I don’t know who performed this, but it’s by far the best recording I’ve ever heard!! Enjoy!!
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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 written by 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.
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. 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.
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. However, the numerous recitative stretches are rarely found in the works of northern composers and may have been inspired by Johann Heinrich Buttstett, 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. 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).
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. 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.” 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. 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.
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. 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.” 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.”
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.”
In popular culture
The Toccata has been used in a variety of popular media ranging from film, video games, to rock music, and ringtones.
The 1962 film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera by Hammer Productions featured the piece, and since then, the movie has helped to associate the music with horror movies, Halloween, and the like in popular culture.
The English classical/rock fusion band Sky (featuring the classical guitarist John Williams and classical percussionist Tristan Fry) scored a Top 10 pop hit with their 1980 arrangement of the Toccata section of BWV 565. This version crossed over to the Billboard Hot 100, charting at #83.
The track is used for the opening credits and final freeze-frame of the 1975 film Rollerball.
In Walt Disney’s 1940 film, Fantasia, it is used as the first piece of the film, transcribed for full symphony orchestra by the conducter, Leopold Stokowski. The Disney animators were given an abstract theme to create the image to the music.