Johann Sebastian Bach




"...masterfully interpreted and performed by Peter Tomasz."
SAI Pan Pipes [Summer 2022]
"Peter Tomasz takes on one of Bach’s keyboard masterpieces in this new recording, and finds humor while plumbing the depths... Tomasz offers something closer to a young Glenn Gould than to András Schiff or Simone Dinnerstein, more playful and buoyant than introspective, though there are moments of deep feeling, too... Tomasz values the notes, but moves past them and keeps the line going. There’s a beautiful pace, a gentle drive to his music... Tomasz’s sense of pace is wonderful... [When] we return to the Aria, [we] feel changed. It is a spiritual journey, and Tomasz has been a careful shepherd."
Lowry Yankwich, Fanfare [Mar/April 2022]
"Peter Tomasz, who handles the music with elegance and delicacy... this is far from authentic Bach, but it is authentic Tomasz, reflective of his viewpoint on the music and his interpretative skill in putting that view across... , this is a consistent and consistently personal view of the Goldberg Variations, played with technical pianistic skill and an unashamed willingness to use the modern instrument’s capabilities to bring out the feelings...that Tomasz finds in the music."
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad [January 2022]
"Knowledgeable of J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” and their many recordings over the past 70 or so years, I was greatly curious what pianist Peter Tomasz achieved with this masterpiece on his MSR Classics recording. Here I am poised past several listening sessions to render a critique having been steeped over many years in what other keyboard artists accomplished with this composition such as Glenn Gould and Gregory Sokolov on piano along with Keith Jarrett, Scott Ross and Gustav Leonhardt on harpsichord... Rather than compare or judge which I perceive as better or best, I will maintain one should best hear Tomasz on his own terms as a virtuoso performer."
Joel C. Thompson, Cherry Grove Music Review [December 2021]
In 1741, nine years prior to his death, the sixty-five year old Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon Composer, Kapellmeister and Director Chori Musici in Leipzig, Johann Sebastian Bach, published his fourth and final series of Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice). Bach was very clear with his intentions in writing this monumental piece; he inscribed on the title page, “Prepared for the Souls’ Delight of Music Lovers.” Regarding the title, Goldberg Variations, there is some debate on its origin, as there is no dedicatory inscription on the score, which is customary with a commissioned work. This debate, however, is academic and has no musical implications on the work itself.

Johann Nikolaus Forkel, the first biographer of J.S. Bach, in his book “Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life, Art and Work”, recalls a story told about the Goldberg Variations: “We owe them to Count Kaiserling, a former Russian Ambassador at the Saxon Electoral Court, who frequently visited Leipzig with Goldberg.” Johann Gottleib Goldberg was a young harpsichordist who was employed by the Count. During their visits to Leipzig, Goldberg would study with Bach. Count Kaiserling suffered from neuralgia, a painful disorder of the cranial nerves, and consequently experienced distressing insomnia. It was during these times he would have Goldberg play for him to pass the night. Forkel continued: “One day, the Count asked Bach to compose for Goldberg some Clavier music of a soothing and cheerful character, that would relieve the tedium of sleepless nights. For long afterwards, when he could not sleep, [the Count] would say, ‘Play me one of my Variations, Goldberg.” Thus, the name was created.

Although Bach composed the Goldberg Variations for a harpsichord with two manuals, having specified in the score which variations were for one or two manuals, the work can nonetheless be played on the one-manual piano. However, in addition to mastering the score, a great challenge that faces the pianist in playing the Goldberg Variations on piano is the choreography necessary to accommodate the numerous hand crossings and redistribution of notes, as the same note is often played in both hands.

The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, a masterpiece of unique musical attributes, is comprised of an Aria and thirty diverse variations. Unlike traditional variations, where the composer bases the variations on a melodic theme, Bach composed a beautiful Sarabande (Aria) and bases the variations on the harmonic progression of the left hand.

The variations are masterfully crafted. There are nine canons, placed every third variation, except in No.30, where Bach composed a Quodlibet (“what you please”). There, Bach wrote two German folk songs, “I Have So Long Been Away From You,” (an innocent love song), and “Cabbage and Beets Have Driven Me Away, Had Mother Cooked Beef, I would have chosen to Stay,” (a Good-bye Song), – which was often sung at the conclusion of a dance party.

There are twenty-eight variations in G major and three variations in G minor (Nos.15, 21 and 25). Variation No.15, the end of the first half of the complete work, is the first variation in a minor key and to have a tempo marking, Andante. Variation No.16 begins the second half of the piece with a grand French Ouverture.

