Toccata, adagio and fugue in C major
BWV 564 performed by Reitze Smits
St Jacob's Church, Leeuwarden
Behind the music
Bachs 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, and make the solo 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.
But after so many fireworks, Bach’s audience are given no respite whatsoever. Following a surprise plenum, the continuation of the first movement (this toccata has three movements – fast-slow-fast) 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, a technique that was also in fashion in Germany thanks to publications of Frescobaldi’s music.
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, instead of thinning them out. Not in this performance, 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
- Release date
- 8 May 2015
- Recording date
- 15 September 2014
- St Jacob's Church, Leeuwarden
- Reitze Smits
- Organ registration
- Mayuko Banno
- Christian Müller, 1727
- Frank van der Weij
- Film director
- Jan Van den Bossche
- Directors of photography
- Diderik Evers, Ruben van den Broeke
- Music production, editing and mix
- Holger Schlegel
- Film editor
- Dylan Glyn Jones
- Jef Grosfeld
- Production assistant
- Hanna Schreuders
- Onno van Ameijde
- Rob Tigchelaar
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