The Dorian Toccata

(Feb 18, 2019)

A virtuoso organ work…

This is from the Baroque period, J.S. Bach. Here you see a player, Marco Den Toom, jumping back and forth over three keyboards, and his feet are playing about as fast most people can move their fingers. You may not think of playing the organ as athletic, but the coordination it takes to do this is beyond belief.

The nickname, “Dorian”, is not from Bach. It is from the key signature used, which has no sharps or flats. The notes D E F G A B C D would be the Dorian mode. Bach’s music is clearly in D minor. He just chose not to put Bb in the key signature.


13 thoughts on “The Dorian Toccata

  1. I enjoyed this piece very much. I like organ music. It has an ethereal quality.

    When I volunteered at a day care center someone played popular tunes on an organ and we sang along. I thought he was good at it. It seems like a difficult instrument to play.

  2. Sounds amazing but the actions he did to play it is even more amazing cause of playing fast with his hands while at the same time using his feet while not looking down to see the notes he was playing. I was dazed while seeing this.

    1. Safath, I don’t play the organ. When I was young I wanted to, but I had no opportunity. What these guys do on organs is just wizardry to me. I understand what the hands do, but how they get both feet going just blows my mind!

    1. I don’t play organ at all, but I know for my students coordinating both hands at the same time is difficult. How these organists coordinate the feet together with their hands is sorcery to me.

  3. I wanted to understand “The notes D E F G A B C D would be the Dorian mode. That is not what Bach wrote at all.” …..though I assumed it meant he did not just use the white notes.

    To that end, I happened to run into the performance below and the reason I’m posting it is that we often have a clear view of the keyboard (and pedals, which are configured like a keyboard, it seems) and we can see that black keys are pressed.

  4. I very much enjoyed this piece. I found out it is actually called “Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538 (catalog)” and this is the “toccata” part. Wikki says that a toccata in that era had “full chords, rapid runs, high harmonies, and other virtuoso elements designed to show off the performer’s ‘touch.'” That may explain the breathtaking nature of this music.

    Looking up the full name gives us a lot of things to listen to for students who, like me, always want to learn more. 🙂 I especially enjoyed this one.

    1. Complete disclosure: I don’t know anything about organs or how to play them. I’d like to get info from organ players. But I don’t like this performance for two reasons:

      1. The Toccata is loud from beginning to end. For me there is no build.
      2. Everything runs together, which will always happen in churches. But the other guy I linked to played staccato in much of it, and that makes it cleaner.

      It could be the purists will say that the modern organ, which appears to be electric (not the pipes but the controls), is cheating. But I like it better than this sound. I don’t know if another player could make more contrast. I like the idea of starting quieter and building to the end.


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