Bach's Toccata in D minor - Really Bach?

I love this most famous piece of organ music, but I can’t help but think he didn’t write the Toccata.

The fugue has his fingerprints ALL over it, but there’s nothing else in his body of work that seems like the Toccata.

Is there some chance that a student’s interesting piece inspired him to follow up with a fugue, then the whole shebang ended up being associated with JSB?

I believe that Bach wrote that piece when he was eighteen years old. He was little more than a student himself. I’m unaware of any historical evidence that he didn’t really write it.

Hmmm…according to this site, there is no original manuscript and no solid proof that Bach did compose it. It also contains some stylistic details that would be anamolous for Bach. The linked site also speculates that it may have been written by Bach but for violin not for organ:

Sounds reasonable to me.

Warning IMO material:

Like almost all of Bach’s most popular pieces, it’s hardly his best, and, it’s often very badly played.

Many of the motifs of the toccata have echoes in other pieces. What exactly bothers you in it? Are you talking more about the micro or macro structure?

Apparently there was some doubt in the past as to whether Bach had written it. I have, coincidentally, a Dover edition of various preludes, toccatas, fugues, and fantasias that were not believed to be written by Bach when Dover published other volumes of Bach’s organ works. The famous d minor toccata BWV 565–apparently he wrote at least one other d minor toccata-fugue pair–is included.

It’s possible that Bach transcribed another work for organ. That would explain why it doesn’t ‘sound like Bach’ to most of us but still has some of his character in it. He did this very often, and for two reasons:

His elder brother and teacher didn’t want him to study composition, so his main method of learning when younger was to transcribe or copy works by previous masters in secret.

The original piece was an orchestral work, possibly Italian, that he wanted to perform. However, certain points in his career he didn’t have sufficient forces at his disposal to form the chamber orchestra required. The next best mode of performance would have been organ, so he rewrote the piece for organ in order to play it.

I have heard both scenarios cited in reference to BWV 565 but never with much evidence one way or the other. I’ve also never researched that piece myself, so there may be some.

I’m not sure whether to call it macro or micro. It bothers me that much of the toccata is played as octaves (that is, the right and left hands playing the same things.)

The long pauses in the beginning seem overly dramatic for Bach, as do the big minor chords.

Understand, I’m not a serious musician or scholar. I’m just an average fan of the master.

Hmm. Violin. That makes some sense. I can easily hear those triplets and runs being played on a violin.

The toccata sounds great for a mad scientist, but are any of Bach’s other pieces a close second?

Nangleator wouldn’t be the only one to feel this way. Or did you come here after reading this page?

Basically, the idea was suggested by Peter Williams in Early Music vol. 10, July 1981, pp. 330-337, but as the author of the page mentions, the conclusions are not universally accepted. Such is the case with nearly all musicology.

Personally, I’d like to get my hands on Williams’ reconstruction for violin, to see what it plays like.

I’ve read a fair amount of the literature on Bach’s organ works and do not recall anyone suggesting the d-minor (“the infamous”, I call it) was not written by JSB; there is general agreement that he wrote it in his teens. The stylistic differences between this piece and his later works are no real problem - once he figured out what he was doing he stopped turning out tripe like this (I’m half-kidding). Better to compare this with his other early works (the ones that never appear on “Best of Bach” LPs).

The unsigned item Diogenes provides a link to doesn’t provide much of use. The lack of an autograph (original) of the d-minor is no matter - we possess few autographs of Bach’s organ works (and some of the manuscript copies that were the source for early printed editions have since shuffled off into that good night). The suggestion that it may have been transcribed from a work for solo violin has merit. Young Bach was also a competent violinist, and this wouldn’t be the only time he recycled an idea. (But note that it is possible the anonymous author refered to above may have confused the d-minor Toccata and Fugue with a d-minor Prelude and Fugue which Bach transcribed from a piece he had done for strings.)

When did I get to be so boring??

P.S.: I hate it when a cell phone cuts loose with the theme of the d-minor fugue (is there a cell phone anywhere in this universe that merely rings?

Re: other “mad scientist” pieces by JSB:

The great g-minor Fantasia comes to mind. It has a number of interesting transitions and progressions (a few of which may never have been seen before or since); especially noteworthy is the passage where the manual voices slowly creep upward chromatically whilst the pedals execute an “unending” downward sequence.

The C minor Passacaglia also makes decent mad-scientist music.

Also, are we asking if Bach composed the d minor toccata? There’s plenty to say that he transcribed or arranged the toccata, although there’s a slight chance it’s all original material. Even if it is transcribed, it probably wouldn’t sound much different than if he had composed it at a young age. Young composers frequently imitate older works, deliberately or subconsciously. For the purpose of appreciating the music, does it matter whether it’s entirely original? As my music history professor is fond of saying: “Whenever Bach borrows, he returns the principal with interest.”

Sir Francis Bacon wrote the piece and I wrote all of Bach’s sonnets.

Actually, the ornamentation and embellishment all seem to ring true. As with the violin transcription, many of the passages also play rather easily on the flute. Bach performed on both of these instruments so it might point to an originally orchestral arrangement.

Damn, I came into this thread excited, since I might actually have something to contribute. But, it seems that all the angles have already been covered, so I’ll keep it short.

In Bach’s day it was very common for composers to arrange/transcribe/freely borrow from each others work. It isn’t rare for a musicologist working in the present time to discover that a work hundreds of years old has been attributed to the wrong composer. The reasons are varied: a student’s work found among the papers of a famous composer is attributed to the teacher rather than the student (or vice versa), a publisher may mistakenly (or not) list the composition under a different composer’s name, and with frequent borrowing and arranging it is nearly impossible to track down the original sources for a work.

Keep in mind that this is not a science, it’s musicology, and definite answers are hard to find. The best I can offer is a statement from a teacher I once had who had done some research on the famous Tocatta- it almost definitely was not originally for organ, it probably wasn’t written by Bach, and if it was it is most likely a transcription rather than an original. I wish now I had grilled him further, but since early music wasn’t (and isn’t) my specialty, I didn’t think I would ever use the information again.

Whether Bach wrote it or not, I do wish to add that The Toy Dolls perform a rockin’ (or if you prefer, rokken) version of Toccata in D minor.

Also, can anyone more knowledgeble in music than I tell me what exactly a toccata is?

Basically, a toccata is a term applied to a virtuosic warm up that a performer (usually a keyboardist or violinist) would play before a piece. The term doesn’t refer to any formal guidelines but merely to music that sounds improvisatory in nature (lots of flashy scales and arpeggios, using as wide a range on the instrument as possible…). Back in the day these would usually be made up on the spot, but that’s not very common today unfortunately.

No one seems to have a clear answer on what, really, a toccata is. To be vague, it’s a later outgrowth of the ricercare–quasi-improvisatory and virtuosic, and nearly always for keyboard–probably organ, occaisionally harpsichord. Depending on length, date of composition, and other things, a piece with similar characteristics might be called a fantasia, toccata, ricercare, or prelude–because it often sounded like a keyboardist warming up before a performance. A fantasia is so named because of the free nature of the construction of the piece.

I was walking down a street in Stuttgart a few years ago (I say that like it’s an everyday thing; I’ve only been to Europe once), and I saw a couple of musicians setting up. I didn’t think I’d have time to stop and listen, but as I was walking away they started to play the Toccata. On two accordions. And it kicked ass.

They played the full Toccata and Fugue, and then Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I wouldn’t have thought that you could make that music work on accordion, but these two guys pulled it off. I got to hear Bach in Germany, it was fantastic.