Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565

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"Toccata and Fugue in D minor" redirects here. For the "Dorian" Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538, see Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538.
Fragment of the first page of BWV 565 in Johannes Ringk's handwriting. Bach's autograph does not survive, and this is the only known near-contemporary source.

The Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, is a piece of organ music attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach. First published in 1833 through the efforts of Felix Mendelssohn, the piece quickly became popular, and is now one of the most famous works in the organ repertoire. Since the 1970s, some scholars have challenged the attribution of the piece to Bach.


As with most Bach organ works, no autograph manuscript of BWV 565 survives. The only near-contemporary source is an undated copy by Johannes Ringk, an organist whose collection preserved a number of works by seventeenth-century masters.[1] The title of the piece is given in Ringk's manuscript as Toccata Con Fuga. It is most probably a later addition, similar to the title of Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, BWV 564, because in the Baroque era such organ pieces would most commonly be called simply Prelude (Praeludium, etc.) or Prelude and Fugue.[2] Ringk's copy abounds in Italian tempo markings, fermatas (a characteristic feature of Ringk's copies) and staccato dots, all very unusual features for pre–1740 German music. All later manuscript copies that are known today originate directly or indirectly with Ringk's.[1]

BWV 565 exhibits a typical simplified north German structure with a free opening (toccata), a fugal section (fugue), and a short free closing section. The connection to the north German organ school was noted early by Bach biographer Philipp Spitta in 1873.[3] However, the numerous recitative stretches are rarely found in the works of northern composers and may have been inspired by Johann Heinrich Buttstett,[4] whose few surviving free works, particularly his Prelude and Capriccio in D minor, exhibit similar features. A passage in the fugue of BWV 565 is an exact copy of a phrase in one of Johann Pachelbel's D minor fantasias, and the first half of the subject is based on this Pachelbel passage as well.[5] It was common practice at the time to create fugues on other composers' themes, and a number of such pieces by Bach are known (BWV 574, 579, 950, etc.); moreover, the bass pattern of the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, is borrowed from André Raison's organ passacaglia, also using only the first half of Raison's passage (just the way BWV 565 borrows from Pachelbel).

Another feature of the composition, highlighted by Bach biographers such as Klaus Eidam, is that the piece is excellent to test the technical qualities of an organ. For instance the crescendo that builds up through arpeggios, gradually building up to using hundreds of pipes at the same time, can show exactly at what point the wind system of the organ may let down. In this sense some of the more unusual characteristics of the piece can be explained as fitting in Bach's capacity as an organ tester.[6]

Both parts performed in 1928 by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. Total run time is 8 minutes, 53 seconds.

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The work was first published by Breitkopf & Härtel in late 1833 as part of a collection of Bach's organ works. The edition was conceived and partly prepared by Felix Mendelssohn, who had BWV 565 in his repertoire already by 1830.[7] Mendelssohn's opinion of the piece, expressed in one of his letters, was that it was "at the same time learned and something for the [common] people."[8] The first major public performance was also by Mendelssohn, on 6 August 1840 in Leipzig. The concert was very well received by the critics, among them Robert Schumann.[9] Later in the 19th century, Franz Liszt adopted the piece into his organ repertoire, and a piano transcription was made by Liszt's pupil Carl Tausig, which gained substantial fame. Another popular transcription was completed in 1899 by Ferruccio Busoni. In the 20th century, an orchestral version of the piece, created by Leopold Stokowski, popularized the work further when it was included in Walt Disney's film Fantasia, released in 1940.[10]

The work's famous opening drew attention and praise already from Schumann, who, however, admired it as an example of Bach's sense of humor.[11] In the 20th century the work was generally viewed very differently, as a bold and dramatic piece. Musicologist Hermann Keller, writing in 1948, described the opening bars' unison passages as "descending like a lightning flash, the long roll of thunder of the broken chords of the full organ, and the stormy undulation of the triplets."[12] A similar view has been expressed by noted Bach scholar and former director of Bach-Archiv Leipzig, Hans-Joachim Schulze:

