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Count Kaiserling – is cured of insomnia by Bach’s 'Goldberg Variations'



Type of Spiritual Experience


The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, is a work written for harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach, consisting of an aria and a set of 30 variations. First published in 1741, the work is considered to be one of the most important examples of variation form. The Variations are named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg.

A description of the experience

Goldberg Variations Complete (J.S. Bach BWV 988), with score, Kimiko Ishizaka piano

Georges Rousseau – The Inflected Voice

To learn to embrace the voice and be soothed     by it, as in a lullaby. To learn to sleep through it, as did Count Goldberg of Bach’s 'Goldberg Variations' fame. Nothing else soothed the Count to sleep except music. All else failed. So he commissioned Bach to compose those bejewelled night slumbers conveying him to the Lethe's banks in an age before Xanax and benzedrine and other sleeping tablets. That is, a cult of the expressive voice capable of soothing despair and despondency.

From the  biography of Bach by Johann Nikolaus Forkel: Translation from Kirkpatrick (1938).

[For this work] we have to thank the instigation of the former Russian ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony, 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. But since at this time all his works were already models of art, such also these variations became under his hand. Yet he produced only a single work of this kind.

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.



The source of the experience

Musician other

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Music therapy