Like the passepied, a Baroque dance movement, this variation is in 38 time with a preponderance of quaver rhythms. Bach uses close but not exact imitation: the musical pattern in one part reappears a bar later in another (sometimes inverted).
Each repeated section has alternate endings for the first or second time.
The variation is in 68 meter, suggesting several possible Baroque dances. In 1974, when scholars discovered Bach's own copy of the first printing of the Goldberg Variations, they noted that over this variation Bach had added the heading al tempo di Giga. But the implications of this discovery for modern performance have turned out to be less clear than was at first assumed. In his book The Keyboard Music of J. S. Bach the scholar and keyboardist David Schulenberg notes that the discovery "surprised twentieth-century commentators who supposed gigues were always fast and fleeting." However, "despite the Italian terminology [giga], this is a [less fleet] French gigue." Indeed, he notes, the dotted rhythmic pattern of this variation (pictured) is very similar to that of the gigue from Bach's second French suite and the gigue of the French Overture. This kind of gigue is known as a "Canary", based on the rhythm of a dance which originated from the Canary islands.
He concludes, "It need not go quickly." Moreover, Schulenberg adds that the "numerous short trills and appoggiaturas" preclude too fast a tempo.
The pianist Angela Hewitt, in the liner notes to her 1999 Hyperion recording, argues that by adding the al tempo di giga notation, Bach was trying to caution against taking too slow a tempo, and thus turning the dance into a forlane or siciliano. She does however argue, like Schulenberg, that it is a French gigue, not an Italian giga and does play it at an unhurried tempo.
The set of variations can be seen as being divided into two halves, clearly marked by this grand French overture, commencing with a particularly emphatic opening and closing chords. It consists of a slow prelude with dotted rhythms with a following fugue-like contrapuntal section.
Another lively two-part virtuosic variation for two manuals, in 34 time. It begins with the hands chasing one another, as it were: the melodic line, initiated in the left hand with a sharp striking of the G above middle C, and then sliding down from the B one octave above to the F, is offset by the right hand, imitating the left at the same pitch, but a quaver late, for the first three bars, ending with a small flourish in the fourth:
This pattern is repeated during bars 58, only with the left hand imitating the right one, and the scales are ascending, not descending. We then alternate between hands in short bursts written out in short note values until the last three bars of the first section. The second section starts with this similar alternation in short bursts again, then leads to a dramatic section of alternating thirds between hands. Peter Williams, marvelling at the emotional range of the work, asks: "Can this really be a variation of the same theme that lies behind the adagio no 25?"