Organist’s thundering Bach ‘Toccata’ played in Berlin Cathedral is a terrifying experience

23 March 2022, 09:45

Bach in the Berliner Dom
Bach in the Berliner Dom. Picture: Getty/Xaver Varnus/YouTube

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

This is, presumably, how every organist wishes they could spend Halloween.

Want to feel like your soul is shattering and the earth is crumbling in on itself?

Seven years ago, Canadian-Hungarian organist Xaver Varnus recorded Bach’s monumental organ work, Toccata and Fugue in D minor, at the Berliner Dom.

The sound of the great Sauer Organ – then, the largest in Germany with its 7,269 pipes and 113 registers – rumbles through the German edifice like a thunderstorm.

Watch, and tremble:


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On his YouTube channel, Varnus explains the organ was built by its namesake, Wilhelm Sauer, who “created an instrument that embodied the newest technical and musical developments of German organ building at the time”.

Varnus continues: “In that way, the organ met the high expectations of both the organ builder and his client: in the Protestant Cathedral of the capital city, there was to be a monumental, modern, and in every way extraordinary instrument of the highest quality. At the same time, it marks the end of the long development of Romantic orchestral organs, whose sound corresponds to the characteristic sound of a symphonic orchestra of that period.

“Today, the organ in the Cathedral of Berlin is the largest late-Romantic pneumatic action organ in the world that has survived in its original condition.”

Varnus’s performance was recorded live on the Opening Night of the Berliner Internationaler Orgelsommer festival in 2013. Music like this is just timeless.