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Johann Sebastian Bach

Toccata and Fugue in d minor, BWV 565  Play

David Schrader Organ

Recorded on 07/07/1991, uploaded on 02/13/2009

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

Toccata and Fugue in d minor, BWV 565                  Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach's earliest organ toccata is the famous D minor, BWV 565, composed circa 1704, when Bach was the organist for the Bonifatiuskirche in Arnstadt. The work's tripartite structure recalls the style of one of Bach's life models, Georg Bohm (1661-1733). The Dutch violinist, Jaap Schroeder, believes the piece began its life as a work for unaccompanied violin: the fugue subject lies very well for that instrument, and Bach is known to have transcribed at least one of his solo violin pieces for organ -- the fugue from the Sonata in G Minor. The E major Toccata, BWV 566, also has a model: Buxtehude. Bach traveled to Lubeck to hear him play in 1705, and the Toccata, probably composed the following year, employs the five-part format Buxtehude favored.

David Schrader

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Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565        Johann Sebastian Bach

Of all the memorable pieces that Bach composed, perhaps one stands out a little more than the rest - the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Indeed, it's one of the most well-known and recognizable works in the entire organ repertoire. As with much of Bach's music for organ, no autograph manuscript exists and the best guess places the time of composition between 1703 and 1707.

The piece exemplifies a typical north German structure consisting of a free opening, a fugal middle section and a brief free closing section. However, the recitative-like sections show the influence of the waning south German organ school. It was common in Bach's time for composers to freely borrow ideas from one another and many connections have been pointed out between pieces by Bach and his lesser known contemporaries. Such connections exist between the Toccata and Fugue and Johann Heinrich Buttsett's Prelude and Capriccio in D minor, as well as Pachelbel's Fantasia in D minor.

The toccata is essentially a virtuosic piece typically written for keyboard instruments. It often abounds in fast passages requiring a delicate touch of the performer. This toccata begins with the famous flourish descending into the biting dissonance of a diminished seventh chord over a tonic pedal. A brilliant passage in triplet sixteenths follows, one often cited for the apparent parallel fifths that occur. However, these fifths disappear with a correct interpretation of the rhythmical and harmonic structure of the passage. Next follows a passage built around a sixteenth-note melody and with a distinct influence of string music. After another section of triplet sixteenths, the toccata comes to a full close before the announcement of the fugue subject.

The fugue subject consists of a reiterated dominant pitch and a melodic pattern based on the D minor scale. The answer enters immediately on the termination of the subject, though in the key of the subdominant instead of the more usual dominant. This apparent departure from rule is actually necessitated by the nature of the subject itself. Contrary to the way fugue is usually taught today, an answer in the subdominant key has always been an acceptable practice (though the cases in which it is explicitly required are few) and the original fugal theorists of the late Renaissance openly recognized the fifth below the tonic (i.e., the subdominant) as a proper interval for the answer of a fugue subject. Furthermore, examples of a fugue subject answered in the subdominant key can be found in numerous works by Bach, as well as other Baroque composers such as G.F. Handel.

Many of the passages of the fugue feature the string-influenced writing of the toccata. Episodes are built largely out of scales and arpeggios that would fit equally well on a violin as they do on the keyboard. The fugue ends deceptively in the key of B flat and a return is made to the toccata style of the opening interspersed with full chords in a slower tempo. The toccata's opening descending line, though extended through multiple augmentations, brings the piece to a close in an ominous plagal cadence.     Joseph DuBose

Performances by same musician(s)

Antonio Soler
Sonata No. 24 in D minor
Johann Sebastian Bach
Harpsichord Concerto in d minor
Antonio Soler
Quintet No. 6 in G Minor
Domenico Scarlatti
Sonata in c minor, K. 129
Giovanni Battista Ferrandini
Il Pianto di Maria
Domenico Scarlatti
Sonata in C Major, K. 513

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Listeners' Comments        (You have to be logged in to leave comments)

Excellent, I love this toccata and fugue. I used to play it so very long ago!!

Submitted by oborcha on Wed, 05/19/2010 - 12:42. Report abuse

I believe David Schrader also plays the harpsichord, if I am not mistaken.

Submitted by wildredhead on Wed, 01/26/2011 - 14:29. Report abuse

This toccata is the window to the God

Submitted by Petroil2010 on Sat, 06/25/2011 - 13:04. Report abuse

Superb!

Submitted by kittykaz on Sat, 11/19/2011 - 13:00. Report abuse

Was my favorite song when I was a kid. Thanks Walt Disney for putting this in Fantasia.

Submitted by Shockley on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 15:11. Report abuse

I'm 12 years old, but I am also a pianist. I got my first keyboard in 2008 for Christmas. It even has the sound of church, reed, electrical, and pipe organs. I even play this piece on my keyboard. News Flash: When it comes to musical skills, I wrote the book.

Submitted by Owen on Thu, 05/02/2013 - 12:53. Report abuse

Owen,
It's wonderful to read your post. I hope you play this piece with gusto and joy your entire life. -Kittykaz

Submitted by kittykaz on Mon, 10/21/2013 - 13:34. Report abuse