Toccata and Fugue in F major, BWV 540

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The Toccata and Fugue in F Major, BWV 540 is an organ work written by Johann Sebastian Bach. The toccata is thought to be written after 1714, and the fugue before 1731. It is thought by some that Bach joined together two previously separate pieces to create this work.



The toccata starts with a large linear canon (imitation theme, one hand imitating the other) over a pedal point in F major. It is then followed by a pedal solo vamping material from the canon. The canon is reiterated with some variations in the dominant in C major. This time the hands are switched, and the left hand leads the right. This is again followed by a long pedal solo. The two large canon flourishes cover 108 measures of the composition. The pedal solos cover 60 measures. The concerto movement exhibits a seven-part structure. The canons and pedal solos effect the departure from the home key of F to the dominant C, and the entire rest of the movement, with its concertante 3-part imitation and striking "proto-waltzes", constitute the harmonic return. This formal pattern is unique within Bach's œuvre.

Hermann Keller expresses his rapture as follows: " At the beginning the extensive linear construction of the two voices in canon, the proud calmness of the solos in the pedal, the piercing chord strokes, the fiery upswing of the second subject, the bold modulatory shifts, the inwardness of the three minor movements, the splendour of the end with the famous third inversion of the seventh chord, who would not be enthralled by that?"[1]

Because of the range of the pedal parts, the organ at Weißenfels, with a pedal compass of f1, may be the organ the composition was written on. The Toccata (as a prelude) is proportionally the largest of all Bach's works in the format of prelude-fugue. It is often treated as a show piece, with the ensuing fugue omitted. The Toccata's rhythmic signature suggests a passepied or a musette, although the monumental scale of the movement does not support these characterizations.

Nor does the harmonic adventurousness: 45 measures after the second pedal solo there is a dominant chord which resolves deceptively to the third-inversion dominant applied to the neapolitan. In particular, the doubled root is found to move outward in contrary chromatic motion to a major 9th; in the bass is a descending augmented unison, which absolutely could not be farther from the expected fifth. Bach implements this powerful deceptive cadence three times in the piece; it would not become idiomatic until Chopin and Tchaikovsky.


The first subject in the fugue is chromatic and ornamental. The second subject has a lot of modulation shifts and is sometimes initially presented as the counter-subject of the first. The Fugue is Bach's only thorough-going double fugue, where two subjects are exposed in separate sections and then combined. The effect is enhanced by the increasing rhythmic activity of the second subject and by the more frequent use of modulation in the final section of the fugue.

The bravura of the F-Major toccata, with its pedal solos and manual virtuosity, contrasts sharply with the rather sober opening of the Fugue. Both represent two diverse aspects of Italian influence: the motoric rhythms and sequential passagework of the Toccata, and the traditional alla breve counterpoint of the Fugue, with its chromaticism, harmonic suspensions, and uninterrupted succession of subjects and answers. These techniques are very similar to those used in the "Dorian" Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538.

Use in popular culture[edit]

The toccata was used prominently in the 1962 film Phaedra starring Anthony Perkins and directed by Jules Dassin.

The toccata opens the piece "The Only Way" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Franz Hauk & Iris Winkler, translated by Regina Piskorsch-Feick, 2001, from liner notes p.4 for recording by Franz Hauk, Johann Sebastian Bach Organ masterworks, Guild Music Ltd GMCD 7217
  2. ^

External links[edit]