While Glenn Gould 's 1955 debut recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations has attained legendary status, there are many devoted fans who rank the 1981 recording just as highly, even though it offers a dramatically different interpretation. This album was made shortly before the pianist's premature death at age 50, so it is significant for being his last recording; indeed, the opening measures of the Aria are carved on Gould 's headstone, in final recognition of the work's importance to him, so these two recordings may be regarded as bookends to the pianist's extraordinary career. Gould 's tempos are slower and more measured in the 1981 performance, and the observance of some repeats here also differs from the earlier version. On the whole, the 1981 performance is reflective and carefully considered, in contrast with the technical brilliance and impulsive energy of the first. Gould 's background humming is common to both Goldbergs, and even though the technology existed at the time of this recording to remove it, Gould kept it in, for fear of losing the piano's full sound. This eccentricity may be off-putting to some listeners, but there are so many fine points in Gould 's playing that it must be overlooked to appreciate the true value of his playing and his understanding of Bach , which is original by any standard. Columbia's reproduction is crisp and clear, in keeping with Gould 's wishes.
When Bach's personal copy of the printed edition of the "Goldberg Variations" (see above) was discovered in 1974, it was found to include an appendix in the form of fourteen canons built on the first eight bass notes from the aria. It is speculated that the number 14 refers to the ordinal values of the letters in the composer's name: B(2) + A(1) + C(3) + H(8) = 14.  Among those canons, the eleventh and the thirteenth are first versions of BWV 1077 and BWV 1076; the latter is included in the famous portrait of Bach painted by Elias Gottlob Haussmann in 1746.