Bach – Goldberg Variations

Vincent van Amsterdam

An artist statement by Vincent van Amsterdam

The Goldberg Variations are, for me, autumnal, like a noble older lady in the second half of her life. She has seen and experienced many beautiful things, many highs and lows, all of which she lived to the full, but they are all in the past now. And yet, there is always a glimpse of hope that someday her golden days will return, even if only for a moment. 

When I play, whether it is baroque or modern music, I try to imagine the composer in the act of composing. Bach’s music, with the Goldberg Variations in particular, is quite mathematical in some respects, but I always try to play music of flesh and blood, perhaps imagining a composer in love, or mourning loss. 

We cannot ignore the elephant in the room: why Bach on the accordion? I say: why not? Granted, the accordion was not around during Bach’s time, but neither was the modern piano. In the last 200 years the accordion has developed its own musical history, including original compositions for the instrument, but at the same time repertoire has been borrowed from further back in time. The great thing about baroque music is that the instrumentation is often very fluid. A violin concerto may be transcribed to become keyboard concerto; a cantata is adapted for organ. One of the most iconic pieces from this period, Bach’s Art of Fugue, is not explicitly dedicated to any specific instrument. Most of Bach’s keyboard pieces, including the Goldberg Variations, can be played on accordion from the Urtext version without needing any adaptations.

The accordion has a unique combination of instrumental qualities that, I take the liberty to think, Bach would have loved. Its ability to nurture a tone, like a woodwind instrument; its polyphonic qualities, like a keyboard, and its use of registration, like an organ – all in one instrument. 

After playing many smaller pieces and suites by Bach and his colleagues I decided that now was the time to take the big step and record the Goldberg Variations. For the performer as well as for the audience this Aria with 30 Variations is a journey for the soul. It feels like juggling with 32 balls, all of different colour and size, but as a whole making a perfect circle.

Goldberg Variations – Promo

Translation of Bach’s masterpiece by Vincent van Amsterdam.

“Remarkably multicoloured; sometimes like an organ or harmonium, other times like a piano or harpsichord. The accordion can sing long lines and swell like an oboe or clarinet, but also dance a little awkwardly.”


Bach – Goldberg Variations (excerpts)

Aria – Variatio 1 – Variatio 15, Canone alla Quinta – Variatio 16, Ouverture. A VPRO Vrije Geluiden television broadcast, 20 October 2019.

“Engaging, varied variations that do surprisingly well on accordion.”

Het Nederlands Dagblad

“With his phrasing, he not only creates arcs of tension. He knows how to keep the melody in focus and build liveliness into his playing with modest dynamic turns.”

Dagblad van het Noorden *****


Bach – Goldberg Variations

Vincent van Amsterdam