Toccata, adagio and fugue in C major

Toccata, adagio and fugue in C major

BWV 564 performed by Reitze Smits
St Jacob's Church, Leeuwarden

  • Menu
  • Toccata
  • Adagio
  • Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Bach’s better legwork

Fresh inspiration from Buxtehude led to a wonderful work - complete with impressive pedal solo

Bach’s hike from Arnstadt to Lübeck in 1705 is a well-known story. We know that he extended his leave far too long, maybe to look for a job or to get married. And we can assume that he went to study with one of the greatest organists of the day: Dietrich Buxtehude. It was surely no coincidence that a few years later Bach based the athletic pedal solo in this Toccata on Buxtehude’s Prelude, BuxWV 137 - a work that incidentally is only known to us from Bach’s copy.

Of course Bach would not be Bach if he had not tried to outdo his great example: the solo is longer and more complex, thus exploring the whole instrument. In addition, the work opens with a solo that is almost equally amazing and which uses all the registers of the keyboard. Maybe Bach used it for testing new organs, as he often did in his Weimar period? Whatever the case, he must have impressed his audience with it. After so many fireworks, Bach’s audience are given no respite whatsoever. The first movement races on with two infectious, alternating themes. Towards the end, Bach revisits all the octaves, this time in a minor key.

The excitement also continues to the end of the second movement, which is a drawn-out solo for the right hand, with continuo accompaniment from the other limbs. In the section marked ‘grave’, Bach indulges in durezze: overlapping clusters of chords in dissonant combinations. This is a technique that was also in fashion in Germany in Bach’s time, thanks to publications of the music of composer Frescobaldi.

The exuberant closing fugue is remarkable for its length and for the light-hearted combination of a jumpy theme with ‘gaps’ and a flowing counter-theme that fills in those gaps, which is quite unique for Bach. There is no manuscript source, so we will never know whether Bach actually intended the final chord to be so brief and the pedal to fall silent a couple of bars before the end. This curiosity has inspired some organists to open up all the registers again. Not in this performance for All of Bach, however, which follows one of the early copies to a rather abrupt and quiet ending.

Toccata, adagio and fugue in C major
organ works
First copies in ca. 1719 and 1726/27

Extra videos

Organist Reitze Smits

“A spectacular pedal solo in the Toccata, a beautiful Adagio with a striking ending, and an unusual Fugue theme with ‘strange gaps’. Reitze Smits talks us through BWV 564.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    8 May 2015
  • Recording date
    15 September 2014
  • Location
    St Jacob's Church, Leeuwarden
  • Organist
    Reitze Smits
  • Organ registration
    Mayuko Banno
  • Organ
    Christian Müller, 1727
  • Film director
    Jan Van den Bossche
  • Directors of photography
    Diderik Evers, Ruben van den Broeke
  • Music production, edition and mix
    Holger Schlegel
  • Film editor
    Dylan Glyn Jones
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde
  • Colorist
    Jef Grosfeld
  • Producer
    Frank van der Weij
  • Production assistant
    Hanna Schreuders
  • Acknowledgement
    Rob Tigchelaar

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