Bach - Toccata and Fugue in D minor

Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor is one of the most famous pieces of Baroque organ music ever written - with a particularly iconic opening

Bach probably composed the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, between 1703-7, but no one is sure of the exact date. It's important to remember the BWV catalogue number as well - there are actually three pieces of organ music written by Bach with the same name! One of these Toccata and Fugue sets, BWV 538, is even in D minor, but it's known as the 'Dorian', which distinguishes it from Bach's more famous organ music.

Many people will be familiar with its three dramatic opening flourishes followed by the low, growling pedal note underneath a huge, fortissimo rolling chord. The Toccata is rhapsodic – like an improvisation – and has many features that are unusual for an organ work of its time. The Fugue, too, has elements that are uncharacteristic of Bach.

In fact, there are strong reasons to suggest that Bach’s celebrated Toccata and Fugue was not originally in D minor, nor written for the organ. It might have been written for violin or harpsichord, and some scholars believe it's too crude a piece to have been written by Bach at all! The earliest score contains many un-Bach-like dynamics and markings, in a copy made by Johann Ringk (1717-78), who was a student of one of Bach’s students. No original manuscript survives, so perhaps we'll never clear up the mystery.