I first learned to play Bach's Toccata and Fugue in F major, BWV 540 some 15 years ago when I was a student at Eastern Michigan University.
I remember my professor Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra sharing her idea with me about the amazing opening canon between the two upper parts.
"It's like two squirrels chasing each other", she said.
What happens after this canon is one of the most impressive pedal solos in Bach's output which is followed by an inverted canon and another pedal solo in the Dominant key.
What happens next?
Well, maybe the two squirrels join forces. Maybe they perform pirouettes in imitation jumping from the tallest to the shortest pine-tree.
It all continues for quite some time until the end of the Toccata.
The fugue is another matter all together. It doesn't have the playfulness of the Toccata. It's a double fugue, the first part being written in a tradition of the old ricercar (Stile antico) with long note values.
Maybe the squirrels are tired after jumping for so long and they fell asleep and maybe they are having a dream about the tallest oak in their neighborhood and on top of that oak seing a giant acorn.
The second theme of the fugue reminds of Gavotte with its long-short-short rhythms (Figura corta) which symbolizes joy in the Baroque rhetorical language.
Apparently the squirrels have climbed this oak and started to work joyfully on cracking this giant acorn.
In the last third of the fugue, the two themes join forces because Bach skillfully combines them in invertible counterpoint.
Here our squirrels perhaps call on help of their friends and relatives and finally they can have a solemn and festive acorn dinner together (except it's all a dream, remember?).
BWV 540 is a long composition (15 pages). In fact, it might be a very boring piece to listen to, if the organist ignores the fantastic harmonic devices, modulations and imitations and takes it too seriously.
At the request of some of our students, I'm releasing today my new 15 week BWV 540 Training. It has training videos and a practice score with complete fingering and pedaling for easy and efficient practice (50% discount is valid until October 26).
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.