(Editor’s note: This is the original studio video during which Gould recorded Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 1981 which was released on CD.
The excerpt below is speaking particularly about Mikuláš Škuta’s take on the Goldberg Variations but I still prefer Gould, though both could and should be uttered in the same sentence.)
“Like most of the Bach that I know, I find it intensely interior music. It gets in me immediately. The notes are like thoughts and there is such a pleasing simultaneous complexity and pattern that I find myself hooked up to something that feels like a larger and stronger mind: carried away and brought closer to myself at the same time. Going to Bach. Coming to Bach. Whatever it is, it turned out to be very surprising that Skuta was daring to play these notes, to interpose himself in the middle of this very private event. And not just Skuta, but the whole room—all these people with their cloth shopping bags and closed eyes. It is very childish but I had not realised that these were not my variations.
They were, of course, if they were anybody’s in that wood-wound room, Skuta’s variations. As he played (hands crossing over themselves, fingers spiderous) it began to occur to me—but only in the smallest way—what kind of a relationship that Skuta must have formed with the music. I don’t know how many notes there are in the Goldberg Variations—there must be thousands—but there was not a question of him being able to remember them. They had, over the years, in the unheated halls, on Slovakian public transport, in his sleep, become his thoughts as well. And while I did not agree with every single one of Skuta’s expressions – sometimes his playing was just a shade too technical, a micro-inch too precise for how I imagine the music (which, after all, is just the Glenn Gould version)–I had to confront the idea of an entirely different level of association, of inhabitance, of knowledge. I was listening to the Goldberg Variations, but I was also witnessing Skuta and his life with them.
And existing, somehow, in all of this was Bach. That was almost the most surprising element of the night—and also the most ethereal, so I didn’t quite grasp it: where did he fit into all of this? If the first thought that humbled me, amid the pleasure, was that there were, in fact, other people in London equally excited and equally moved by the idea of listening to the Goldberg Variations on a Thursday night in January and I would have to share Bach with them. And the second thought was that a Slovakian maestro called Miki Skuta had been playing the piano for more than 40 years before being able to offer a fully wrought interpretation of this work. Then the third was about the mind that came up with these variations in the first place. (via Prospect Magazine)
This is still far too large for me to get my head around. It would be like explaining the Milky Way, or Japan. But one very obvious, and new, thing did occur to me, watching Skuta, hearing Bach, was quite what an exhibition this music was. Until I saw those fingers, those hands, those shoes, I think my experience, my pleasure in theGoldberg Variations, had been in their construction—in the filigree, the pattern-making—but now I realised there was also the drama of their execution. This music was physical as much as it was intellectual and emotional, and there just aren’t that many people that can play it. This was something to make you gasp. Whatever else he was thinking in 1741, Johann Sebastian, with his “Keyboard exercise, consisting of an ARIA with diverse variations for harpsichord with two manuals,” was out to blow some tiny minds.