My elaboration for two pianos of the complete Goldberg Variations must surely be the most extended and elaborate act of “re-composition” in an epoch where, ever since Ravel’s Couperin, Strauss’s Lully and Stravinsky’s Pergolesi, this fascinating aspect of music-making has bloomed ever more abundantly. J.S. Bach with his foundations in mighty structure and his head in the starry heavens, has of course been the principal focus: Busoni, Schönberg, Webern, Berg, Stravinsky again, Koechlin, Grainger, Nancarrow, Kurtág are only a few of the illustrious masters who have paid their homage in their various ways.
Beginning and ending with simple transcription, the Gilded Goldbergs open out in ever-widening curves of exploration—of melodic, harmonic, polyphonic enrichment, of stylistic transformation and pianistic techniques. The result is a virtual encyclopaedia of twentieth-century practice, a tribute to modernism (and romanticism) as much as to Bach, embracing an emotional range from melancholic introspection to crashing triumph, extending en route to satire, burlesque, post-modern “poly-stylism”, cubism, futurism, bravura, and peasant bonhomie. Yet because every individual number is dedicated to a friend “pictured within”, the whole enterprise is infused with the tender warmth of domestic music-making.
—Robin Holloway, 1998
This programme note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer.