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Sanders New Africa travelogue now available at:www.africaapril2019.blogspot.com
By Sander K | 4/15/2018
www.africaapril2019.blogspot.com        Please leave a comment so I can see if you enjoyed reading my blog. Monique and I will be travelling to Madagascar, Ethiopia and Uganda.San...................
Patrick de Keyserlingk passed away May 2, 2017. Patrick was the husband of Jeanne and the father of Alexander.
By Sander Keyserlingk | 4/15/2018
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Sasha von Dehn now in Vancouver for college in Sept 2017.
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Did BACH write The Goldberg Variations for Count Hermann Carl Keyserling in 1742? , by Robert Bob Count Keyserlingk.

 

Count Hermann Carl von Keyserling (1696-1764) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) were of the same generation. Both lived in Saxony in 1742 when the Goldberg Variations were written.  Did Bach write the piece for Hermann Carl? 

THE NEGATIVE CRITICS

 “It is unlikely that Bach had any intention to soothe.  Well, it’s hard to believe, but the standard story for years (I’m not sure what its status is today) was that he wrote the Goldberg Variations on a commission for a piece that Mr. G could play to put his patron. Count (von?) Keyserlingk to sleep.  I’m sorry, but this is a case of Daniel come to judgement, and judged he must be. Here is the story as recounted by Forkel [1802]:

  Count Kayserling [an old spelling] fell ill and could not sleep at night.  Goldberg, who lived with him, had on these occasions to spend the night in an adjoining room, so as to be able to play to him when sleepless.  Once the count said he would like Bach to write some harpsichord pieces for Goldberg, of a quiet and at the same time cheerful character, that would brighten him up a little of his sleepless nights.[1]

 Another sceptic wrote:“Brighten him up a little?- nothing soporific about that.  I think the misapprehension must be attributed to the highly idiosyncratic notes to the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould.  Apparently, though, Forkel invented the whole tale.  Is this count the ancestor of the Keyserling who started some weird cult or philosophico-religious movement in the early part of this century? [Uncle Hermann Keyserlingk died 1949 in Innsbruck]?[2]

             A third questioner:“There is much scepticism expressed about this famous episode. For one thing, there is neither documentary evidence of the work being commissioned, nor is there an official dedication in its published title-page, thus contradicting the custom of the day. For another, this celebrated Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-56), whose skill on the harpsichord Bach knew, for he taught him when he was brought to Leipzig by Hermann Carl Reichsgraf von Keyserlingk (1696-1764) in 1737, would still have only been 14 years old when the work was published. Goldbergs compositions themselves do not display much of his acclaimed brilliance either. Lastly there is no mention of the golden goblet among the inventory of the estate when Bach died in 1750.?[3]

 Paul Meyer’s introduction to Murray Perahia’s famous 2000 CD of the Goldberg Variations  does not mention Keyserling:

          “Bach described the Goldberg Variations, his seemingly innocent tune followed by thirty variations, merely as a keyboard practice piece composed for his talented protege Gottlieb Goldberg to play on the harpsichord.?[4]

 However, one has to say that:

  FORKEL GOT IT RIGHT IN 1802

             Bach and his music at first fell into neglect after his death in 1750.  Forkel, who wrote the first Bach biography in 1802, was the closest to the period.  Forkel was born in 1749, 7 years after the publication of the Goldberg Variations and 1 ?years before Bach passed away.

             He entered the University of Goettingen’s Faculty of Law. However, he preferred music and instead became the university music director at the age of 30. As a result, he could be called as a musician as well as a biography writer. As a professor of music, he composed an oratorio and wrote a history of music. Forkel published his well-known book on Bach based on first-hand information from Bach’s sons.  Besides, the variations-not yet called the Goldberg Variations-were not popular, so why would anyone try to fight over them at that date? [5]

HERMANN CARL KEYSERLING    

             The Keyserlings arrived in the Baltics in the late 1400s and were quickly taken into the ranks of the local nobility.  Hermann Carl was born in 1696 on the family estate of Blieden in Courland.  He was privately educated, and m9ade the Grand Tour around Europe.   Hermann Carl was one of the four Keyserling(k)s who became counts in the 1700s.

