In his Essays in Musical Analysis: Chamber Music, Donald Tovey discusses the makeup of the final variation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. After the composition’s crowning achievements in counterpoint, symmetry, dance, and technicality, Bach decides to write a “quodlibet” (Latin for “whatever”). “The thirtieth variation is a ‘Quodlibet’; that is, a contrapuntal hotch-potch of popular tunes. In Bach’s time, when the tunes were widely known, the result must have been very amusing.”
According to Tovey, the two tunes are “Kraut und Rüben haben mich ver tricben”, tr. “Cabbage and turnips have driven me away” and “Hätt’ mein’ Mutter Fleisch gukocht, So wär ich länger g’blieben” tr. “If my mother’d cooked some meat, I might have stopped longer.” At least, according to Tovey. Who knows if that’s an accurate translation.
In the outtakes to the 1955 recording of the Goldberg, Glenn Gould chats away about the cultural phenomenon of the quodlibet, how it was common household activity in Bach’s time. A family for evening entertainment might sit around a fire and compete to see who could compose the best quodlibet from the craziest tunes.