Simone Dinnerstein, piano

Friday, July 3, 2015, 7 pm


Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Variation 1. For one manual
Variation 2. For one manual
Variation 3. Canon at the unison, for one manual
Variation 4. For one manual
Variation 5. For one or two manuals
Variation 6. Canon at the second, for one manual
Variation 7. For one or two manuals,
in the tempo of a Gigue
Variation 8. For two manuals
Variation 9. Canon at the third, for one manual
Variation 10. Fughetta, for one manual
Variation 11. For two manuals
Variation 12. For one manual, canon at the fourth,
in contrary motion
Variation 13. For two manuals
Variation 14. For two manuals
Variation 15. Canon at the fifth, for one manual: Andante
Variation 16. Overture, for one manual
Variation 17. For two manuals
Variation 18. Canon at the sixth, for one manual
Variation 19. For one manual
Variation 20. For two manuals
Variation 21. Canon at the seventh
Variation 22. For one manual: Alla breve
Variation 23. For two manuals
Variation 24. Canon at the octave, for one manual
Variation 25. For two manuals: Adagio
Variation 26. For two manuals
Variation 27. Canon at the ninth, for two manuals
Variation 28. For two manuals
Variation 29. For one or two manuals
Variation 30. For one manual: Quodlibet
Aria da Capo

tomorrow and sunday

Saturday July 4, 11 am
Elizabeth Mitchell & Family

Grammy-nominated Smithsonian Folkways artist, with folk music for all ages. Admission is free for all young people under 16. Adults pay $5 each.

Saturday July 4, 6 pm
Adam Tendler, piano
Music by John Cage and Woodstock
composer Henry Cowell

Sunday, July 5, 4 pm
Fred Hand, guitar; Paula Robison, flute
Songs Without Words: Bar-Illan

Italian serenades and love songs;
American “songs of the spirit”;
Sephardic songs; and the world premiere of a
composition by Frederic Hand,
commissioned by Maverick Concerts to celebrate the
centenary and supported by a gift from Willetta Warberg

Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg*


Simone Dinnerstein is an American classical pianist who became celebrated, both critically and commercially, for her self-financed recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations, released in 2007. She studied in the precollege program at the Manhattan School of Music, attended The Juilliard School of Music, and was a student of Peter Serkin.

When Telarc released her recording of the Goldberg Variations, Ms. Dinnerstein’s career was propelled to international stardom. In its first week of commercial release, the recording was at No.1 on the Billboard classical music chart. The disc appeared on a number of “Best of 2007” lists, including those of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Time Out New York, several radio stations, iTunes “Editor’s Choice Best Classical,” Best CDs of 2007, and Barnes & Noble’s Top 5 Debut CDs of 2007.

To follow up on her success, Ms. Dinnerstein recorded a recital live at the Berlin Philharmonie. In 2010, she signed with Sony Classical, and in 2011 she released her first album on the label, Bach: A Strange Beauty. The recording made its debut at No.1 on the Billboard Traditional Classical Chart. Bach: A Strange Beauty also spent time as the No.1 selling album on and the No. 2 selling album on, in good company with The Decemberists, Cake, The Black Keys, and Bruno Mars. Dinnerstein was also featured on CBS Sunday Morning. To date, she has produced five recordings with Sony, including an album with singer-songwriter Tift Merritt called Night, and her latest, Broadway-Lafayette, released in February 2015.

In addition to her solo recital work, Ms. Dinnerstein has been a featured guest artist at the Bard Music Festival. She has performed and recorded Beethoven cello sonatas with both Simca Heled and Zuill Bailey. In addition, she has appeared as a chamber player in performances of contemporary music, including works of Yehudi Wyner and Ned Rorem.

Ms. Dinnerstein has toured as piano soloist with the Dresden Philharmonic and Czech Philharmonic. She has performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and the Absolute Ensemble.

A former piano teacher, Dinnerstein resides in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn with her husband, Jeremy Greensmith, a fifth grade teacher at P.S. 321, and their son, Adrian. Dinnerstein’s father, Simon Dinnerstein, is a renowned artist. Her mother, Renee Dinnerstein, runs the popular blog Investigating Choice Time: Inquiry, Exploration and Play.


During his lifetime, Johann Sebastian Bach was internationally renowned as a keyboard virtuoso and a brilliant improviser on both organ and harpsichord. His written compositions were less well known, and were not compiled until he had been dead for the better part of a century. The year of Bach’s death, 1750, is counted as the end of the Baroque era. By that time, his music had come to be considered old-fashioned, and the next generation of composers were making the transition to the new style, which was subsequently given the name “Classical.”