Here is elemental and unbounded power, in impatiently ascending and descending runs and rolling masses of chords, that only with difficulty abates sufficiently to give place to the logic and balance of the fugue. With the reprise of the initial Toccata, the dramatic idea reaches its culmination amidst flying scales and with an ending of great sonority.[13]

Writing in 2005, organist and Bach scholar Hans Fagius commented that while the authorship issue may remain unresolved, the enduring popularity of the work is not difficult to understand, since there is "a fantastic drive and energy to the piece that simply make it irresistible."[14]


The Toccata begins with a single-voice flourish in the upper ranges of the keyboard, doubled at the octave. It then spirals toward the bottom, where a diminished seventh chord appears (which actually implies a dominant chord with a minor 9th against a tonic pedal), built one note at a time. This resolves into a D major chord:

\new Score <<
  \new PianoStaff <<
    \new Staff <<
      \new Voice \relative c''' {
        \set PianoStaff.connectArpeggios = ##t
        \override Score.NonMusicalPaperColumn #'line-break-permission = ##f
        \tempo Adagio
        a8 \fermata \mordent b,32 \rest g'64 f e d cis32 d16 b \rest b8 \rest \fermata
        a \fermata \mordent b32 \rest e, f cis d16 b' \rest b8 \rest \fermata |
        s2. \oneVoice <bes, cis e>4 ~ \arpeggio
        <bes cis e>4 d
      \new Voice \relative c'' {
        a8 \fermata \mordent s32 g64 f e d cis32 d16 s8. s2 |
        s4 a
    \new Staff <<
      \new Voice \relative c' {
        \clef "bass"
        s2 a8 \fermata \mordent d,32 \rest e f cis d16 d \rest d8 \rest \fermata |
        a'8 \fermata \mordent d,32 \rest g64 f e d cis32 d16 d16 \rest d8 \rest \fermata d4 \rest <cis e g>4 ~ \arpeggio |
        <cis e g> ~ g'16 e fis8
      \new Voice \relative c {
        a8 \fermata \mordent s32 g64 f e d cis32 d16 s8. s2 |
        s4 d'4
  \new Staff \relative c, {
    \clef "bass"
    R1 |
    r2  d ~ |
Run time is 8 minutes, 45 seconds. Performed by Ashtar Moïra on organ

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Three short passages follow, each reiterating a short motif and doubled at the octave. The section ends with a diminished seventh chord which resolved into the tonic, D minor, through a flourish. The second section of the Toccata is a number of loosely connected figurations and flourishes; the pedal switches to the dominant key, A minor. This section segues into the third and final section of the Toccata, which consists almost entirely of a passage doubled at the sixth and comprising reiterations of the same three-note figure, similar to doubled passages in the first section. After a brief pedal flourish, the piece ends with a D minor chord.

The subject of the four-voice fugue is made up entirely of sixteenth notes, with an implied pedal point set against a brief melodic subject that first falls, then rises. Such violinistic figures are frequently encountered in Baroque music and that of Bach, both as fugue subjects and as material in non-imitative pieces.[5][15] Unusually, the answer is in the subdominant key, rather than the traditional dominant. Although technically a four-part fugue, most of the time there are only three voices, and some of the interludes are in two, or even one voice (notated as two). Although only simple triadic harmony is employed throughout the fugue, there is an unexpected C minor subject entry, and furthermore, a solo pedal statement of the subject—a unique feature for a Baroque fugue.[16] Immediately after the final subject entry, the composition resolves to a sustained B major chord. A multi-sectional coda follows, marked Recitativo. Although only 17 bars long, it progresses through five tempo changes. The last bars are played Molto adagio, and the piece ends with a minor plagal cadence.

