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BWV 540, 'Toccata & Fugue in F Major'

J.S. Bach

The Toccata and Fugue in F Major, BWV 540 is an organ work written by J.S. Bach. The toccata is thought to be written after 1714, and the fugue before 1731. It is thought by some that Bach joined together two previously separate pieces to create this work.


The toccata starts with a large linear canon over a pedal point in F major. It is than followed by a pedal solo vamping material from the canon. The canon is reiterated with some variations in the dominant in C major. This is again followed by a long pedal solo. The two large flourishes cover 98 measures of the composition. The pedal solo cover 58 measures. The concerto movement exhibits a seven-part structure. The canons and pedal solos effect the departure from the home key of F to the dominant C, and the entire rest of the movement, with its concertante 3-part imitation and striking "proto-waltzes", constitute the harmonic return. This formal pattern is unique within Bach's ouvre. Bach has even included his own family name within the music: at one point in the pedal part may be successively found the notes (in the German language, on the first beat of four consecutive bars) B - A - C - H. In English, these notes are B flat, A, C and B natural. Rightly so Hermann Keller expresses his rapture as follows: " At the beginning the extensive linear construction of the two voices in canon, the proud calmness of the solos in the pedal, the piercing chord strokes, the fiery upswing of the second subject, the bold modulatory shifts, the inwardness of the three minor movements, the splendour of the end with the famous third inversion of the seventh chord, who would not be enthralled by that?" Because of the range of the pedal parts, the organ at Weissenfels, with a pedal compass of f1, may be the organ the composition was written on. The Toccata (as a prelude) is proportionally the largest of all Bach's works in the format of prelude-fugue. It is often treated as a show piece, with the ensuing fugue omitted. The Toccata's rhythmic signiature suggests a passepied or a musette, although the monumental scale of the movement does not support these characterizations. Nor does the harmonic adventurousness: 45 measures after the second pedal solo there is a dominant chord which resolves deceptively to the third-inversion dominant applied to the neapolitan. In particular, the doubled root is found to move outward in contrary chromatic motion to a major 9th; in the bass is a descending augmented unison, which absolutely could not be farther from the expected fifth. Bach implements this powerful deceptive cadence three times in the piece; it would not become idiomatic until Chopin and Tchaikovsky. (see below)


The double fugue is not well-known. The first subject in the fugue is chromatic and ornamental. The second subject has a lot of modulation shifts and is sometimes is initially presented as the counter-subject of the first. The Fugue is Bach's only thorough-going double fugue, where two subjects are exposed in separate sections and then combined to produce enhanced by the increasing rhythmic activity of the second subject and by the more frequent use of modulation in the final section of the fugue. The bravura of the F-Major toccata, with its pedal solos and manual virtuosity, contrasts sharply with the rather sober opening of the Fugue. Both represent two diverse aspects of Italian influence: the motoric rhythms and sequential passagework of the Toccata, and the traditional alla breve counterpoint of the Fugue, with its chromaticism, harmonic suspensions, and uninterrupted succession of subjects and answers. This use of treatment is very similar to the fugue of the Dorian Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538. Aria in F major, BWV 587, is believed to be a middle movement of this composition, thereby debunking the idea that Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564 is Bach's only 3-movement organ composition.

recorded/sequenced on the Reuter opus #822 pipe organ, February 19, 2008

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