Toccata & Fugue

Johann Sebastian Bach

Toccata & Fugue in E major


About this work

Once known as the Toccata in E major, J.S. Bach's Prelude and Fugue for organ in E major, BWV 566 is a comparatively early work that most scholars agree was probably composed sometime during the composer's residence at Arnstadt (1703 - 1707), during 1705 or 1706. BWV 566 is not a simple prelude and fugue type piece in two discrete and self-contained sections (very much the contrary), and the term toccata -- in the sense of an organ or other keyboard composition in which brilliant virtuoso passagework, declamatory and quasi-improvistory statements, and dense fugue are all thrown together and made to alternate with one another -- is as accurate as any other.

A blazing trail of single-line 16th notes jumpstarts the prelude portion of BWV 566, but as soon as it has spun its way to a cadence, a deep octave pedal-point chimes in and prompts a passage of rich, chorale-like polyphony, such as -- save for a few bars in which the pedals strut their virtuoso stuff -- will fill the rest of the prelude. The fugue itself, which uses a meandering, four and a half bar subject, is a fascinating structure. The first 99 bars are a wholly traditional High Baroque fugue, with exposition and episodes, further statements, and a full and strong close in E major at the end (in some manuscript copies BWV 566 ends here and many performers choose to do likewise), but then a series of scintillating scales bursts onto the scene and the entire fugue begins anew, recast in a new meter (3/4 as opposed to the former common time) and with a new dotted rhythm to the subject, this time building to a high-flying climax (or really a low-flying one, since it is the pedals that do the work) far more exhilarating than the one which ended the first half of the fugue, and thus truly indispensable to BWV 566 as a whole.