As was common practice for German music of the 17th century, the intended registration is not specified, and performers' choices vary from simple solutions such as organo pleno to exceedingly complex ones, such as Liszt's preference for glockenspiel stop for Prestissimo triplets in the opening section, and the quintadena stop for repeated notes in bars 12–15.[17]


Some of the earliest publications to raise the authorship question were articles by Walter Emery (1966)[18] and Friedrich Blume (1965),[19] and Roger Bullivant's book Fugue (1971).[20] Ten years after Bullivant's volume, a paper by musicologist Peter Williams was published, dealing specifically with BWV 565 and outlining a number of stylistic problems present in the piece.[21] These included, but were not limited to, the following, all either unique or extremely rare for organ music of the period the toccata is allegedly from:

  • Parallel octaves throughout the opening of the toccata
  • True subdominant answers in the fugue
  • A pedal statement of the subject, unaccompanied by other voices (also in Bullivant, and mentioned elsewhere[16])
  • Primitive harmonies throughout the piece, with countersubjects in the fugue frequently moving through thirds and sixths only
  • Conclusion of the piece on a minor plagal cadence (also in Bullivant)

In 1998 the issue was explored in a book-length study by the musicologist Rolf-Dietrich Claus.[22] In 2006, a statistical analysis supported the validity of the authorship question concerning the fugue of BWV 565.[23] Several theories concerning the authorship of the work were put forward by scholars. For example, the piece may have been created by another composer who must have been born in the beginning of the 18th century, since details of style (such as triadic harmony, spread chords, and the use of solo pedal) may indicate post–1730, or even post–1750 idioms.[24] In 1982, scholar David Humphreys suggested that such a composer could come from the circle of Ringk's teacher Johann Peter Kellner (1705–1772), who had close ties with the Bach family.[25]

Transposed to A minor and adapted for the violin, the opening offers an opportunity to drop down through all four strings of the instrument.[26]
Quadruple stops, not uncommon for 18th century solo violin music, could have been used in passages such as this, taken from the ending.

Another theory, first put forward by Williams in 1981, suggests that BWV 565 may have been a transcription of a lost solo violin piece. Parallel octaves and the preponderance of thirds and sixths may be explained by a transcriber's attempt to fill in harmony which, if preserved as is, would be inadequately thin on a pipe organ. This is corroborated by the fact that the subject of the fugue, and certain passages (such as bars 12–15), are evidently inspired by string music. Bach is known to have transcribed solo violin works for organ at least twice.[27] Williams put this theory into practice by writing a reconstruction of the conjectured original violin work, which has been performed (by violinists Jaap Schröder[28] and Simon Standage), and published.[29] The violinist Andrew Manze subsequently produced his own reconstruction, also in A minor, which he has performed and recorded.[30] Another violin version was created by scholar Bruce Fox-Lefriche in 2004,[31] and other string instruments have been suggested for the original piece as well, e.g. a five string cello — a possibility explored in a 2000 article by Mark Argent.[32]

Among the numerous examples of scholars referring to the work as one of doubtful attribution are the 1997 Cambridge Companion to Bach, edited by scholar and performer John Butt,[33] as well as recent monographs on Bach's music by harpsichordist and musicologist David Schulenberg[34] and Richard Douglas Jones.[35] However, the designation of BWV 565 as a work of doubtful attribution is not supported by the renowned Bach scholar Christoph Wolff. Writing about BWV 565 in his seminal Bach biography, Johann Sebastian Bach — The Learned Musician, he does not address most of the specific problems of the piece, instead maintaining that any and all problematic passages are explained by the fact that BWV 565 must be an early work. The parallel octaves, Wolff writes, must be explained by the deficiencies of Bach's Arnstadt organ, which the composer sought to rectify.[36]

Arrangements and transcriptions[edit]

This popular work has been transcribed many times. Around the end of the 19th century a "second wave" Bach revival occurred (the first having been the one launched earlier in the 19th century by Felix Mendelssohn among others). In the second wave, much of Bach's instrumental music was adapted to resources that were available in salon settings (for example solo piano, or chamber ensembles). The composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni was a leader of this movement, and wrote many piano transcriptions of Bach compositions, which often radically altered the original. Among them was a virtuosic version of the Toccata and Fugue, which tries to replicate the spirit of the original organ sound. An earlier virtuoso piano transcription also once much in vogue was by Carl Tausig; pianist Marie Novello chose it for what one source claims to be the Toccata and Fugue's first recording.[37] Other arrangements that have appeared on record are by Percy Grainger, Ignaz Friedman and Louis Brassin.

