Ghost Variation


for piano (2003)
Commissioned by the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival as part of a larger commissioning project titled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Goldberg”
Premiere: The Gilmore International Keyboard Festival by Gilbert Kalish – May 2004
Duration: 3 minutes



Ghost Variation was commissioned by the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival and is part of a collection of pieces (all commissioned by Gilmore) based on the aria from the Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach. Ghost Variation utilizes motives and sometimes entire phrases from Bach’s opening aria, albeit somewhat displaced by a new harmonic formula (based on the same bass line as the original) and counterpoint, which takes the form of a secondary motive (up a m3, down a m2). Since the subsequent variations of Bach’s work bear resemblance to the aria mainly on the basis of similar, if not identical harmonic schemes, I thought it would be interesting to write a variation of my variation based on the same principle. In order to incorporate this scheme into a single movement, the second, much faster variation (marked dotted quarter equals 76) takes place after the first and second halves of the piece in place of the repeats that would ordinarily take place. In essence, the second variation is meant to be heard as a “phantom” representation of the immediately preceding material; a striking diversion, yet eerily familiar. In order for there to be a distinctly audible connection between the fast and slow sections despite the extreme differences in approach, I utilized the same ground bass, accompanying harmony and secondary motive in both. The fast sections are notated primarily with smaller note heads where larger note heads are used to indicate the notes of the ground bass and the secondary motive. These notes should be subtly voiced so as to highlight the structure, and hence the relationship with the slower sections, without disrupting the hauntingly, fleeting nature of these passages. This work is dedicated to Gilbert Kalish with deep admiration and respect.