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Toccata and Fugue

Updated on November 3, 2019

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!

Amy Turk


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