             In 1716 at the age of 20, he became a junior chamberlain to Duchess Anna of Courland, the niece of Peter the Great of Russia. When the dowager Duchess Anna of Courland became Tsarina of Russia, he accompanied and her favorite Biron to St Petersburg. There he entered the Russian diplomatic service, remaining active in that capacity until his death in 1764. Hermann Carl served under three imperial rulers, Anna, Elizabeth and Catherine the Great, and survived the assassinations of two Tsars, Peter III and Ivan IV. [6] In 1725 he married another Balt, Agathe Eleonore Baroness von Fircks, and produced two sons and a daughter with her In 1741 he was created an imperial count of the Holy Roman Empire by the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, who acted at the time as custodian of the empire between emperors.

 COURLAND, POLAND AND RUSSIA

            Hermann Carl’s primary loyalty remained to his birthplace, Courland, one of the three Baltic aristocratic republics of Estonia, Livonia and Courland situated on the east coast of the Baltic Sea between Sweden to the northwest, Prussia the southwest, Poland to the south and Russia to the east.  Today the area comprises the states of Latvia and Estonia. 

             Having originated as crusading order lands in the 1200s, the three Baltic lands were originally run by the Teutonic Order, the bishops and the German-speaking nobles and town councils.  In the 1500s the Protestant Reformation ended the rule of the Order and bishops, leaving the nobles in charge.  At first Sweden gobbled up two of the Baltic states, Estonia and Livonia, but was itself defeated in 1709 by Russia at the battle of Poltava. [7] As a result, Russia annexed Estonia and Livonia, allowing them to continue as self-governing provinces under the Russian crown.  Courland, which had come under the Polish crown, remained a semi-independent duchy until finally Poland collapsed. Russia swallowed Courland in 1795, when Russia, Austrian and Prussia divided up Poland. 

             During Hermann Carl’s lifetime, Courland continued to exist as a duchy under Polish suzerainty. Thus Hermann served the Russian throne while remaining both a Courlander and a Polish subject. Sweden disappeared as a power factor, Russia grew stronger, and Poland weaker.  If Courland hoped to remain independent, it had to remain friendly with both Russia and Poland. As Poland weakened during the 1700s, Russia meddled there by attempting to have its candidates elected to the throne, thereby putting its hands on Poland’s client Courland as well. However, during Hermann Carl’s career, Poland and Courland were not yet ripe for Russian plucking. As long as Poland still remained a power, Courland’s independence was safe.

             Russia strengthened its influence in Courland, with Poland’s permission and under Polish sovereignty, by marrying Peter the Great’s niece Anna to the Duke of Courland.  No doubt, this move signalled that Russian influence in Courland was growing. Hermann Karl’s problem as a Courlander and Russian diplomat was how best to manage Russian interests in Poland and Courland without sacrificing either’s independence?   He was well placed to swim between the sharks.  Quite a juggling act. 

HERMANN CARL’S  DIPLOMATIC CAREER [8]

Duchess Anna of Courland, daughter of Peter the Great’s brother and Co-Tsar Ivan V, was in line to inherit the Russian throne.  If she did so, she would have to relinquish Courland, which was under Polish suzerainty, thereby leaving Courland facing a serious leadership problem.   When it looked as though Anna was about to inherit, Hermann Carl was sent by Anna to St Petersburg to organize the transition.  In order to solve Courland’s dilemma, Hermann Karl arranged with Poland and the Courland parliament that Anna’s lover, Biron, be named Duke of Courland.[9]  As Biron was to follow Anna to St Petersburg, he became an absentee ruler, which pleased the Courland nobles and protected their independence.

            Once Tsarina and ensconced in St Petersburg,  Anna named Keyserling a privy counsellor at her court in St Petersburg,  president of the Academy of Sciences there, adjutant and adviser to her relatives the Duke Anton and Duchess Anna of Brunswick, and granted him the prestigious Order of St Andrew.   As Hermann Carl had no time to fill the Brunswick responsibility, he brought in his first cousin, Johann Gebhard Keyserling to take over that latter duty. In this way, a second Keyserling came to serve the Russian throne.

