Brief Analysis: J.S Bach – “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor “

The Toccata and Fugue in D minor is the best known and most popular piece by J.S. Bach. There are nevertheless some doubts about the authorship of this piece. Many still believe that it was not written by the hand of Bach but an imitator by the name of Johann Peter Kellner (1705-1772), who had for student Johannes Ringk (1717-1778). It is indeed thanks to him if today we still possess a copy of the manuscript of this Toccata and Fugue. The original has unfortunately disappeared and this is the oldest copy. On this copy, no title or any other information, save for an “Adagio”. The work was only published in 1833 at the initiative of Mendelssohn, who liked to play it.

Be that as it may, if JS Bach is indeed the author of this musical monument, he would have wrote it in his youth, shortly after 1705, just after his monstrous journey to meet renowned organist Buxtehude but before the influence of Italian masters.

Toccata:

Written in the key of D minor, this work begins with a held dominant chord, to which is linked a fast blitz of triple quavers. Silence! A new dominant chord on a lower octave, then a variation of the blitz. Silence just before the dominant is held once more, octava bassa(played an octave lower than written). Silence! Just before a root note pedal note, the slow and steady chord is heard, before giving way to a brief cadence.

After a few returns to silence, a new passage begins, all in rapid strokes following an ascending chord progression. A half cadence then resumes this passage on the octave. Followed by descending arpeggios before finding the pedal note again and the chord is once again held. End of this first section on a perfectly resolved cadence.

Another passage opens and it is played exclusively in arpeggios on a similar ascending progression while the bass plays a dominant pedal note in repeated sixteenth notes. Again arpeggios, half-cadence, then repetition of the same arpeggios before a half cadence. Brief musical “hiccups” and the epilogue, based on diminished seventh chords. One final Cadence and this is the end of this Toccata.

Fugue:

First Part:

The fugue begins with its famous motif based on a descending melody entangled in repeated notes of the dominant chord. The answer to the motif is in G minor, and at the same time we hear a countermotif. This leads us towards the three main elements (motif, response and countermotif) simultaneously. Extensive chromaticism then paves the way for extensive modulation.

Bach then makes us hear four elements simultaneously: the motif, the response, the countermotif and the dominant chord root note. New modulations occur in F major (which is the relative major key) with parallel sixth chords.

Second Part:

We now return to two voices with the motif and its response. Encountering descending passages, then several repeated arpeggios that bring us back to the root note. The motif and countermotif are still present but break down into a long stream of repeated arpeggios. A brief dialogue between the two voices and Bach brings us back to the main mofit, the countermotif and the dominant chord’s root note (long trill on the higher octaves this time).

We then have a somewhat chatoci passage built upon the main motif, in the neighboring key of G minor. There is a lot of chromaticism and modulation during this incredibly complex passage.

Third Part:

It starts with the main motif and response, supported by the dominant chord’s root note, but immediately transitions into a half cadence. followed by broken arpeggios. The cadence is completely broken. It is the passage of virtuosity that is heard with fast and triple quaver strokes and is grand climax of this piece. Then, suddenly, a slow chord (adagissimo). Again an even faster presto which consists of legato arpeggios followed by chords, all repeated several times. The fugue is concluded on a “molto adagio”, within a perfect cadence.

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20 thoughts on “Brief Analysis: J.S Bach – “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor “”

  1. Racist white “music”. I hope you rot in a French prison, Nicky boy. I thought being a nazi was illegal there!

    1. Denying the Holocaust is not being a Nazi

      1. Yes it is, you racist pig. Remember who your kind surrendered to!

        1. canadaspaceman says:

          But you are a schweinehund, the real racist pig visiting here, because you said you want white people to die.
          See Your Comment – http://www.deathmetal.org/review/dmu-song-contest-3-the-king-of-the-serfs-edition-final-holocaust/#comment-676481

          1. Keep crying those cis white male tears! It’s not racist to want all white people dead. You can’t be racist against the majority. What are you, dumb?

  2. NoNoItsNotMe says:

    I don’t intend to be a dick here, but how does this article add anything of value? It’s not bad, but Bach studies have been around for a puh-retty long time and finding a superior analysis isn’t very hard. Death metal, on the other hand, needs more analyses and good ones at that.

    1. no frot no forums no journalism no anime says:

      the value of the piece is evident considering context and audience

      lots of metal fans ignore classical music to their detriment. reading an analysis done in the same layout as the metal analyses may be a way to bridge the apparent gap between styles since the focus here is on the structural logic which applies equally to death metal and prog and such. negotiating musical analysis isn’t easy but dmu does a good job of applying consistent standards to all music and classical music analysis is an extension of this

      sure there are “superior” analyses but a Bach scholar wouldn’t write about death metal so the synthesis here is good

      1. True Knower of Knowledge says:

        Italo disco is the true inheritor of classical music.

      2. NoNoItsNotMe says:

        I see your point, but wouldn’t it be more useful, then, to produce articles which themselves bridge the gap, instead of just hinting at it through, uh, context? Hardly any websites do that.

        1. We have a new series of ultimate analysis pieces coming out but those take a huge amount of time. In the meanwhile we release such pieces instead of focusing too much on bad metal.

          1. Slowly We Frott says:

            What do you mean, “ultimate analysis pieces”?

            1. large and comprehensive analysis articles on essential Metal.

  3. RDS says:

    Bach is the best classical composer

  4. Johnny Cab says:

    Consideration should be made for an SMR-style piece on classical.

    Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance is the original genital wart of the classical world.

    1. Hopefully they call Wagner a racist cunt and praise his death for being a nazi!

  5. canadaspaceman says:

    What do you think of movie soundtracks? Can we expect reviews of any?
    Many music fans consider them inferior to medieval classical composers, but I like them, as well as some electronic scores (eg. “Tron: Legacy” by Daft Punk).
    For starters, a safe bet is most metalheads revere the “Conan The Barbarian” soundtrack by Basil Poledouris.

    1. There are some “mini-reviews” of Electronic film score artists from my breakout article as a writer here:

      http://www.deathmetal.org/analysis/a-guide-to-electronic-music/

      B. Poledouris’ “Conan” is indeed one of the greatest orchestral film scores of all time. To say nothing of the brilliance of the film itself!

      Expect sometime in the coming weeks for the appearance of two large articles from myself directly related to these very subjects…

  6. Rynathee says:

    Mr. Vahdias,

    I appreciate your effort here, however what you have presented is simply a description of the composition, sans analysis. Hopefully the analysis portion will be added at some point in the near future? It is important work you are doing here; keep it up!

  7. Orth says:

    Great article as always. I know a black-death band which made a variation on the theme of this toccata during a solo:
    https://soundcloud.com/orthbhaissbethad/ii-urvas-tenigtot/s-5Pzxu
    It begins at 2:54

    1. What is this shit? Where are the gangsta rap influences? What about the great post-black metal with folk influenced stylings of Myrkur, Liturgy, and Ghost Bath?

      Your band fucking sucks!

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