A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Goldberg, Johann

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GOLDBERG, Johann Gottlieb[1], the dates and places of whose birth and death are unknown, was a pupil of Sebastian Bach, and one of the most remarkable players on clavier and organ of the middle of the 18th century. He was brought to Bach from Königsberg by Count Kaiserling, the Russian ambassador, of whose establishment he appears to have been a member. Bach held him up as his cleverest and most industrious pupil, and with reason, for to immense executive power he joined an extraordinary facility of improvisation, and of playing the most difficult music at sight. His works (as named by Gerber) are not important, and remain in MS.:—a Motet and a Psalm for voices and orchestra; Preludes and Fugues; 24 Polonaises with Variations; 2 Concertos; a Sonata, and a few Trios for Flute, Violin, and Bass—all exhibiting a certain melancholy, and strong individuality. During the Seven Years War (1756–63) he was 'Kammer-musikus' to Count Brühl. Bach's Thirty Variations were written for Goldberg at the request of Count Kaiserling (in exchange for a golden goblet and 100 louis d'or), and he was accustomed to play them nightly to the Count to lull him to sleep. They are sometimes known as the Goldberg Variations.

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  1. There seems to be some uncertainty whether these names are correct.