Goldberg Variations BWV 988
Johann Sebastian Bach


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Bach is the fifth most popular composer in the Ultimate Hall of Fame, after Mozart, Beethoven, Elgar and Tchaikovsky. This is the fourth of his 11 entries and the first to feature in every Hall of Fame chart across the 20 years.

The story behind this work is one of music's best, with a cast of three. First, a count: Count Kaiserling, who suffered from insomnia. Second comes his much put upon musician, the eponymous Johann Goldberg. Finally, there is Bach. When Kaiserling was up all night, he would make Goldberg play in the adjacent antechamber. Bach's reputation as a fine composer reached the ears of Kaiserling, so Goldberg was sent to him to be well tutored. When Bach heard of the plight of Goldberg's boss, he penned the work.

It was a genre of music into which he had never before ventured, thinking variations almost a form of musical 'sheep counting' (in the most respectful sense) and thus perfect for an insomniac. Luckily for Bach, and also for Goldberg, the new composition helped to ensure that Kaiserling was out for the count. For his troubles, Bach was said to have been paid a goblet full of gold Louis D'or.