            Because of his background as a Courlander living under Polish protection, Hermann Carl was sent by Tsarina Anna to Saxony and Poland in 1734-36 to manage the election of her candidate, the Elector Duke August of Saxony, to the Polish throne. August’s father, another August, had also been an elected King of Poland as August II.

He was called “a cheerful man of sin,?kept a harem of ladies, had 354 bastards, his chief mistress was a daughter, and he died drunk.[10] In order to become eligible for the Polish throne, the Saxon dukes had converted to Roman Catholicism, although August II’s conversion does not appear to have been very deep. However, this royal Saxon conversion to Roman Catholicism explains why Bach the Lutheran, later appointed court composer to August III, wrote masses.

Hermann Carl succeeded in his Tsarina’s aim. A second Saxon duke became August III, King of Poland in May 1734. A pacification congress accepted the new king in June 1736.  Small wonder that Hermann Carl would later have a special status at the Saxon court in Dresden, when he found himself there seven years later.

            Tsarina Anna died in 1740.  The next year the new Tsarina Elizabeth decided to keep Hermann Carl in Saxony as her ambassador. This was the period when Keyserling met Bach in Dresden and when the Goldberg Variations were written (1742).

            Three years later during the War of the Austrian Succession, Hermann Carl went to Vienna to patch up Russian-Austrian relations.  In 1740 Maria Theresia had become the first woman Habsburg to inherit the Austrian and Hungarian thrones, but some powers objected saying that it should have gone through a male line,  or they hoped for gains from a weak woman.  They erred in the latter calculation, hence the war.  In 1745 Hermann Carl was ordered to help with the election of Maria Theresia’s husband Francis to the Holy Roman imperial throne.[11]   

Hermann Carl returned to Saxony, but in 1752 he was sent to France and Austria to help initiate an anti-Frederick the Great of Prussia coalition, which triggered off the Seven Years War (1756-63).

            After the war, Tsarina Catherine the Great of Russia ordered him to Poland in 1762/3 to arrange the successful election of yet an other Russian candidate to the Polish throne, Paniatowski.  Hermann Carl died while in Poland in 1764.[12]

 BACH AND HERMANN CARL 1742

            Hermann Carl was a great supporter of the arts, rich and musically inclined-an extremely useful combination for the creation and support of great music.  As mentioned above, he was appointed president of the Russian Academy of Science and was later named a member of the Berlin Academy as well.

            In 1741 Hermann Carl reappeared in Dresden, the capital of Saxony, as Russia’s ambassador. At the time, Bach was Cantor at the St. Thomas church in the nearby city of Leipzig, Saxony.  He was involved in a serious dispute with the new rector and needed the kind of protection.  As early as 1733 Bach had fished without success for an appointment in Dresden a court composer by writing pieces dedicated to the ruler.

                 .

 

            Through his excellent contacts at the Catholic Saxon court in Dresden, Hermann Carl was able to helped Bach, a Protestant, find the appointment he sought. “The great emissary? as Hermann Carl was called, had the privilege of handing Bach, who remained choirmaster in Leipzig as well, his diploma as Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon Court Kapellmeister on November 17, 1736.  Once appointed, Bach’s responsibilities entailed among other things writing masses for the new Catholic churches being built by the king, notably the famous Church of Our Lady and the not-yet completed court church. . From 1741 onwards, we can also infer that their friendship became closer than ever, as Keyserlings only son began his study at Leipzig University in that year. 

 GOLDBERG AND HERMANN KARL, 1742

            While stationed at the Dresden court, Keyserling had hired one of Bach’s best students as his house harpsichordist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg , called the “note eater?for his amazing ability to sight read music.  Johann Gottlieb Theophilus Goldberg was born in 1727 in Danzig,  now part of northern Poland and called Gdansk.  He died in 1756 in Dresden at the young age of 29. Hermann Carl had first met Goldberg in 1731 in Danzig, when Hermann Carl was 41 years old and the very talented boy was 10.  Dresden was at that time one of the centres of contemporary music.   So when Hermann Carl  visited Danzig later again on business, he took the boy Goldberg  with him to Dresden to further his musical education. 

