandor Baki on horns with Ottó Rácz, oboe and József Vajda, bassoon and was recorded in 1994 at the Scottish Church in Budapest. The piece was written in either1796 or 1797 and survives today only in fragmentary form; it was reconstructed by Zellner and Willy Hess in 1892. The first movement starts at bar 158, the second movement appears to be complete, but the third movement has only 20 bars. There is no fourth movement which was either lost or perhaps was never written.
Continuing on the Beethoven theme we heard the third movement of his Triple Concerto played by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan with Ann-Sophie Mutter, violin. YoYo Ma, cello and Mark Zeltser, piano. The work was written in 1803 and was published in 1804. The choice of instruments effectively makes this a concerto for piano trio and is the only concerto Beethoven ever wrote for more than one instrument. It has been suggested that he composed it with his royal pupil, Archduke Rudolf of Austria in mind who was only in his mid-teens at the time. While the archduke later became an accomplished pianist and composer at this early stage it seems plausible that Beethoven’s strategy was to create a showy, but relatively easy, piano part that would be backed up by two more mature and skilled soloists. There is no record of Rudolf ever having played the piece in public and it did not receive its first public performance until 1808. It is not often performed in public due to the difficulty and cost of obtaining three first class soloists. However, we went to a performance on the 31st March at the Theatre Jean Piat in Canet played by l’Orchestre Symphonique Canet Roussillon Méditerranée with Victoria Fernandez, violin, François Ragot, cello and Nathalie Juchors, piano.
We finished off the afternoon listening to two of Schubert’s impromptus for piano played by Silvia Čápová. He wrote a series of eight impromptus for solo piano in 1827. They were published as two sets of four impromptus each; the first two pieces of the first set were published as opus 90 and the second set were published posthumously as opus 142 in 1839. They are considered to be amongst the most important examples of this early 19th century genre. The impromptus are often considered to be companion pieces to the six Moments Musicaux and they are often recorded and published together.