Stokowski's first 78rpm disc of 1927 was an international best-seller which introduced the music to many record collectors. He recorded it several more times in subsequent years. Others who have transcribed the Toccata and Fugue for orchestra include Lucien Cailliet, René Leibowitz, Leonidas Leonardi, Alois Melichar, Eugene Ormandy, Fabien Sevitzky, Stanisław Skrowaczewski, and Henry Wood (pseudonymously, as "Paul Klenovsky").

In the mid-1990s, Canadian Brass created an adaptation for quintet that has become the "must perform" standard work for brass ensembles the world over. More than twenty thousand copies of the adaptation by former member Fred Mills have been sold to date through the Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation.[38] In 1993, Salvatore Sciarrino made an arrangement for solo flute, recorded by Mario Caroli.[39] A version for solo horn was made by Zsolt Nagy[40] and has been performed by Frank Lloyd.

Recordings of BWV 565 that have appeared on popular music charts include Sky's 1981 rock-inspired recording (#83 on Billboard Hot 100[41] and Vanessa-Mae's 1996 violin recording (#24 on the Billboard charts).[42]

In popular culture[edit]

The Toccata has been used in a variety of popular media ranging from film, video games, to rock music, and ringtones. In film it often carries connotations of horror and villainy, as in the 1931 film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,[43] the 1934 film The Black Cat and the 1962 film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera.[44] Walt Disney Productions' Fantasia broke with this tradition, setting Leopold Stokowski's orchestral arrangement against abstract animations.[45]


  1. ^ a b Williams 2003, 155.
  2. ^ Williams 1981, 331.
  3. ^ Spitta, Philipp. 1873–79. Johann Sebastian Bach, Vol. 1, 402. Leipzig.
  4. ^ Williams 2003, 155–156.
  5. ^ a b Newman 1995, 181.
  6. ^ Eidam 2001, chapter IV
  7. ^ Stinson 2006, 31–32.
  8. ^ Stinson 2006, 18–19.
  9. ^ Stinson 2006, 55–60.
  10. ^ Crist, Stephen A.. The early works and the heritage of the seventeenth century, in Butt 1997, 76.
  11. ^ Stinson 2006, 56, 60.
  12. ^ Keller, Hermann. 1948. Die Orgelwerke Bachs, 64f. Leipzig
  13. ^ Schulze, Hans-Joachim. Liner notes for: Bach: Great Organ Favourites, performed by E. Power Biggs. Columbia 42644
  14. ^ Fagius, Hans. 2005. Liner notes to Bach: Complete Organ Music, 30. BIS-SACD-1527/28.
  15. ^ Williams 2003, 156–157.
  16. ^ a b Yearsley 2012, 93.
  17. ^ Stinson 2006, 118.
  18. ^ Emery 1966.
  19. ^ Blume 1968.
  20. ^ Bullivant 1971, 14, and elsewhere.
  21. ^ This paragraph and the next are a summary of Williams 1981.
  22. ^ See Claus 1998.
  23. ^ Kranenburg 2006.
  24. ^ Williams 2003, 156.
  25. ^ Humphreys 1982, 216–217.
  26. ^ Williams 1981, 336–337.
  27. ^ The first movement of the Partita in E major for solo violin, BWV 1006, was converted by Bach into the solo organ part of the opening movement of the cantata Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 29. Bach also transcribed the Fugue movement of Sonata in G minor for solo violin, BWV 1001, as the second half of Prelude and Fugue in D minor for organ, BWV 539.
  28. ^ Williams 1981, 337.
  29. ^ Rockwell, John (1944-09-13). "review of a Standage performance: "It sounded disconcertingly effective"". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-29. 
  30. ^ Johann Sebastian Bach / Andrew Manze, Richard Egarr, Jaap ter Linden – Four Violin Sonatas; Toccata and Fugue, BWV 565. BBC MM89, 1999.
  31. ^ Fox-Lefriche 2004.
  32. ^ Argent, Mark. 2000. Stringing Along. Musical Times, Autumn 2000.
  33. ^ Butt 1997, 43, and elsewhere.
  34. ^ Schulenberg 2006, 458, and elsewhere.
  35. ^ Jones 2007, 160.
  36. ^ Wolff 2002a, 72.
  37. ^ "Bach-Tausig – Piano Transcriptions of Bach's Works – Recordings". Retrieved 2011-09-29. 
  38. ^ Canadian Brass – ABOUT US – REVIEWS[dead link]
  39. ^ "Zig Zag Territoires: ZZT 040802". 
  40. ^ "RM Williams Publishing – Bach/Nagy: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (in F Minor) for solo horn". 
  41. ^ "Sky | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 August 2013. 
  42. ^ "Allmusic – Vanessa-Mae: Charts & Awards – Billboard Singles". 
  43. ^ Lerner, Neil (2010). Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear. 
  44. ^ Huckvale, David (2010). Touchstones of Gothic Horror: A Film Genealogy of Eleven Motifs and Images. 
  45. ^ "disney". 


