Recorded on 06/01/2003, uploaded on 04/28/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Bach’s set of seven Toccatas for keyboard date from 1707-11,
just prior to and during the first years of his post in Weimar. During these
formative years he experimented with a wide variety of compositional models.
Overall, these early toccatas lack the profound expression and technical
mastery of Bach’s later music and are thus some of the least performed of his
works. All too often, they come off as improvisatory and mere virtuosic pieces
for keyboard. Nevertheless, they show the steady growth of one of music’s
Of these seven works, the Toccata in G minor perhaps best
shows Bach’s experimentation with forms. Throughout his career, Bach often used
the older forms of the 17th century, many of which had long gone out
of style. In fact, by the final decades of Bach’s life, when he undoubtedly
work some of his finest works, the music world as a whole was well on its way
towards the simpler forms of the Classical period. However, to rejuvenate these
dying forms, Bach recast them to better fit his purpose often resulting in
unusual structures with only remnants of the original form remaining. Less than
a century later, another great composer would do the same thing with the sonata
form and fugue.
Composed possibly in 1707-08 and definitely no later than
1712, the Toccata in G minor inherits the toccata structure of the North German
organ school made popular by composers like Buxtehude. It begins with a
brilliant passage beginning in the upper register but quickly plunging to the
bass. This brief passage of only a few bars leads into an adagio of a Sarabande-like character. All this, however, serves as
introduction for the following allegro.
Deferring the expected tonic key of G minor, Bach instead chooses its relative
major, B flat, to begin the allegro.
This section is an extended fugato in
four voices. Dynamic indications imply an alternation of “tutti” and “solo”
sections giving the allegro the
character of a concerto movement. Denying the listener a final cadence in B
flat, Bach then returns to the adagio
tempo and the tonic key of G minor. Though in the same meter, this adagio differs from the first and comes
to a close in G major. Following this second adagio is a fugue of great length. Infused with the energetic
rhythm of the gigue, the fugue would seem to be a fit conclusion for the work,
and indeed it would be in a proper toccata of the 17th century.
However, at the last cadence of the fugue, Bach suddenly returns to the rapidly
descending passage that opened the work. For the final cadence, he returns with
two bars in triple meter that vaguely resemble the closing of the second adagio. Joseph DuBose
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