            In Dresden the boy had the opportunity to study with Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, the eldest child of Johann .Sebastian Bach. . Bach himself met Goldberg when he was 14 years old and for a short time the boy also became one of his pupils. This indicates that Goldberg must have had an ability to perform at high musical level. [13] There are also indications that Keyserling became closer to Bach in two other ways; either by taking music lessons himself from Bach, or by accompanying  his 15-year-old harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg to his lessons with Bach.  [14]

THE GOLDBERG VARIATIONS AND KEYSERLING 1742

            The clavier piece in question was not dedicated to anyone-there are very few dedications in Bach’s work-nor did the name Goldberg appear tied to it until almost a century later.  The first edition was given the following title:

          Clavierübung consisting of an Aria with Diverse Variations for the Harpsichord  with Two Manuals.  Composed for Music Lovers,  to Refresh their Spirits, by Johann Sebastian Bach, Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon Composer, Capellmeister, and Director Chori Musici in Leipzig.  Nürnberg:Published by  Balthasar Schmid.          

         As the Encyclopaedia Britannica writes;

        “On his visits to Dresden from Leipzig Bach won the regard of Graf Hermann Karl Keyserlingk [sic], the Russian envoy, who commissioned the so-called Goldberg Variations; these were published as part four of the Clavieruebung about 1742.?SPAN style=mso-spacerun:yes>  [15]

            In The Small Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach ( Johann Sebastian’s wife) there is the following story:

        “Count Keyserlingk was an enthusiast about music and a man of intellect. He became to be one of the eager worshippers of Sebastian, and frequently dropped into our house in Dresden to meet him and listen to his music?This tune was composed for Goldberg upon special request from the Count. It was played by Goldberg in order to comfort his master at some his sleepless nights. The Count was never tired of his tune. Then the Count gifted to Sebastian a beautiful goblet with 100 louis gold coins. It was wonderful. We were very happy with it. ?[16]

 “The name Goldberg Variations would seem to have a double meaning.  Bach was never better paid for his efforts.  To him, Keyserlingk was a lifesaver and a ray of hope in an era which was heedlessly turning away from the old style of art.?[17] Usually short of money, Bach must have been delighted with Hermann Carl’s payment for the variations, which about equalled his annual salary at Leipzig. . It may have been part of human nature to exchange friendly jokes; “a heap of gold?or “Gold (gold) Berg (mountain) could have been a delightful witticisms uttered on one of their social occasions. [18]

Imagine a baroque palace in Dresden at the time the famous Catholic Church of Our Lady was nearing completion.  The fabulously wealthy and highly cultivated Hermann Carl sits under the damask canopy in his lace-trimmed nightshirt unable to sleep. Instead, he is listening to his harpsichord virtuoso playing on a full-length Silbermann harpsichord in the next room a lively but gentle piece of music, which Hermann Carl called his own - but which a hundred years later would be named after the performer.  As Forkel later wrote:

          “The count thereafter called them [the variations] nothing but his variations. He was never weary of hearing them; and for a long time, whenever he could not sleep at night, he used to say, “Dear Goldberg, do play for me one of my variations.?[19]

 THE GOLDBERG VARIATIONS:BWV 988, 1742

            Written for a double keyboard (two manuals; a piano only has one) harpsichord, the work includes 30 variations derived from the thematic material of the preceding  aria.?SPAN style=mso-spacerun:yes>  It includes complex canons, fugues, preludes and overtures, concluding with a complete repetition of the sarabande “aria?heard at the beginning. Bach called the final variation Quolibet, featuring two intertwined folk songs, one describing the arrival, the other the departure of a loved one.

 As Michael Ignatieff recently wrote about sleeplessness and the music:

            “Legend associates the work with the fall of night and the sleeplessness of the man who commissioned it - a Russian ambassador to the court of Saxony - who sought music to divert and relieve the long hours between dusk and dawn. The music seems to pour out into the stillness of night or actually to create this stillness around itself. Its deep inner     serenity is impossible to describe and will be felt by every listener differently. It is the calm of a music utterly sure of itself, at home within the heart of musical invention, certain that this source of beauty will never run dry, will never cease to keep spilling out into the darkness even when we are no longer there to hear it.?[20]

GOLDBERG VARIATIONS:IT’S HISTORY

            Bach’s compositions were neglected for more than 50 years after his death, although the new composers Mozart and Haydn certainly knew of him and were probably influenced by him, despite having moved on to newer styles themselves. To the younger men, Bach appeared old fashioned, especially as most of his music was not readily available and much of it was church music.  “Bach did not make what is called a brilliant success in the world.?[21] Less than 1% of his works, 8 of 1,000 were published in his lifetime. [22] While it is true that Forkel wrote his biography of Bach in 1802,  only a half century later did his music begin to reappear.

