The second major flaw in the Goldbergs is how jolly they are. Joy is the default mode of the work, hand in hand with G major. Just look at the bouncy, boisterous, leaping first variation, with its clever crossing of hands. Then (why not) head over to the leaping eighth variation, with the hands arpeggiating over each other, and its bouncy boisterous triads, and the wonderful eleventh variation, in which (shockingly!) the hands charmingly criss-cross and leap, or number fourteen … You get the idea. There is a surfeit of virtuosic, humorous leaping. Someone could easily fall asleep 20 minutes in, have a solid 50 minute nap (certainly enough to wake refreshed), and then, upon awakening, you might feel it sounds more or less the same. You might be confused, wonder if you’d slept at all! That’s ridiculous, you say; but you know, it could happen.

Yes, Bach did insert three minor-key variations in order to change up the mood. But three out of thirty is not many—not enough. The Goldbergs are a desert of happiness with oases of sadness: we drink thirstily at all-too-rare darkness. People often say their favorite variation is number 25, the last minor variation, the darkest, the so-called “black pearl.” But number 25 is a pretty serious exception. What they’re saying is that their favorite part of the piece is the part that’s not really like the piece.