Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Johann Sebastian Bach

Several pieces in Johann Sebastian Bach's output have gone almost entirely unperformed. This Toccata in e minor is among the best represented of all of the manualiter (or hands only) toccatas that Bach wrote, but still few people know it. Most likely originally written in Bach's earliest period (before 1708), this work is an excellent example of how Bach learned to compose; it is clear that the piece underwent some stylistic revision. The opening is reminiscent of some of Bach's organ works with rather pompous statements in the bass in contrast with what occurs in the upper voices. This section is relatively understated in comparison with the other six toccatas, all of which begin with scalar and arpeggiated passages which display the performers virtuosity. This is followed by a fugato-like passage which is highly chromatic and harmonically unstable. It is not unlike many of the other second sections in the other toccatas, except in its greater contrapuntal strictness. The following movement, an adagio, is marked by the term "Praeludium" in one of the manuscripts. This leads some scholars to believe that this section, along with the following fugue, comprised the original work and that the two preceding movements were later additions. In any event, this section is highly fantasia-like, with each chord receiving almost excessive embellishment. The final movement, an extended fugue, is one of the most enigmatic for Bach scholars, for its subject is identical to an anonymous fugue found in an earlier Italian manuscript. Additionally, the work also has a number of nearly similar similarities which show that Bach knew the work well when he composed (or perhaps, recomposed) his own. Such "plagiarism" was in fact a form of flattery in the Baroque period. However, Bach "improved" upon the earlier fugue, using a greater range of harmonic areas, more idiomatic keyboard writing (the other, though written for keyboard seems more appropriate for violin in many respects) and a richer melodic texture.