‘Don’t panic!’ Jeremy Denk and the Goldbergs

The wonderful American pianist Jeremy Denk paired up with NPR for their exploration of the Goldberg Variations in 2012. Some of the thoughts are very enlightening! Here is a little extract about his article on Variation 17:


Yes: With all the talk of transcendence, sometimes one forgets the Goldbergs  are a bit maniacal, in the best way. For me, this mania begins to heat up in the second half. A good example would be:

don't panic

Don’t panic! Even if you can’t read music, you can see there in the left hand, a gradually climbing set of notes, in a monotonous pattern. Oh, you might think, this is the accompaniment; it does sound a bit like an exercise, but luckily the right hand is playing a lovely melody. However … some measures later, you realize: This pattern is still going on, the left hand is still climbing away, like a creature that won’t stop. The magical, dangerous moment is when the climbing pitches of the left hand actually cross over the melody in the other hand. (This is when you begin to realize that the melody wasn’t really the melody, it has been taken over by the infesting accompaniment.) Because of the way the brain is separated — damn those left and right lobes! — this moment is a special kind of mind-trap, a tangle, exponentially increasing your desire to screw up. On the modern piano there is an additional geographical problem: your hands crashing into each other.


Jeremy’s writing is so funny and so true! It is also encouraging to see that other pianists struggle with Bach’s wonderful music! Really excited for my Goldberg Project to begin. Read Jeremy’s whole article here.

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