Toccata, adagio & Fugue

Johann Sebastian Bach

Toccata, adagio & Fugue in C major


About this work

During his early days as a professional organist, Bach tinkered and toyed with all shapes, sizes, and kinds of non-chorale organ music, eventually perfecting the species of two-part toccata and fugue or prelude and fugue form so well known through such famous examples as the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 (ca. 1708). Only a single surviving work bears witness to the composer's passing interest in a three-part subspecies of that form: the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564, which has been attributed both to Bach's years in Weimar (1708-1717) and to the preceding period.

After a substantial, seemingly improvised (but of course carefully constructed) opening, the Toccata blossoms into wonderfully rich counterpoint in a pseudo-Baroque concerto style; some have heard Vivaldi's influence here, which would indicate a date of about 1713 or shortly thereafter. The Adagio is more often than not performed as a freestanding piece, both by organists and in a famous arrangement for cello. It is at its essence a melody with steadily plodding accompaniment. The Fugue takes up a long, multi-limbed subject with patches of broken triads and the same kind of quick, upper-pedal-point oscillation that characterizes the subject of the famous Fugue in BWV 565. Unlike that more famous work, however, this Fugue has no grandiose cadenza at the end, instead running its course in pure contrapuntal fashion with just slight embellishment at the cadence, followed by a brief coda.