Toccata and fugue in D minor

Toccata and fugue in D minor

BWV 565 by Leo van Doeselaar
St. Martin's Church, Groningen

  • Menu
  • 1. Toccata
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

The Exuberance of Youth

There is no Bach composition that has been used so often and for such diverse purposes in our day as the 'Toccata and fugue in D minor'

From Disney’s Fantasia to The Phantom of the Opera, the opening of this composition has provided many memorable moments. The secret is in the striking first note, accented with a mordent, followed by that brief, tense moment of silence and the overpowering descending series of notes (or variations on it, like in Pirates of the Caribbean). Unfortunately, Bach’s own score has not survived, which has led to many speculations on the creation date of this wild and original composition that is actually not very ‘Bach-like’.

Much would be explained if this toccata and fugue could be situated in Bach’s younger years in Arnstadt, as the organ there lacked a 16-foot register on the keyboard. In order to create the effect produced by a 16-foot register (which sounds an octave lower than a ‘normal’ 8-foot register), Bach probably used octave doubling, thus enabling the continuation of the resounding effect of the opening bars. In any case, this sort of octave doubling is not found in any of Bach’s later organ works. After the force of the ‘improvised’ toccata, the strictly directed fugue with its uninterrupted series of fast notes certainly sounds no less furious. Later on, Bach may have felt embarrassed about his crude, youthful ‘clavier hussar’ style, as his biographer Forkel called it, and put the work aside. A lot of his other early organ work has been lost completely. Fortunately, this ‘youthful lapse’ by Bach was preserved for posterity by the copyist Johannes Ringk.

 Like the prelude, the toccata is an unstructured form, in which keyboard players can give free rein to their imagination. But while Johann Gottfried Walther refers to the prelude simply as ‘ein Vorspiel’ in his Musikalisches Lexicon of 1732, he describes the toccata as a long piece in which both hands alternate, sometimes accompanied by long pedal notes. The marked freedom of the toccata is connected to the stylus phantasticus, which was popular in North Germany from the seventeenth century. This fanciful style of composition that had come over from Southern Europe was described by the same Walther as ‘freed from all constraint’. So it is remarkable that both the toccata and the prelude are often paired with the fugue, which is subject to strict compositional rules. Structure is lent to the whole, however, partly because the fugue derives its thematic material from the preceding part.

Toccata and fugue in D minor
organ works
Special notes
This work may be a transcription of a lost violin piece.
Undated copy by Johannes Ringk by Johannes Ringk, Preussischer Kulturbesitz Handschrift Mus. Ms. Bach P595

Extra videos

Organist Leo van Doeselaar

“In what way does Leo van Doeselaar resemble a chef?”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    2 May 2014
  • Recording date
    9 October 2013
  • Location
    St. Martin's Church, Groningen
  • Organist
    Leo van Doeselaar
  • Organ registration
    Tim Knigge
  • Organ
    Arp Schnitger, 1692
  • Producer
    Frank van der Weij
  • Film director
    Jan Van den Bossche, Frank van der Weij
  • Director of photography
    Jorrit Garretsen, Sal Kroonenberg
  • Music production, editing and mix
    Holger Schlegel
  • Film editors
    Leonie Hoever, Dylan Glyn Jones
  • Colorist
    Petro van Leeuwen
  • Production assistants
    Zoë de Wilde, Marco Meijdam
  • Acknowledgements
    Jan Haak

Help us to complete All of Bach

There are still many recordings to be made before the whole of Bach’s oeuvre is online. And we can’t complete the task without the financial support of our patrons. Please help us to complete the musical heritage of Bach, by supporting us with a donation!