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toccata and fugue

Updated on July 19, 2015

JS Bach's Toccata and Fugue

One of the most famous and popular pieces of music ever written, JS Bach's Toccata and Fugue has been attempted by countless musicians from all over the world but its' origins as a work written between 1703 -1707 is shrouded in mystery.

The piece has features which are extremely rare for it's time and musicologist Peter Williams has suggested it may be a transcription by Bach of a lost violin piece.

The piece is written for organ but it continues to be played by musicians who play string instruments - most notably guitarists and violinists from all over the world.

What counts for a lot is that this piece, over 300 years old, continues to inspire an ecstatic state of dexterity for musicians and will probably do so for centuries to come.

Toccata means "to touch" in Italian and pieces with this name typically were for musicians to show off what their lightning fast fingers could do!

Fugue is a musical term which refers to the way successive voices imitate the opening or "subject". You'll hear the way the "subject" sounds in different voices as they come in one after the other. You'll see this in the way the musicians fingers move to the next imitating voice.

So let's start with Vanessa-Mae using her acoustic violin and accompanied by the Bratislava Radio Symphony in 1996.

Bear with me, relax and enjoy. We'll get to guitarists soon enough!


Drummers got in on the Act!

Not sure whether Bach would be turning in his grave to know this. Nah, I don't believe he would. The drums are integral to modernizing the piece.

Next we have Sky, whose debut album came out way back in 1979. Sky used a rock band line up - guitar, drum, bass and keyboard to present various classical pieces including, of course, the piece which is the topic of this hub.

Sky included virtuoso classical guitarist John Williams. On bass was Herbie Flower, a session musician celebrated for, among other things, his bassline on Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed.

Toccata by Sky

Electric Guitarists find Toccata and Fugue!

I add the next video as testimony to the continuing presence and power of this piece of music. Believe me, I had quite a few videos to choose from in this category of Toccata and Fugue played on electric guitar.

It just goes to show how the emotion Bach created over 300 years ago continues to inspire musicians to develop levels of dexterity and speed they may otherwise have never attempted.

Magnificent Organ Version

Well, finally the organ.

Is this the closest to how the Toccata and Fugue would have sounded in Bach's own day? I'm not sure but  I do know an Organ this size can't just be packed into a case and taken with you anywhere you feel like playing it!

The following video shows Kurt Ison playing the organ at Sydney Town Hall. The video was produced and edited by Christopher Hayles in 2002. Note the page turner!

Carefully arranged and tuned glasses - each with water - the glass harp version! is next.

The Bar Graph Bonus Version - Not to be missed!

The Bar Graph version is for all but a must for music lovers who like to follow the register or pitches and rythmical sequences of notes, not to mention the chords as they listen to this magnificent rendition of our chosen piece.

As a colorful visual feast, the bar graph score is educational giving an intuitive sense of the notes played and yet at the same time the education doesn't diminish our enjoyment.

What a magnificenct piece!

Diana Bish and Simon Preston - Two Organs!


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    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 2 years ago from Tasmania

      Searched his biography .... he has just turned 21 - most inspiring.

    • profile image
      Author 2 years ago

      Glad to find someone so appreciative of my toccata hub and such a thoughtful response. Thanks and good to meet you Johnny even if you've arrived so late! Thanks for the link too - he is enjoying it so much as he plays - good to see!

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 2 years ago from Tasmania

      Having looked through your hub of 5+ years ago, as usual a bit "comelately," I am inspired and enthralled..... thank you so much. I have been listening to everything using headphones and they enhance the entire music. Especially interesting and educational was the Bar Graph rendering. Suddenly my eyes, ears and brain unite in awareness!

      A link also from one of the videos you posted took me to recordings of Gert van Hoef. What a wonderful gift he imparts to all who watch and listen to his playing. Young, talented, VERY-well practised and coached, obviously enjoying it, with a great sense of fun with his peers doing some of the leg work on the stops...... recommended to anyone who has read this far - wishing you great enjoyment and inspiration too.

      Extending my thoughts beyond this, there is also to be considered the wonders of human achievement. J.S.Bach, such an amazing person. The instrument(s) he had at his disposal in those days were far short of what we have today. Science, technology, engineering, have all advanced to our benefit. The people who go up into the organ lofts to tune each pipe need a mention too.

      On top of all this, J.S.Bach had a deeply religious outlook on life. We don't need to be in agreement with those beliefs in order to admire and give thanks for such gifts.... IMHO.

    • profile image
      Author 7 years ago

      You have many talents than EnergyAdvisor! Good to know musos are checking in here.

    • EnergyAdvisor profile image

      EnergyAdvisor 7 years ago from The nearest planet to Venus

      Great Hub! I love Bach. I play classical guitar and also some pieces of Bach. He is definitely one of my favorites.

    • profile image
      Author 8 years ago

      thanks for dropping by mega1!

    • mega1 profile image

      mega1 8 years ago

      I kinda picture Bach expressing himself and his powerful beliefs with this awesome music and it always totally blows my mind! Thanks for giving this to us!

    • profile image
      Author 8 years ago

      @catherine glad you enjoyed the videos! thanks for your comment.

      @barryrutherford - "rollercoaster of emotions" I always find this piece gets in pretty deep with me too. Thanks for your comment.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 8 years ago from Queensland Australia

      I've been listening to Toccata & Fugue in D minor BWB 565 for decades now it never ceases to inspire. To me it reflects the rollercoaster of emotions that I and I guess others experience in life. Well done for writing on this. My favourites are on the organ. Sydney Opera House, Sydney Town Hall, Uniting Church,Collins Street, Melbourne.

      (now St Micheals)& some of the English Churches...

    • Catherine R profile image

      Catherine R 8 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      It is a magnificent piece and your choice of videos was great!

    • profile image
      Author 8 years ago

      thank-you James. Good to know another musician is hanging out here!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 8 years ago from Chicago

      Interesting piece. As a musician, I enjoyed your insights. Thanks.