The Golberg Variations BWV 988 by J. S. Bach, are a good example of variations in the baroque period. It is a work of great proportions based on a theme titled Aria followed by 30 variations.

The Aria is in binary form. Each part is made of two phrases:

Here is the structure of the Aria:

This structure is followed in all variations (we will discuss minor variations later). Each section normally has 16 measures, but in some variations two measures are combined into one, so each section has only 8 measures. In variation 16 (overture), part B has 32 measures because part A is in 2/2 (the overture) and part B is in 3/8. In this case, two measures of part B, correspond to one measure in the Aria.

The Aria or theme:

Shelley Katz, piano. Recording courtesy of MUSOPEN and Shelley Katz.


Some harmonic variations of the original are found. Here we compare the Aria and the first variation with variations marked in red:

Key G major D major
Measure 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 | 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Aria (theme) IVvi - vii / VVI - V / IViiVII - vii / reIiiVI - V / IVIV - iiVI
Variation 1 IVvi - V / VVIiiVIIiiiiiVIIV - iiVI

Measures 17 to 32:

Key G major E minor G major
Measure 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 | 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32
Aria (theme) VIVI - iiViVIii - ViiiIiiVI - V / IVIVVI
Variation 1 VIiv - iiViivV - vii/V - ViiiIiiVI - V / IVIV - V - vii/ii - iiV - I - VI

First Variation

Minor Mode Variations




    
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
José Rodríguez Alvira.