Currently, there are two manuscripts of the Goldberg Variations available for study, but with several discrepancies between them: the Editions Fuzeau Classique, Fac-Simile Jean-Marc Fuzeau, Collection Dominantes and the Performers’ Facsimiles New York. As an example, Variation No.7 is marked al tempo di Giga and Variation No.25 is marked Adagio only in the Editions Fuzeau manuscript. Upon comparison of these markings with others in the score, their origin becomes questionable. It has been suggested that the notations were penned by someone other than Bach.

There are two climaxes in the work. The first is of an emotional nature that occurs in Variation No.25, the last variation in a minor key and famously dubbed a “black pearl” by the famed harpsichordist, Wanda Landowska. It is perhaps the most beautiful moment of the Goldberg Variations. About it, Glenn Gould said: “The appearance of this weary song is a master-stroke of psychology.” The second climax, of both a technical and dynamic nature, occurs in Variation No.29, a brilliant and energetic toccata-like movement.

The piece closes with a return of the opening Aria, creating a sense of symmetry and perhaps suggesting a cyclical nature for the work as a whole – a round trip, so to speak. However, home is not the same as when we left it, for the experiences we have getting from point A to B and back has enriched our senses. Ronald Hawkins [July 2021]

Peter Tomasz (born Piotr Tomasz Szczepanik) was born in Żyrardów, Poland, the son of an organist and music teacher. According to his father, Peter learned to read music before he could read the alphabet; basic harmony, ear training and counterpoint exercises thrilled him as much as playing with toys and with friends. More than anything, he took pride in harmonizing chants in four parts for his father’s Sunday services; soon enough, his father gathered together an entire liturgical year of his son’s arrangements and plays them to this day.

At the age of seven, Tomasz performed J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor for his sister’s First Holy Communion ceremony, and at 13 was appointed organist and choir master at St. Peter’s Church in Racławice, Poland, where he worked for 10 years while studying counterpoint, harmony and Bach’s organ works. At this time, he began taking piano lessons and one year later enrolled in the Frédéric Chopin Music High School in Krakow under Professor Andrzej Pikul, with whom he studied for 9 years, both at the high school and later at the Academy of Music in Krakow. During this period, Tomasz explored all styles of piano music, participating in projects ranging from performances of Ravel (including the Concerto for the Left Hand, which earned Tomasz an invitation to perform at The Juilliard School) to contemporary and experimental music, for which he receiving awards at the 20th Century and Contemporary Music Competition in Poland, and abroad. After graduating with distinction from Academy of Music, Tomasz received a full scholarship to Juilliard, where he studied harpsichord with Lionel Party and piano with Jerome Lowenthal.

In 2010, Tomasz moved to Shanghai, China and, with contemporary pianist Jenny Q Chai, founded the FaceArt Institute of Music, a forward-looking piano school serving as an educational bridge between China and other countries. Creating independent, inspiring music performances that surprise audiences with new sights and sounds was Tomasz’ guiding artistic principle. He also created one of the first series of lecture-recitals in China focused exclusively on the music of J.S. Bach, hosted at the Shanghai Symphony Performing Space. Ever expanding his performance career, he performed the complete piano works of Ravel and Chopin, collaborated in contemporary music performances and took up composition. He also toured Australia playing Chopin, an undertaking crowned by a standing ovation at the Sydney Opera House. Tomasz is currently focusing exclusively on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and has begun a recording program focused on the major keyboard works, starting with this inaugural release of the Goldberg Variations.

[1] Aria
[2] Variation 1
[3] Variation 2
[4] Variation 3: Canone all’Unisono
[5] Variation 4
[6] Variation 5
[7] Variation 6: Canone in Seconda
[8] Variation 7
[9] Variation 8
[10] Variation 9: Canone in Terza
[11] Variation 10: Fughetta
[12] Variation 11
[13] Variation 12: Canone in Quarta
[14] Variation 13
[15] Variation 14
[16] Variation 15: Canone alla Quinta in moto contrario
[17] Variation 16: Ouverture
[18] Variation 17
[19] Variation 18: Canone in Sesta
[20] Variation 19
[21] Variation 20
[22] Variation 21: Canone in Settima
[23] Variation 22: Alla breve
[24] Variation 23
[25] Variation 24: Canone all’Ottava
[26] Variation 25
[27] Variation 26
[28] Variation 27: Canone in Nona
[29] Variation 28
[30] Variation 29
[31] Variation 30: Quodlibet
[32] Aria da Capo

Recorded 30 September–2 October 2019 at Potton Hall, Suffolk, United Kingdom. Producer: Jeremy Heyes. Sound engineer: Ben Connellan. Piano technician: Tobby Peecock.

MSR Classics