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J.S. Bach : Goldberg Variations BWV 988 arranged Bryan Johanson for guitar quartet: DOz

Updated: Jun 5, 2022

J.S. Bach: Arranged by Bryan Johanson

Les Productions D’Oz: score and separate parts (90, 30, 30, 31 and 30 pages respectively)

Surely one of the pinnacles of the Bach oeuvre, this massive Theme and 30 variations, originally for keyboard solo is here placed onto a guitar quartet by the talented composer/arranger Bryan Johanson whose works I have seen a number of times before.

Of course with the piece’s almost legendary status, comes the fact that any arrangement has to really work or everything falls apart, and I am happy to say that in spite of the piece’s huge length, that it really does work but that the quartet have to be immensely good players and have a rapport that enables them to keep together at all times, even in the most difficult of sections, of which there are many.

The opening Aria (with all four players using a dropped D 6th) is a prime example of the care needed .The first guitar has the majority of the melody, but as is often the case with Bach is littered with mordents, of all shapes and sizes, and which the player has to really get a good drip of or everything falls apart. After that the 30 variations show off all Bach’s ways of using variation technique including No3, The Canon at the Unison, set in 12/8 with multiple semi – quaver passages spread over all four players, the 6th Variation, the Canon on the 2nd, the Variation No7 in the tempo of a Gigue, the Canon on the 3rd, Variation No9, the Fughetta No10, and all the others using canons from intervals of the 4th up to the octave. Of course the piece closes with the immense Quodlibet, No.30, rhythmically diverse and providing the players with plenty of opportunity to show all their technical and musical talents to bring this vast piece to a satisfying close.

This is no small task. This piece is one of the longest, if not THE longest piece a quartet might ever attempt. Not only that, it is vastly important as a piece of music, and so the four players really have to be able to cope with all of its musical problems, but if your quartet is up to the challenge, here is a fabulous arrangement of one of the greatest pieces ever written!

Chris Dumigan

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