Toccata & Fugue

Johann Sebastian Bach

Toccata & Fugue in C minor


About this work

Like a handful of other J.S. Bach organ prelude and fugue-type pieces, the two musical bodies contained within the Fantasia and Fugue for organ in C minor, BWV 562 seem to have been composed at quite a chronological distance from one another, perhaps even, in the case of BWV 562, as many as 35 years apart from one another. What might have persuaded Bach to add, sometime around 1745, a fugue to a fantasia he had composed back during his tenure in Weimar (1708 - 1717) -- if it was in fact he who combined the two pieces and not one of his sons, students, or other followers -- is something that can never be known; it is known that this fugue addendum was never finished, it breaks off in the middle of the 27th bar.

The Fantasia of BWV 562 ranks among the finest of the fantasias and also among those most difficult to pull off, not on account of any blazing virtuoso difficulty -- quite the contrary -- but rather because it relies so heavily on a single, one-measure generative theme, passing it around amongst the five contrapuntal voices (even the pedal bass, though it more often sticks with long-held pedal-points) and occasionally spinning out into new thoughts and gestures from it. The absolute steadiness and unhurriedness of the Fantasia -- only at the very end do the first 16th notes appear -- make these 81 bars seem a truly imposing structure, while the gently jarring chromatic pivots and rich suspensions that fill the piece draw out the best of that most juicy of Baroque keys, C minor.

The Fugue's compact subject is built from a basic long/short (half/quarter) rhythm, with pickup, in 6/4 meter. The exposition of the five voices has been completed and a remarkable passage in four-voice stretto has begun when the score abruptly ends.