            Robert Schumann helped to found the Bach Society in 1850.  Its aim was to discover and publish all Bach’s works. The task of collecting Bach’s works was more or less complete by 1900.  A new edition of his works in 84 volumes was started in 1950. [23] The long-awaited musical edition of Bach’s complete works, which was released in the year 2000 under the title Bach 2000, consists of 153 CD disks, 2,400 booklet pages,  and a 264-page hardcover book.

            For a long time playing the Variations presented such a massive challenge to harpsichordists and pianists that it long daunted them. Bach’s Goldberg Variations demanded such a high level of dexterity, speed, lightness of touch and dazzling finger work that the piece struck fear into keyboard performers.  As a result, it remained an admired but neglected masterpiece.  Few players were anxious to perform the Great Work in public and not many listeners wanted to hear it. 

            Then in 1955 an interpretation of the Variations in a New York concert by the then virtually-unknown Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould, shocked the music world. Musicians and listeners began to reassess the monumental work.

            “A careening assertion of mastery and virtuosity, the Goldberg Variations were for many years thought unplayably difficult. That is, until they were performed and recorded in 1933 by Polish harpsichordist Wanda Landowska on her specially built Pleyel instrument that sounded like a jangly upright piano. In 1955, another upright jangly piano, Canadian virtuoso Glenn Gould’s was used for an epochal bestselling record [of his New York concert] that is still available today, alongside Goulds later rethinking of the same piece (1981). With his weird humming, brilliant insights, and eccentric observations, Gould could seem like a Bobby Fischer of the music world. Yet his Goldberg Variations shared with Landowskas an acerbic quality, of excluding human imperfection through sheer ability. Both artists proved that what seemed impossible could be played well, and that Bachs mighty challenge to posterity could be met.?[24]

Gould was immediately offered a record contract as a result of his Goldberg concert in New York. He is sometimes called Glenn Goldberg. Gould’s Goldberg Variations became the great love-it-hate-it rendition.  [25]

Jan Hanford, who helps to run a Bach website, writes:”I can understand how Glenn Gould took the world by storm with his 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations.  It was a starved musical community that heard his first interpretation and it must have been exciting.?SPAN style=mso-spacerun:yes>  [26]

 Following Gould’s famous recording in the1950s, several major recordings were made by other artists such as Karl Richter (1958) on the harpsichord or Murray Perahia in the year 2000 on the piano. [27] Anyone keen enough on this topic can look at the many website devoted to Bach, or join the Friends of The Goldberg Variations and support its magazine -  in four languages. [28]

FURTHER READING

Boyd Malcolm and John Butt, eds, J.S. Bach , (Oxford Companion Reader), 1999

Ridley, Ruthan,  Bach’s Passion:The Life of Johann Sebastian Bach, 1999

Terry, Charles S., Bach:A Biography, 1933, Oxford University Press

Wolfe, Christoph, Johann Sebastian Bach:The Learned Musician, 2001

 

1.      Johann Nikolaus Forkel, On Johann Sebastian Bach’s Life, Genius and Works,1802

2.      Thanks to Sander Keyserlingk, who picked this item off Google.com.  From Keith Sapere, keith.edgerly@bluewin.ch , in newsgroup rec.music.classical, subject:classic of the week, 1998.11.18.

3.      Yo Tomita, 1997 in:www.music.qub.ac.uk 

4.      Paul Meyers, “The Goldberg Variations and Murray Parahia,?notes to CD entitled Murray Perahia Piano:Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, Sony, 5.  For a moderate, speculative view of the matter, which leaves many doors open, see Appendix 1 below.

