• Geoffrey Burgon
  • Goldberg's Dream (Running Figures) (1975)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Ballet Rambert for the ballet Running Figures by Robert North

(tape of hmn and hpd parts available)

  • 1(pic)1101110perchmnhpdpfstr(
  • 20 min

Programme Note


A sequence of plotless patterns for four pairs of dancers. At the beginning, it has a dreamlike quality with two dancers moving slowly together, but this soon develops into hectic activity and then the dance scenes follow closely the changing moods of the music. At the end, all the dancers once again become dreamlike.


This piece was composed for the ballet ‘Running Figures’ which was choreographed by Robert North and first performed by Ballet Rambert at the Leeds Playhouse on 25 March 1975. The ballet has subsequently received approximately 150 performances. The composer’s brief was simply to compose a score ‘with a classical feel’ in six movements for the available Rambert ensemble. Variations were decided on at an early stage, the theme from Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variation 1’ was then chosen, and finally the composer decided to use Bach’s variations as the basis for his own variations, rather than the theme itself. The work then began to take the form of an elaborate aural fantasy, suggested by the circumstances surrounding the composition and performance of the ‘Goldberg Variations’.

The story is that Goldberg was a harpsichordist employed by a count Kerserling. The count was an insomniac and the unfortunate Goldberg was required to sleep in a room adjoining the Count’s bedroom, and play whenever his master lay awake. The composer imagined Goldberg becoming obsessed with the music, and of it taking on an increasingly bizarre and surrealist character, as he drifted from sleep to waking and back again, with variations merging into one another, and figures being obsessively repeated. Thus did Goldberg’s Dream take shape.

The work is in six movements’

1 Starts the theme, and decorates it with a variety of tremolandi and repeated figures

2 Is based on variation 1, which is never heard (but could be played behind the music) – tiny fragments hint at it, and it has a moto perpetuo character.

3 Is concerned with variation 22, beginning with a harpsichord ostinato, leading to fragments and a build up of repeated figures. Then the second half of Bach’s variation is stated

4 Is a nearly faithful orchestration of Bach’s variation 25, with some long notes and figures added.

5 Begins with a strict statement of variation 18 on the strings, but the mood is gradually undermined by increasingly disruptive interjections by the other players

6 Returns to the serene mood of the theme, played by the harpsichord, which is never quite overwhelmed by the accompaniment of all the other instruments.

The piece is scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, trumpet, trombone, violin, viola, cello, piano and percussion plus harpsichord, harmonium and a second piano. In the ballet version, these parts on tape, but in this performance they are being performed on a Yamaha DX7 synthesiser.