Johann Sebastian Bach

H.K. JUHN, piano



"Juhn's playing is sensitive and imaginative...She has a fine sense of style and plays with a command of the 18th Century language I find much less common among pianists than harpsichordists...She shines in the careful nuance of the slow ornamental variations...She is also up to the task of the technically demanding variations. She executes the hand-crossing with apparent ease. The showy quick variations are quite clean...[her] playing is accurate, stylish and tidy. The quality of the sound is very good."
American Record Guide - July/August 2007
"As a Bach player, [H-K Juhn] has obviously devoted much thought to how she wants to approach the Goldberg Variations...her acumen for voice leading lends impressive clarity...The engineering is excellent..."
Gramophone - July 2007
Described by the New York Concert Review as a "top notch, superb pianist…technically brilliant…subtle.", Hee-Kyung Juhn was born in South Korea to missionary parents. She lived her teenage years in South America, and was later trained in the United States. Ms. Juhn attended The Juilliard School (MM) in New York City, where she was a recipient of Van Cliburn Piano Scholarship and Gluck Fellowship, and has participated in music festivals such as Tanglewood, Aspen, Bowdoin, and Yale Piano Summer Institute. At the University of Indiana (DM), she studied with Leonard Hokanson, a pupil of legendary pianist Arthur Schnabel.

In addition to her numerous solo and chamber appearances, Ms. Juhn has collaborated with many outstanding musicians, and has appeared on concert stages in South America (Brazil, Paraguay), Europe (Italy, Belgium), Asia (Korea, Japan) and throughout the United States. She made her orchestral debut at the age of 16, playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 with the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Ciudad de Asunción.

A versatile pianist, Ms. Juhn has worked as an opera coach (Centro Lírico del Paraguay, University of Indiana), staff accompanist (Juilliard School, DePauw University), and music director and organist (IU Campus Ministry, UCSB Episcopal Campus Ministry). As an academic, Dr. Juhn has been teaching full-time at the Music Department of the University of California in Santa Barbara since 2001. She has also served as associate faculty in Collaborative Piano at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara.

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For Bach harpsichord lovers, The Goldberg Variations are the ne plus ultra of the master’s boundless creativity within craftsmanship. So lively are these variations, and to a degree so infectious, that the legend surrounding them (as usually told) seems to do them a disservice. The strong overtone of Bach wasting his talent while writing music to ease the suffering of an insomniac aristocrat is long overdue a bit of revisionist attention.

It is a potent image. The young harpsichordist Goldberg, toiling at the keyboard in an anteroom while his employer Count Kayserling lies sleepless in more sumptuous quarters right beside. The subject of Goldberg’s pains? These 30 variations by Bach on a short aria in the key of G, commissioned by the Count Kayserling, who was one of the few people of the day who appreciated Bach for the marvel that he was.

Forkel’s early biographical sketch rings true. (Forkel was in any case a careful researcher who sought firsthand testimony from Bach’s sons.) For the Count apparently made a request in conversation for "some clavier pieces… which should be of such a soft and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights." Far from lulling the Count to sleep, Bach’s intellectual bent takes the following bold stance, "Well, since he’s up, why not give his musical sense something to chew on?" Ever responsive to latent potential, Bach subjects a simple 32-bar aria-style theme, which had been lying about at his domicile a good decade already, to the most amazing transformations. Bach’s genius is to come at the 32-bar basic plan so many ways. Who cannot see the poor Count, on the edge of his bed, wearing a skullcap for his neuralgia and souffrant but so damned interested to see what Bach will do next with this "basic plan" that any return to a reclining posture is just out of the question!

As to how, then, Bach should achieve such a universe of moods in the 30 variations, when the means are largely technical --one can only shrug one’s shoulders and say, "genius." For efforts to concoct this sort of pure music --from the slenderest of content-- by souls more pedestrian than Bach can try the patience, as innumerable Rococo drawing rooms soon found out.

It does seem unusual that Bach --who was given to imitative writing as naturally as breathing-- should so obviously point our attention to every third variation with strict canon. His scheme begins with variation 3, a canon at the unison, and finishes only with variation 27, a canon at the 9th. The last variation (var. 30) is the Quodlibet (or mixed-up medley), in which a number of popular songs familiar to the Bach circle are all rendered in jumble fashion (an amazing feat, given that the jumble still meshes with the harmonic "ground plan" set down at the very start). If one were seeking to depict a musical dream state, circa 1736, wouldn’t a Quodlibet --its drinking-song/folksong fragments phasing in and out of consciousness-- fill the bill? This is the very representation for its time of "anything goes," (cf. the Latin) --a musical texture in which logical presentation does not obtain.

Now consider that we have gotten to this musical "nonsense nirvana" --so like the free association of our dreams, via a logically ordered progression which takes two abstract musical voices further and further afield from one another! Canon at the unison, at the second, at the third, at the fourth, at the fifth… one can see the musical strands separating further and further away at the keyboard. Further away from a conscious state of mind? And then finally, Bach’s Quodlibet of "disassociation."

Unknown to Bach in 1736 was the fact that the brain has two hemispheres, that those two hemispheres in fact control the two hands --one hemisphere to each. But this piece, if heard straight through, may readily suggest that Bach is taking us centrifugally away from a psychic core of unity, only to catapult us back, via the da capo of the Theme at the end. That much is clear even without scientific updates.

My suggestion is that the Count was being led somewhere --deliberately-- all the while. If not somniferously somewhere --then to a distant and rarified plane. It is a journey upon which each latter-day listener embarks with new pleasure. Wide and wonder-eyed.

The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen

MSR Classics