Although the most popular of all organ toccatas by Johann Sebastian Bach is the legendary Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, perhaps even more masterful is the splendid and brilliant Toccata and Fugue in F Major, BWV 540.
This composition might have been created in Weimar when the true compositional style of a master composer was formed. Virtuosic Toccata and Fugue in F Major usually is a true technical and mental challenge for many skilled organists. If performed well, it is a real treat for every organ music lover and listener. Otherwise, it has the potential to create a sense boredom.
The Toccata leaves the impression of a chase between voices and begins with a prolonged and playful two voice canon over a long tonic pedal point (Idea A). After this canon Bach writes another virtuosic episode - a pedal solo in the tonic key which leads to a cadence in the Dominant - C major.
Now the voice parts switch places and the canon begins all over again, only this time in the Dominant key (C major). These two sections serve to establish both the Tonic and the Dominant keys and have a function, similar to the North German Passaggio in a Praeludium.
After this episode, the chase stops but all voices begin a long and tiring journey (for the performer, that is) through various related keys in descending and ascending sequences (Idea B based on arpeggio figure). Through the course of this Toccata, canonic idea A and sequential idea B alternate and create an intriguing structural balance.
In developing the idea A, Bach evidently shows his mastery of a double and sometimes even triple invertible counterpoint at the interval of an octave. This basically is a technique allowing voice switching. It only works if the composer uses the suitable intervals (most of the time thirds and sixths, avoiding fifths which in inversion become a forbidden fourth). Suspensions of a second and seventh are welcomed in this technique, too.
Because of repeating two musical ideas, this Toccata shows the influence of the Italian Ritornello form. Bach learned to use this form in Weimar from transcribing for keyboard the concertos of Vivaldi and his contemporaries.
The fugue, on the other hand, provides a welcomed relaxation for the organist from the technical point of view. However, Bach provides another challenge, e.g. old-fashioned "Palestrina" style fugue with alla breve meter (cut-time) in Style antico (the old style).
This is a double fugue, which means that a composer has to develop two musical themes. Both of the themes must work in invertible counterpoint with each other. In the exposition and counter-exposition of the first theme, Bach develops the solemn, slow, and vocal musical idea in all four voices.
The second theme appears to be playful, dance-like, which reminds of a Baroque dance Gavotte. During this section, the pedal part remains silent and waits its entrance until the powerful combination of both themes towards the close of a fugue. While listening of the fugue in this wonderful video, feel free to count the number of appearances of the first theme.
I recommend using the New Bach Edition for playing this piece. It is reliable and solid.
By the way, do you want to learn to play the King of Instruments - the pipe organ? If so, download my FREE video guide: "How to Master Any Organ Composition" here: http://www.organduo.lt/organ-tutorial.html
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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