Many of Johann Sebastian Bach's works are generally
forgotten. This is particularly true of Bach's earliest
compositions. The Toccata in C minor is no exception.
Probably among Bach's earliest works (certainly written
before he was twenty-five), this work takes the North
German-style toccata of Buxtehude, with its alternation
between improvisatory and contrapuntal sections, as its
model. Rather than the Prelude/Toccata and Fugue
combinations that dominate Bach's well-known organ
repertoire, this manualiter (hands-only) toccata is a
continuous stream of music; the opening fantasy blends
into the adagio and then into the fugue.
The first twelve measures are a blinding virtuosic
display, utilizing scales and arpeggios rather than
melody. This moves directly into an imitative adagio
section. Based loosely on an ascending natural minor
scale, the music thickens and modulates through several
keys. As this section progresses, the imitative quality
gives way to a more dramatic and improvisatory section
before proceeding to the fugue.
The head of Bach's rather conventional fugue subject is
based on a nearly unadorned broken triad. Though Bach
employs some interesting techniques, this fugue lacks
the tight developmental intensity of those from later
in Bach's life. Perhaps this is because Bach uses very
few harmonic regions for the statement of the fugue.
Also, after several minutes Bach interrupts the fugue
with a brief fantasia-like passage reminiscent of the
opening, and then resumes the fugue, in the original
key, with few changes from the first section (there is
a thicker texture, some improvisatory interruptions and
new harmonic regions). The piece ends with a slow
section followed by a rapid finale, both in a
free-composed form, to round out the composition.
Although originally written for Harpsichord. I created
this Arrangement of the Toccata C Minor (BWV 911) for
String Trio (Violin, Viola & Cello).