THE GOuLDBERG VARIATIONS (BOOK I) for MIDI piano and large chamber ensemble. 1992. Based on Glenn Gould's recordings of Bach's 'Goldberg Variations' Commissioned by Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne with grants from the Canada Council and the Toronto Arts Council Grants to Composers program. Part of the SPRING EQUINOX project. 27 minutes. Score, parts and MIDI file for the MIDI piano available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.


Compressed MIDI files of :

Variation 2 \ (ZIP file: 1.99Kb; uncompressed file size: 3.89Kb),
Variation 4 \ (ZIP file: 10.9Kb; uncompressed file size: 47.6Kb) and
Variation 7 click here (ZIP file: 19.4Kb; uncompressed file size: 56Kb).
This is a demo recording of a piece which is meant to be performed by acoustic instruments on stage and is, therefore, a rough approximation of the intended sound. The demo is in GM format. A Roland SUPER JV (JV1080) 64 voice synthesizer module was used to produce the file. If you are using a GM module with anything less than 64 voices, you may experience occasional dropout on held notes and/or complete loss of notes in busy passages of some of the variations. These MIDI files are the original files before applying the Glenn Gould DNA templates.

In the summer of 1992 I was commissioned by the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne to compose a piece for MIDI piano and chamber orchestra for the Glenn Gould Conference to be held later that year in celebration of what would have been the pianist's sixtieth birthday. I decided that an original composition based on J. S. Bach's Goldberg Variations, the work with which Gould started and ended his illustrious recording career, would be most appropriate for the occasion. The commission's requirement for a MIDI piano, in addition to the conventional piano played by a member of the ensemble, further suggested that Gould's idiosyncratic performing style should be somehow incorporated into the composition of this work. That, of course, is easier said than done. With my limited programming skills, I found it impossible to incorporate aspects of musical interpretation into my own composition by means other than the conventional notation of articulation and dynamics and this, in itself, was insufficient to approximate the "magic" which Gould invests in the Bach original. Enter Ernest Cholakis, the inventor of the DNA Groove Templates. Ernest had developed a software program with which stylistic aspects of one's performance are analyzed algorithmically and applied to similar - but different - music in the form of quantization templates. His technique, used commercially in connection with a number of well known sequencers, had to be refined and considerably extended to encompass the scope of this project. I must confess that initially I was skeptical. Musical interpretation was a "sacred ground" which had yet to be "violated" by technological probing. I wasn't even sure it could be done at all, not to mention the irreverence paid to the artist himself. It occurred to me, however, that Glenn Gould would have been the first to endorse such irreverence, much more so if even the slightest of gains could result from the inquiry. This, along with Ernest's considerable analytical and programming skills, convinced me to try it. From the compositional standpoint, The Gouldberg Variations (Book I) is a set of variations on a set of variations by J. S. Bach. Each one of my variations, or meta-variations if you like, explores a different compositional idea (intervalic and rhythmic stretching, alternating between conflicting tonalities, layering and juxtaposition, to mention but a few) or a combination thereof. I have intentionally kept the original music recognizable, however disjointed, throughout the course of the piece, so that the listener may resort to it like Ariadne's thread in his/her wanderings through the labyrinth of subsequent manipulations. In accordance with standard Baroque notational practices, the notation has been kept as "lean" as possible. This has also been done to allow the performers themselves to shape the music according to their estimate of "how Glenn Gould would have played it". It is imperative for the musicians to study closely Gould's interpretation of the Goldberg Variations (his 1981 recording) so that they may apply his attitude to time and phrasing on the instrumental parts, just as Ernest Cholakis has done in a systematic way for the MIDI piano. Interpretation is a key element in the Gouldberg Variations. In a sense the entire composition may be viewed as a set of overlapping compositions and interpetations touching at the very essense of the post-modernist aesthetic.

Premiere performance: September 26 by the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne under the direction of Lorraine Villancourt during the inauguration concerts of the CBC-Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto.

For more information on the make-up of this work, read the essay: The Art of the Palimpsest: Compositional Approaches to the Music of J. S. Bach


MIDI piano (played by a sequencer), flute (piccolo), oboe, 2 clarinets (1bass clarinet), bassoon, French horn, trumpet, trombone, percussion (1player), piano, 2 violins, viola, cello and double bass.

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