Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach explored a wide variety of compositional models in the formative years before and during his first major tenure in Weimar (which began in 1708); this Toccata in D major is an excellent example of such experimentation. Falling loosely into the North German toccata style, it in fact embodies a potpourri of formal types. An early copy of the work confirms that it was intended for the organ, even though no pedal parts are in evidence. In fact, the Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532 for organ is remarkably similar in structure to this work, and, given Bach's propensity to reuse and recycle, probably was a reworking of sorts.

Like most toccatas, this one has several sections. The piece opens with brilliant yet almost crude scale and chordal passages, more idiomatic to the organ than to the harpsichord. The scales are interrupted by a rather jarring arpeggio which leads into a tremolo (rather atypical for Bach). This concludes and proceeds into a rather cheerful allegro. Though never modulating away from D major for long, the arrangement of voices and registers sustains this section until its end. The ensuing adagio passage is recitative-like in character until a dramatic interruption of descending scales, which remind the listener of the less structured opening. This section continues without pause into a fugue, which begins in F sharp minor. Unlike most of Bach's fugues, this one states the subject and countersubject simultaneously from the beginning. Certainly the most mature passage of this work, the fugue hints at many unusual harmonic regions and utilizes dense chromaticism throughout its development. This fugue proceeds, again without pause, into a freely composed quasi-improvisatory section, which explodes into a fast scalar passage with dramatic harmonic implications. Finally, without pause again, the piece bursts into a second, rather quaint, fugue for the end. Although it has a subject, it serves more as a harmonic grounding rather than a melody. Indeed, the piece is more of a vehicle for virtuosity than a display of compositional proficiency.