All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Aria variata alla maniera italiana

BWV 989 performed by Lars Ulrik Mortensen
at the Bartolotti House, Amsterdam

"This is the work from which the Goldberg Variations originate."

Demons in the fingers

The runs in variation 9 are just like those at the ending of Pasquini’s toccata.

One of the greatest Italian keyboard players of Bach’s day was Bernardo Pasquini (1637-1710), who was known way beyond the borders of Italy. For instance, a student of medicine in Leiden wrote an excited letter in 1698 to a Scottish friend in Rome about “this great wonder of the world (i.e. Pasquini), who can play so fast he appears to have demons in his fingers” (ut haberet diabolum in digitis). The Amsterdam music publisher Estienne Roger – whose shop was just a ten-minute walk from the Bartolotti House, where this recording was made – published an edition of Toccates & suites pour le clavessin de messieurs Pasquini, Poglietti, & Gaspard Kerle in 1699.

Pasquini’s music was circulated in Germany as well. At the time, Bach was living and working in Weimar, where he studied and copied a lot of Italian music. It was the period when Bach arranged Vivaldi’s concertos for organ and harpsichord, for example BWV 592 and 593. Bach also avidly collected Italian harpsichord music, copying Frescobaldi’s Fiori musicali and a toccata and passacaglia by Pasquini. Maybe the aforementioned book of Toccates & suites was among the Italian music brought over from the Netherlands by his employer Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar. In any case, Bach used the same inventiveness and virtuosity in the Aria variata alla maniera italiana, BWV 989. The dexterous parallel runs in variation 9, for example, are just like those at the ending of Pasquini’s toccata. After all, Bach could also play as if he had demons in his fingers.


Aria variata alla maniera italiana

before 1714

Cast & Crew

release date 16 November 2018
recording date 14 October 2017
location Bartolotti House, Amsterdam
harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen
harpsichord Geert Karman after J.H. Gräbner, 1774
Director, camera and lights Gijs Besseling
Music recording Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
Music edit and mix Guido Tichelman
Camera, lights Danny Noordanus
Data handling, camera and lighting assistant Eline Eestermans
Interview Onno van Ameijde, Marloes Biermans
Producer Jessie Verbrugh

Vocal Texts




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