A solo viola plays Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor with monumental virtuosity

16 March 2021, 11:52

Violist Lech Antonio Uszynski plays Bach at Schlüsselzunft Basel
Violist Lech Antonio Uszynski plays Bach at Schlüsselzunft Basel. Picture: Lech Antonio Uszynski

By Kyle Macdonald

The dark, deep sound of a solo viola takes on the role of a pipe organ, in an immensely beautiful and striking performance.

The dramatic opening flourishes of Bach’s D minor Toccata and Fugue are one of the most iconic in all music. It immediately creates the atmosphere of a vast cathedral, with gothic arches and abundant long shadows.

But imagine these iconic notes, not on the organ, but a solo string instrument. Enter Swiss-Polish virtuoso Lech Antonio Uszynski, performing it on the dark-timbred viola.

Read more: 10 of Bach’s all-time best pieces of music >

Using double-stopping, similar to the sort found in Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, Uszynski is able to recreate the contours and polyphony of a multi-part fugue, on just one instrument. The arrangement was made by Polish violist Marcin Murawski.

It really is a feat of exceptional technique and deep musicianship. Listen below.

Lech spoke to us about the difficulties in the music, and the instrumental alchemy.

He said the biggest challenge was in creating polyphonic textures (multiple, simultaneous musical lines) on a melodic string instrument.

“If you consider that the Toccata and Fugue is one of the most iconic masterpieces for organ, it really was the most challenging task to recreate it on a four-stringed instrument without losing the core information of this incredible music.”

Well Lech, we reckon you succeeded in this. What an incredible performance.