Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Bach’s Goldberg Variations

Bach’s Goldberg Variations

Anna Harwell Celenza
Illustrator:  Joann E. Kitchel 
Nonfiction with audio CD
For ages 5 to 8
Charlesbridge, 2005   ISBN: 978-1570915109

Count Keyserlingk could not imagine why his friend, Johann Sebastian Bach, had asked that they meet in a draughty old church. Bach wanted the Count to meet someone, a boy who could play the organ beautifully. The boy's name was Johann Gottlieb Goldberg and the Count was so impressed with his playing that he took the boy into his home. Though Johann had to help in the house he also had music lessons with Bach and at night he would practice for many hours on the harpsichord.

One night the Count was unable to sleep and he heard Johann playing the harpsichord. He enjoyed the boy's playing and asked him to play pieces that were more and more complicated. Johann did this until the day when the Count asked Johann to play a piece "filled with dances and difficult runs."  He also wanted the piece to have cannons and "a riddle." Poor Johann did not have a piece of music like this so he went and asked Bach for his help. Luckily Bach had written just such a piece, a piece with a theme and thirty variations. Though it was a difficult piece of music, Johann was able to play it and performed it so well for his master that the Count was delighted.

Children will be fascinated to learn that pieces of music can often have a story that goes with them, a story about real people and their problems. They will enjoy learning that Johann went on to be appointed the Count's official harpsichordist and that his name is now a permanent part of the piece's title.

At the back of this exceptional book the author includes a section with further information about the story of the Goldberg Variations. As readers listen to the music on the included CD they will be able to really appreciate what a unique piece of music this is with all its dances, its cannons, and that wonderful riddle that the Count so wanted to hear.