Jeremy Denk vs. The Goldberg Variations: The Musical DNA

Jeremy Denk discusses the Aria from Bach's Goldberg Variations. (NPR)
Jeremy Denk discusses the Aria from Bach's Goldberg Variations. (NPR)

What makes Bach's Goldberg Variations tick? Pianist Jeremy Denk has a few ideas. From the comfort of his living room piano, he reveals how Bach's musical DNA — a simple strand of bass notes — is fleshed out into the beautiful melody that feeds the Goldbergs.

Oddly enough, Bach just may have gotten his idea for the Goldbergs from a piece by Handel. And in what Denk calls one of the greatest instances of "musical one-upmanship," Bach blew Handel out of the water by creating a set of variations (on the same 8 bass notes) so extraordinary in their scope they've remained a milestone in the history of Western music.

Credits

Produced by Mito Habe-Evans and Tom Huizenga; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Production Assistance: Amanda Ameer and Anatasia Tsioulcas; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Keith Jenkins

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