Toccata and Fugue in D minor

SATURDAY, May 21, 2020

Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565

BWV is short for Bach Werke Verzeichnis, meaning a list or index attempting to put all of Bach’s works into a logical order based on his life and when he wrote his music. But in some cases this BWV number is absolutely meaningless, nothing but a guess. We have absolutely no idea when this was written, and experts do not agree that it was written by Bach – or that it was not written by Bach. We just don’t know for sure who wrote this.

The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is perhaps now the most famous piece of music every written for organ. So obviously it’s logical to think it was a huge success from the time it written, but it was nearly lost.  Part of it’s present popularity may be due to Leopold Stokowski and Disney’s Fantasia, since Fantasia was a huge success and this piece was part of that. It was, however, Stokowski’s version was an arrangement for orchestra.

Helmut Walcha

He was blinded at age 19, supposedly from a smallpox vaccination. As a bizarre footnote that should give all the anti-vaccination people fuel for their arguments. But more important, his life story is one of triumph over the kind of adversity that would destroy most human beings, and the playing is out of this world. His recordings of this particular piece are a bit confusing, because there are several renditions on YouTube that are mono, which would be from earlier. This recording claims to be remastered. It seems to be the same as another recording supposedly from later, and that one is obviously stereo, but in the later one there is a blip between the toccata and fugue. This one here has some kind of error several seconds after the end, which I find much less irritating. So far I can hear no difference between the two performances.


5 thoughts on “Toccata and Fugue in D minor

  1. Even though I’ve heard this before, I haven’t heard the full version. The difference between the parts I’ve heard and the parts I haven’t heard are sometimes major and sometimes minor. The new parts just sound different compared to the parts I’ve heard.

  2. My favorite organist when I was a kid was Marie-Claire Allain. She had such a wonderfully wild sense of coloring, probably due to her exposure to people like Franck, Durufle, etc — and the wildly colorful French Symphonic organs.

    But then, in 1987 or so, my organ teacher introduced me to Helmut Walcha’s way of doing organ. Perhaps because he’s blind, he’s got this fantastic sense of coloring, but in a restrained way. He didn’t write down registrations, so only he and his assistants knew what he used.

    To this day, he remains my standard for Bach organ. His coloring, the tempos he chooses, the way where he can be metronomic yet flexible — it’s like he was put on Earth just to play Bach.. he recorded three sets of the entire works, as far as I know, and then he went away. Probably to do it again in some other planet ;o)

    Too many people use all principals, all the time. That’s boring. With Walcha you’re never bored.

  3. It’s a piece many of us have been exposed to, myself included. But I have never heard it played like this. There is something about timing that I can’t explain. I just love it.

  4. After hearing this version I listened to it being played on the piano. The organ has a fuller sound, the notes linger. You need fast fingers to play this piece.


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