The best recordings of the Goldberg Variations

I sometimes think the classical record industry would collapse if it weren’t for the Goldberg Variations. Every month brings more recordings of Bach’s monumental, compact and rhapsodic keyboard masterpiece. And that’s impressive, given that nowhere else does the composer demand such sustained technical brilliance from the performer, who must execute dizzying scales and trills that wouldn’t sound out of place in one of Liszt’s fantasies. If the Goldberg Variations are an ordeal for harpsichordists, they’re a bloody nightmare for pianists, because they have to tackle music written for two manuals on just one. Their fingers tumble perilously over each other; it looks a bit like high-speed knitting. When the 22-year-old

The dark history of dance marathons

On 31 March 1923, Alma Cummings put her feet into a bowl of cold water. Then, tired-eyed but smiling obligingly for the photographer, she held up her dancing shoes. There were holes in both soles. Cummings had just finished a 27-hour stint of waltzing at a Manhattan ballroom, wearing out not just her shoes, but six male partners in the process. The dance instructor was one of the Americans responsible for a strange cultural phenomenon that swept the United States over the next two decades — dance marathons. Cummings’s record was soon beaten and within a few years promoters were organising public competitions across the States in which couples danced