  • Blume, Friedrich. 1968. J. S. Bach's Youth, MQ 54, 1–30.
  • Bullivant, Roger. 1971. Fugue. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-108441-5
  • Butt, John. (ed.) 1997. Cambridge Companion to Bach. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-58780-8
  • Claus, Rolf-Dietrich. 1998. Zur Echtheit von Toccata und Fuge d-moll BWV 565. Verlag Dohr, 2nd ed. Cologne. ISBN 3-925366-37-7. (German)
A comprehensive text dealing with authorship issues. See Yo Tomita's review.
  • Eidam, Klaus (2001). The True Life of Johann Sebastian Bach. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01861-0. 
  • Emery, Walter. 1966. Some Speculations on the Development of Bach's Organ Style', MT 107 (1966), 596–603.
  • Fox-Lefriche, Bruce. 2004. The Greatest Violin Sonata That J.S. Bach Never Wrote. Strings xix/3:122, October 2004, 43–55.
  • Humphreys, David. 1982. The D Minor Toccata BWV 565. Early Music Vol. 10, No. 2.
  • Jones, Richard Douglas. 2007. The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach: Music to Delight the Spirit. Volume 1: 1695–1717. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816440-8
  • Kranenburg, Peter van. 2006. Composer attribution by quantifying compositional strategies. Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Music Information Retrieval, 375–376. Victoria, Canada.
  • Newman, Anthony. 1995. Bach and the Baroque: European Source Materials from the Baroque and Early Classical Periods with Special Emphasis on the Music of J.S. Bach. Pendragon Press. ISBN 978-0-945193-64-7
  • Schulenberg, David. 2006. The Keyboard Music of J.S. Bach. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-97400-4
  • Stinson, Russell. 2006. The Reception of Bach's Organ Works from Mendelssohn to Brahms. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-534686-2
  • Williams, Peter F.. 1981. BWV 565: a toccata in D minor for organ by J. S. Bach?, Early Music 9, July 1981, 330–337.
  • Williams, Peter F.. 2003. The Organ Music of J. S. Bach. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81416-2
  • Wolff, Christoph. 2002a. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-924884-2
  • Wolff, Christoph. 2002b. Zum norddeutschen Kontext der Orgelmusik des jugendlichen Bach: Das Scheinproblem der Toccata d-Moll BWV 565.", "Bach, Lübeck und die norddeutsche Musiktradition, ed. Wolfgang Sandberger (Kassel, 2002): 241–251.
  • Yearsley, David. 2012. Bach's Feet: The Organ Pedals in European Culture. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-19901-8

External links[edit]

Sheet music