5.      Bernard S. Greenberg in www.bachfaq.org , 1996

6.      Peter Coughlan, Elizabeth and Catherine:Emperesses of All The Russias

7.      Peter I Frost, The Northern Wars:State and Society in Northeastern Europe, 1558-1721; Robert N. Bain, Charles The Twelfth and the Collapse of the Swedish Empire, 1682-1719

8.      For more details, see Otto Bron von Taube’s introduction to Das Buch der Keyserlinge:An Der Grenze Zweier Welten, 1944, Berlin, Surkamp Verlag, 29ff.  Also Robert Wendelin Keyserlingk, Across Many Oceans:A Family Saga, 1984, Montreal, Librarie Renouf, 77-78 ff

9.      A cousin, Diedrich Keyserling (1698-1745) , one of Frederick the Great of Prussia’s best friends and another first cousin of Hermann Carl,  had gone to school with Biron. [see family tree # 2]

10.  August II was termed “a Lutheran by birth, a Catholic by ambition, and a Mohametan in his habits.?Nancy Mitford, Frederick the Great, 1970, London, 34

11.  Tapie, Victor-L., The Rise and Fall of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1971, New York, 186

12.  For more details, see Baron Otto von Taube’s introduction to Das Buch der Keyserlinge, 1944, Berlin, 23-33; Robert Wendelin Keyserlink, Across Many Oceans, 1984, Montreal, 63-78

13.  Iori Fujita, “Johann Gottlieb Goldberg,?#3, www.people.or.jp

14.  Forkel

15.  W.Em/Ro.Ma., Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach.?Encyclopedia Britannica, 1980, Chicago etc., vol.2., 559.   Friedrich Dieckmann, ?50 Years Ago:Bach’s Goldberg Variations,?Lufthansa Bordbuch, 5/92.   Karl Schumann agrees with this story in his notes for Karl Richter’s 1958 recorded Goldberg Variations:Bach wrote the cycle for his pupil the harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, whose insomniac master Count Hermann Karl von Keyserlingk wanted something soothing to occupy his sleepless nights. The “Clavier-Uebung IV?provides entertainment of a most noble kind; “a refreshment of the spirit?for the connoisseur...?SPAN style=mso-spacerun:yes> 

16.  Iori Fujita, Joahnn Gottlieb Goldberg, #3, www.people.or.jp 

17.  Diekmann, ?50 Years Ago?

18.  Yo Tomita, 1997 in:www.music.qub.ac.uk

19.  Forkel, quoted in www.a30a.com/goldberg/gveworks , 5.5.1999, last updated 16.12.2001.  A source which sees a mystical connection between Hermann Carl and the Variations states  :”The many profound, even Kabbalistic, allusions to Kayserling as well as toGoldberg are inimitable.?SPAN style=mso-spacerun:yes>  What are we to make of this?   Http://users.castel.nl 

20.  Michael Ignatieff’s introduction to Goldberg Variations, Penguin Music Classics # 11, 1999

21.  Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel, The Bach Reader:A Life of J.S. Bach in Letters and Documents, 1945, New York, 335-6

22.  Genius Ignored, Chapter 4,

http://users.datarealm.com/Lucius/Bach.index.html

 

23.  Encyclopedia Britannica, vol 2, 560

24. Benjamin Ivry, “Nearly Good as Gould:Perahia’s Goldberg Variations, www.commonwealthmagazine.org . 

25.  For an enthusiastic philosophical view out of Japan, see Ion Fujita, Music of the Intellect:The Goldberg Variations, www.people.or.jp 

26.  Jan Hanford, “Goldberg Variations,?www.jsbach.org/goldbergglenn.html

27.  Meyers, “The Goldberg Variations.?

28.To see a list of all the major Bach websites, see www.jsbach.net .   For the Friends of Goldberg website, see www.goldberg.magazine.com

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Telsen, an article written by Paul Schniewind
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www.books.google.com lists almost 3000 references Keyserlingk's.
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Interview with an author who wrote a book around the Goldberg Variations.
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Freiherr von Edelsheim, by Blackmask Online.
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The Keyserling/Gibson connection, from Website Electricscotland.com
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Letter to Helmut Count Keyserlingk concerning Estates in Estonia from Waldo Praust.
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Immigration of Baltic families to Canada, by Max von zur Muehlen.
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Painting of 1777 by Truchess Waldbourg, Countess Keyserlingk
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