Open Goldberg Variations: free, open source recording and modern score of classical masterpiece

Performed by Kimiko Ishizaka on a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial in Berlin's Teldex Studio, there's already plenty to love about a new cut of Bach's Goldberg Variations. But this one is also the first fan-funded, open source, and completely free recording of it.

"Every part of it is free for you to use, share, and copy," said Robert Douglass, who launched the successful Kickstarter project behind Werner Schweer's new version of the classic score and its production.

Schweer's modernized and digitized score was itself created with free and open source software from

The producers said their goal was to be "precise to Bach’s instruction, yet full of personality and character".

"To help make this recording truly timeless, we need your help. Share it. Give it away. Introduce others to its beauty, and explain to them why you love it," Douglass wrote. "Make yourself responsible for converting another person to being a Bach fan."

The production's website is at Five double CDs of the recording will be given away to listeners who sign up for a promotion. There's also a facebook page for the project and a twitter account to follow.

Wisconsin Public Radio also developed a website to accompany its broadcast of the Open Goldberg Variations,, which will display the score in real-time so listeners can "see" the music there as it plays: "a first-ever event, proving bleeding edge technologies," says Douglass.

Download Page [Open Goldberg Variations]
Open Goldberg Variations [Soundcloud (enbeddable)]
Sheet Music [Musescore]


  1. You may note that Variation 8 is missing from the SoundCloud widget for the time being. Ironic as it seems, that track was flagged for copyright violation against Sony Music. They make it hard putting stuff into the public domain! The track will be available as soon as it works its way through SoundCloud’s review process.

  2. From the sample I’ve listened to so far,  she a softer touch and plays a little faster, and a little less choppy than Glenn Gould’s version – which I adore. Hers might be closer to the sound that the clavier would make.

    I’ll be listening to this later today – I hope to be able to enjoy it as much.

    It’s astounding to think that the Goldberg Variations were once considered too obscure, too intellectual to appeal to the masses.

    1. We’re hoping that people will write honest and thoughtful reviews of the recording. Anybody who does so gets a double CD mailed to them =)

    1. “It may not be a Glenn Gould performance…but I’d say it’s ‘Good as Gould'”

      The Simpsons, Season 12, Episode 9

  3. I have to admit, I never really understood the typesetting aspect of this project. Why reinvent the wheel when there are already numerous perfectly acceptable public domain scores available at IMSLP?  If it’s about re-engraving it, there’s already been a lilypond version of the score at since 2007. Given the glaring mistakes in the score on a cursory glance, it can’t be about crowdsourcing the editing and layout.

    1. Please let us know what mistakes you find. They’ll be corrected (one advantage over the IMSLP PDFs that are available). The digital score lets you do things like embed it in websites, and create score following programs that listen along and highlight the music. We’ll be demonstrating the score following aspect at the Classical:NEXT conference this week:

    2. It is not just another electronic copy of the score. It’s a digital, mungible score. Effectively, a “source” has been created so that it can be used for much more than just a PDF “engraving”.

      And instead of an empty acid barb, how about helping to fix these “glaring” mistakes?

      1.  Nick, I feel it’s a legitimate criticism. I understand what is trying to be accomplished, and noted that it already exists in code form, here, freely available and editable, for instance:

        Mind you, lilypond lacks the front-end polish of musescore’s software, but at least ideologically, both typesetting projects appear to be treading the same waters.

        As to your complaint of my empty acid barb, I would draw a comparison between the typesetting aspect of this project and wikipedia. If errors exist, I reserve the right to point them out as I see it, caveat: IMHO; I signed up for wikipedia and am totally willing to make edits there, but I never signed up for this project.

        If Robert is still following this thread, perhaps he could shed some light on the editing process, and if it done in a wikipedia-like style.

        1. Unfortunately, general browser support for editing music notation is non-existant. I complained about this recently in the International Arts Manager: Thus the editing is done with the MuseScore desktop app. The online version can be annotated, however, so mistakes can be noted in the context of the score itself.

    3. Even better than a modern score are scans of the original publication with Bach’s own corrections, available at IMSLP, which are clean enough to play from (though with an occasional c3 clef, something modern keyboardists rarely deal with).

  4. Reading through the project’s notes on kickstarter and the website, I got the notion that the project wanted to donate a high quality recording of the Goldberg Variations to the public domain. If that is right, then I wonder why the project offers the files as 128kbit/s mp3s instead of using a format which can be used for archival *and* transformation into other digital formats, like flac or Apple’s lossless audio format. If you’re scared about the amount of data which has to be downloaded: I am sure that someone will be able to upload a torrent of this – and the Internet Archive might also be interested in a copy :)

    If the audio CDs were under the same license, someone sooner or later *will* put them on “the internet” in a lossless version anyway – if that hasn’t happened already …

    EDIT: I guess I forgot to the thank the project for doing what they did – and their backers on kickstart. If the above sounded a bit negative – it wasn’t meant like that, I was just wondering why the use of a great recording studio and a great grand piano and then only 128kbit/s mp3s :)

    1. The CDs are released under the same licence, yes. And, indeed, I’m sure I noticed FLAC and other options available earlier. Perhaps there are temporary bandwidth constraints :-) I’m sure they’ll return.

    2. I had to request the FLAC version be remade, it had a glitch in it. They’ll be posted within the next days. And yes – I’m the one who will be uploading the torrents of them =) The goal here is to make the recording – also in lossless quality – available to everybody.

  5. Thank you soooo much! This is one of my favorite pieces of music ever. I have the Gould Variations, of course, but this one is a welcome addition to my collection as well. =)

    1. Who wants to bet that a track of moaning and off-key humming will be the first derivative work of this release?

  6. In any given year these days, three or four or more recordings of the Goldberg Variations get released. A couple will be performed on harpsichord, most of the others on piano. Occasionally, a clavichord or organ or string quartet version will sneak in. There are dozens of recordings to choose from, in the last 40 years. It’s really hard to get excited about an “open source” one.

    There is vast, vast amounts of really interesting keyboard music out there, unrecorded–heck, vast amounts that exist in no modern typeset editions, unlike the Goldberg pieces which have been engraved and typeset and otherwise published many many times.

    1. I did get the “almost” open source one from Magnatune by the Harpsichord builder Janine Johnson, and I already had a version by Blandine Verlet and a notorious one by Glenn Gould, and I’m still quite excited about this. Mostly because of what it may herald, of course – I’m still waiting for Musopen’s project, it should be delivered real soon now (it was supposed to be delivered real soon for a long time, but unless Aaron Dunn has been outright lying in his status updates – and I don’t think so! – it can’t be much longer now).A more important objection to this project, I think, is that there already was an excellent open source typeset version of the score, made with Lilypond and posted to Mutopia. So that seemed a little duplication of effort.

      1. There was indeed already a Lilypond version of the score, but we all missed a version in the open standard MusicXML. Now you can open the Goldberg Variations in any notation software that supports MusicXML. Want to add fingerings to the score, print it differently, … now you can with any software. It’s truly open source now.

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