Fancy on a Bach Air (1996)
For solo cello x

see also: version for viola

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Written for Judy and Robert Goldberg

First performed August 24, 1997, by Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston, MA

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Duration 5 minutes

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Recording
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Yo-Yo Ma, cello Sony SK60747 (2000)

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Program note

Fancy on a Bach Air began in celebration and ended in memoriam. My cousin introduced me to his colleague Robert Goldberg and his wife Judy, avid music lovers both. We became fast friends. When, later, they asked me to compose a piece for their 25th wedding anniversary, I suggested that instead of a single writer they ask a group of composers to write variations. And what better theme to choose than the venerable melody of the variations that bore their name? Bach would surely approve.

Their close friends Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax agreed to play the variations. Then tragedy struck. Robert succumbed to a virulent cancer and died all too soon.

Judy’s spirit and love led her to transform what might have been a requiem into a celebration of her husbands’ life, and Ma and Ax performed the set of Variations preceded by the Bach theme in Boston where the Goldberg’s live.

My “Goldberg Variation,” Fancy on a Bach Air, is for unaccompanied cello. It transforms the gentle arches of Bach’s theme into slowly soaring arpeggi of almost unending phase-lengths. Its dual inspiration was the love of two extraordinary people and the solo cello suites of a great composer – both of them strong, long-lined, passionate, eternal a, and for me, definitive of all that is beautiful in life.

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— John Corigliano

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