One day in Berlin in 1934 I was visited by the 24-year-old Hans Nathan, who had been a student of Curt Sachs at Berlin University. After receiving his doctorate in musicology and until his flight in 1936, he was to play an active part in the increasingly isolated field of Jewish music-making in Berlin, both as critic and as entrepreneur.
It was in the latter capacity that Dr.Nathan now asked me to write a work to be performed at a private "house concert" sponsored by a Zionist organisation. Naturally, he suggested that my work should have a Jewish theme. Having warned him that such themes had never been characteristic of my music and that the music language associated above all with Ernest Bloch was far removed from my own, I was nevertheless delighted the next day to receive from him the textless and unharmonised notations of two Palestinian-Jewish melodies. I promptly harmonised the first one and found a way of marrying it with the second and more lyrical tune. Together they became the theme of my Variations.
I completed the work on 12 October 1934 and gave the first performance before an invited audience shortly afterwards. Subsequently, and again behind closed doors, the work was performed by another pianist in Hamburg. My previous publishers having released all Jewish composers from their contracts, the Variations were published in Vienna by a small and clandestine subsidiary specialising in Jewish music.
The Variations are traditional in form and the concluding fugue combines the two elements of the theme. The dissonance of the fugue seems eventually to be resolved by a return to the C major in which the Variations began, yet it is precisely here, where the image of a happier future seems clearest, that the pastoral tone is most violently attacked.
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer
Goldschmidt’s piano works are relatively few in number, but those that exist are highly characteristic and demonstrate a highly personal yet idiomatic approach to the instrument. The Variations on a Palestine Shepherd's Song was composed in 1934, by which time the Nazi ban on performances of works by Jewish composers was fully in place; thus the first performance was given behind closed doors in a private house concert in Berlin. The work is actually based on two Palestinian folksongs, harmonised by Goldschmidt and subjected to all kinds of contrapuntal combinations and variation techniques.