Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Johann Sebastian Bach

Though Johann Sebastian Bach's works are among the most widely known of any composer, there are several compositions in his oeuvre which a relatively underplayed. This work, the Toccata in d minor, is no exception. Though the pedaliter toccatas (or toccatas intended for organ with pedal) have received great attention, the manualiter toccatas (for hands only) do not attract many performers. Though this work is very early, probably dating before 1712, Bach cared enough about it to revise it, reworking some of the passages to create greater contrapuntal interest. This particular toccata was the first of its kind to be put into print (though long after Bach's death) in 1801. The piece opens with a relatively stark solo passage which is reminiscent of the opening pedal solos in many of Bach's organ works. Continuing, Bach writes more idiomatic virtuoso writing, with grand scales and arpeggios. The piece then moves to a four-part contrapuntal section, the form of which is based on the German motet. In contrast with the relatively transparent opening, this section passes through many harmonic regions and uses a rather dramatic rhetoric. After concluding soundly, Bach writes a rather unusual fugue which is labeled in some sources as "Thema." This seems to suggest that the subject was borrowed from some other source (a technique common to the Baroque, and one which was considered a form of flattery rather than plagiarism). The fugue rather well worked out, in comparison with other early fugues. The strict counterpoint gives way to a freely composed fantasia section, much like the opening. An adagio follows (marked adagissimo in the manuscript), which again contains common Baroque rhetorical gestures (such as the "sigh"). It concludes with a brief passage marked "presto" which sets up the final fugue. This final fugue, which is unusual in that it states the subject and countersubject initially (like the first fugue in the Toccata in D major BWV 912), is closely related to the first one in that the opening subject is quite similar to the earlier one. Unlike many of Bach's later fugues, this one, towards the end, begins to break down into a more homophonic texture, building the dramatic intensity to climax before conclusion (though it reverts back to contrapuntal form before the end).