Bach composed all of his music according to the needs and desires of his respective employers. One of his first major jobs (1708–1717) was as court organist and concertmaster at the ducal court in Weimar. From there he went on to become music director for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen (1717-1723). Bach supplied the prince with a wealth of chamber music, including the Brandenburg Concertos and the Suites for Solo Cello. From 1723 until the end of his life he served as director of music at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. The St. Matthew Passion and the Christmas Oratorio come from this period, as well as the Italian Concerto, The Art of the Fugue, The Well-Tempered Clavier, and the Goldberg Variations.




In his biography of Bach, written sixty years after the master’s death, Johann Nikolaus Forkel wrote about the Goldbergs: “[For this work] we have to thank…Count Kaiserling, who often stopped in Leipzig and brought there with him the aforementioned Goldberg, in order to have him given musical instruction by Bach. The Count was often ill and had sleepless nights. At such times, Goldberg, who lived in his house, had to spend the night in an antechamber, so as to play for him during his insomnia.... Once the Count mentioned in Bach’s presence that he would like to have some clavier pieces for Goldberg, which should be of such a smooth and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights. Bach thought himself best able to fulfill this wish by means of Variations, the writing of which he had until then considered an ungrateful task on account of the repeatedly similar harmonic foundation…. Thereafter the Count always called them his variations. He never tired of them, and for a long time sleepless nights meant: ‘Dear Goldberg, do play me one of my variations.’ Bach was perhaps never so rewarded for one of his works as for this. The Count presented him with a golden goblet filled with 100 louis-d’or. Nevertheless, even had the gift been a thousand times larger, their artistic value would not yet have been paid for.”

Many scholars today consider this account somewhat less than reliable. One problem with it is that Goldberg would have been fourteen at the time (although there were certainly many young virtuosi in those days). Another is that it is not true that Bach did not like the variation genre. Bach had written sets of variations throughout his career, though never any so grand. And it would seem likely that such a large payment would show up in documents of the time, so many of which were related to monetary compensation. Nevertheless, the work continues to memorialize the name of its intended performer, and the legend certainly does capture the imagination.

In the Goldberg Variations, the thirty sections that follow the Aria are variations not of the treble melody, but rather of the bass notes—what is known as the “ground bass.” This simple moving line, which begins with a series of long, slow descending whole notes, is accompanied in the opening aria by a high melody with ornate embellishments. The slow tempo and 3/4 meter characterize this aria as a Sarabande, a stately dance popular in Renaissance and Baroque courts.

The structure of the Goldberg Variations is complex and cyclical. Every third variation is a canon (like a round, but more complicated). The first canon is at the unison, the second is at a second, and so on. In each, the first voice of the canon begins on the tonic (G); when the second voice comes in, it sings the same melody starting on G for the first canon (Var. 3), on A for the second canon (Var. 6), on B for the third (Var. 9) and so on.

In a two-manual harpsichord, the player has the option of connecting two sets of strings, so that striking one key will cause the plectrum to pluck both strings simultaneously. This provides a tonal richness, since one set of strings is plucked near the bridge, giving a more nasal sound, while the other is plucked nearer the middle of the string, where the sound is more mellow. Each variation specifies whether one or two manuals of the harpsichord should be used, or gives the performer the choice. On a piano, the variations designated for two manuals are much more difficult, since they involve crossing the hands.

Some variations are based on fast runs, while others emphasize leaps or chords. Metrical variety is achieved with double (e.g., 2/4 or 4/4), triple (3/4 or 3/8), and compound (6/8) meters. In the middle of the piece, at Variation 16, Bach divides the work into two parts with a grand overture in the French style, with majestic dotted rhythms and a fugal section.

The last variation, number thirty, is labeled a “Quodlibet” (Latin for “what pleases,” or “whatever you like”), and includes two German folk songs played against the ground bass figure. Bach’s instructions are for the player to end the performance by reprising the opening aria. After the complexities of the variations, the return to the relatively simple aria with its sturdy walking bass line is both nostalgic and sad, as we bid adieu, for now, to this magnificent music.

Bach’s music is remarkable for its precision, its complexity, and its variety. Each of his works is imbued with a profound respect for music’s power to lift our spirits. It is no wonder that this music appeals so strongly to everyone, from musicologists to babies.

All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg.
It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy, publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at

Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg