Schubert’s Death and the Maiden sure is ominous, but nothing beats music in a minor key on a giant organ. It can strike fear into even the bravest of souls on a dark night. Perhaps that’s why Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue in D minor for organ is usually heard on Halloween, because is so ominous and evil sounding.
When I was a newbie music nerd, I was trying to find this piece. You know how hard it can be to find classical music when you don’t know the name of the piece:
The beginning was similar to this from the Pirates of the Caribbean. I heard Bach’s piece was on an old version of Phantom of the Opera but I couldn’t find which version it was. I don’t even remember how I eventually found it but once I did I downloaded the sheet music, even though I don’t have an organ to play it on. But that is definitely a bucket list thing: to play Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue in D minor on a giant organ like this:
|The organ in Derry/Londonderry’s Guildhall in Northern Ireland via discovernorthernireland.com|
History of the Piece
Mendelssohn helped Bach’s piece get published in 1833, 80 years after Bach’s death. Bach was not well known at the time until Mendelssohn brought awareness to his works, being a huge fan.
There is much controversy surrounding whether or not Bach composed this piece. Scholars began to be doubtful as to the composer of this piece in the late 20th century. The oldest manuscript of this work attributes it to J S Bach, yet some say the style and composition of the piece are uncharacteristic of Bach. Others see similarities between this piece and some of Bach’s other works. This just may well remain an unsolved mystery that music nerds will discuss and fight over until the end of time.
Enjoy as you read more about the piece:
What is a Toccata?
A toccata is a virtuoistic piece with fast moving sections. The first few minutes of this piece are the toccata (until 2:40). This is a Baroque toccata, meaning it is improvisatory in nature (not based on a strict form). This is kind of like the performer is making up epic passages on the spot, except this was already composed for them.
What is a fugue?
In a fugue, a subject or theme is introduced in the beginning, and appears throughout the composition. Another line of music (or the other hand plays) is played which repeats the subject as the other line continues. The composer will then present the theme in various ways throughout the work. At 2:41 you will hear the fugue subject and then it is immediately repeated when the other hand comes in at 2:47. (hear it also at 3:56) There are more parts to a fugue but that would require an entire post (or two) to explain. In this fugue the composer plays around with elements of the subject throughout.
Which recording should I buy?
You were so blown away by that performance that you are now seriously considering buying it. My advice to you if you want to download this is DO NOT BUY IT FROM ANY ALBUM THAT HAS HALLOWEEN in the title. Whoever put it together probably abridged it and doesn’t know what they’re doing. You want the full version like the recording above. And don’t get anything that’s under 7 or 8 minutes. It’s either way too fast or it’s not the whole piece. Also, don’t get something that doesn’t have the artist’s name on it (usually listing the artist as J S Bach), that’s a big red flag. I enjoyed the recording in the video, if you want to get this version you can find it on Google Play or Itunes. If you want to check out other versions, look for albums that have an artist listed (it usually says what organ they’re playing on) and see which version you enjoy most.