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At-A-Glance

Length: c. 11 minutes

Orchestration: solo piano

About this Piece

J.S. Bach was but a year shy of his 30th birthday when he completed his ambitious C-minor Toccata, yet the work would remain unpublished for another 125 years. Among his early works, it was not uncommon for pieces to go unpublished or vanish altogether. The C-minor Toccata owes a great deal to Bach’s youthful idol, Johann Buxtehude, the organist-composer synonymous with the Northern-German style of Baroque organ composition and performance. (In such high esteem did Bach hold the older composer that nearly a decade earlier, in 1705, he set out on foot for Lübeck, some 300 miles from his native Arnstadt, to hear the 68-year-old master perform at the organ). Bach’s Toccata makes much of the contrasts between free, improvisatory-sounding music and more tightly organized, contrapuntal sections. The fugue is based on a rather conventional subject that is triadic in its outline. The counterpoint here is not encumbered by the complexity or rigor found in fugues such as those comprising the two volumes of The Well-Tempered Clavier. And while most of this Toccata is comprised of elegant contrapuntal writing, Bach includes ample opportunity for those virtuoso displays of technical finger work so characteristic of the Toccata as a genre.

— David Fick