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Bach’s Goldberg Variations by Monica Jakuc Leverett

Published November 2, 2023

Poster for Monica Jakuc Leverett.

Northampton, MA – The Smith College Department of Music presents a special concert of Bach’s Goldberg Variations by pianist Monica Jakuc Leverett in celebration of her 80th birthday on Sunday, November 5 at 3 p.m. in Sweeney Concert Hall.  Jakuc Leverett has been playing the Goldberg Variations for the last 60 years and considers Bach’s masterwork her signature piece. The performance is free and open to the public. 

Monica Jakuc (Ya’kutch) Leverett is Elsie Irwin Sweeney Professor Emerita of Music at Smith College, where she taught from 1969–2008. During her long career, she has played on three continents, and is still an active solo and chamber music performer in the Valley on modern piano, early piano, and toy piano. She made 3 fortepiano CDs using her own instruments.

The Goldberg Variations are one of Bach’s most enduring and popular works, consisting of an Aria plus 30 variations on its bass line, and the return of the Aria.  Jazz and pop music listeners can easily follow this music’s bass and harmonic structure. Originally written for a harpsichord with two-keyboards, these variations become even more challenging when played on the piano. 

Jakuc Leverett first studied the piece as a 20-year-old with her Juilliard teacher, 80-year-old James Friskin, the first pianist to play the Goldberg Variations in the United States in 1925. At age 15, he had learned and played the work for Brahms’ violinist friend Josef Joachim.

Monica Jakuc Leverett has presented the Goldberg Variations in concert at Smith College a number of times, as well as on the East and West Coasts. In 1986, she used it for her New York debut recital, and was heard by NY Times critic Tim Page, who wrote: “She…fashioned a distinctly individual interpretation, characterized by a combination of grace, propulsion and Platonic detachment…One will observe Miss Jakuc’s career with more than usual interest.” She also performed the piece in Kyoto, Tokyo, London, and elsewhere.

Jakuc Leverett invites you to join her in experiencing this masterpiece. In the words of James Friskin, “There is perhaps no other work which displays so many aspects of Bach’s broad humanity, or such a varied emotional range.”  In the epigraph to his Goldberg Variations edition, the great 20th-century harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick quotes Sir Thomas Browne (Religio Medici 1643), “There is something in it of Divinity more than the ear discovers: it is an Hieroglyphical and shadowed lesson of the whole World, and creatures of God……”  For those who cannot make it to campus, the concert will also be livestreamed on the Smith College Department of Music YouTube channel at