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Toccatas BWV 910-916
General Discussions - Part 1

Toccata recommendations

Jim Morrison wrote (August 27, 2001):
Uh oh, Laurent asked me how I felt about Watchorn's set of Toccatas on Hänssler. I was afraid someone would do that when I started mentioning his excellent liner notes.

What can I say but there's a major disconnect between me and Watchorn on this recording. I don't care for his playing style, which sounds a bit stiff to me, or the harpsichord, a huge instrument built by the Australian Alister McAllister, a instrument so powerful, Watchorn says, they had to record it from a greater distance than most harpsichord recordings. The result, to my ears, is a rather dull and tubby, though large, sound, just like I don't want a harpsichord recording to be.

I'd take my recordings of these works by Jaccottet (nla, I think, in the USA) Parmentier, van Asperen (on Teldec for which he uses a c1700 Mietke) or the couple of Toccatas I have of Hantai playing on one of this discs of Bach's early keyboard works. I'm not sure how many of those Toccatas Hantai has recorded, but I know he spread a few out over a couple of discs, of which I have only one.

Van Asperen has another recording of the Toccatas on a different label on which he plays the 1728 Zell. It's a recording I've never heard, though I think Brad has it. He's the only person I've heard of who's recorded the seven toccatas twice.

And speaking of Brad, here's a fun party trick I'm sure he has some kind of opinion on, that you can do with CD's like the van Asperen's Teldec and Watchorn's Hanssler, which divide each toccata into separate tracks. Put them in the CD player and hit shuffle-play! I'm sure I've mentioned this before on the list, but the van Asperen Teldec disc has 30 tracks and the Watchorn has 29.

Leonhardt's double Seon/Sony set SB2K 60375, which includes the Toccatas BWV 912, 913, along with the Italian Concerto, Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, as well as the Suite in Eb minor (based on the cello suite in Eb minor BWV 1010) and the Suite in C minor (based on the Lute Suite in G minor BWV 995) is what I'd call a must have disc. Like van Asperen, he plays the 1728 Zell on this recording.

Once again, I'm not sure I'm the person you should really be listening to concerning Watchorn's disc because I care so little for it. We're clearly living on different planets when it comes to these works. Heck, I've seen reviews that compliment him on the excitement level of his playing and the fantastic sound of his harpsichord, something I'd never think of doing. Anyone else out there feel a bit let down by Watchorn's disc? I know some list members enjoy is playing. Perhaps that could say a few positive things about his work.

Laurent Planchon wrote (August 27, 2001):
Jim Morrison wrote:
< Uh oh, Laurent asked me how I felt about Watchorn's set of Toccatas on Hänssler. >
Thanks for your comments and your other recommendations. I guess I will have to get it anyway as -as you pointed out- there are very different views on it.

Just to add one entry to your list, Céline Frisch has also recorded one of them quite successfuly (can't remember which one though) in her debut recital on Harmonia Mundi. The only minor drawback being the sound of the Mietke copy she uses -like Van Asperen on Teldec- which is a bit bland for my taste (like any other Mietke I heard BTW. I am not sure why these instruments are so popular these days).

Donald Satz wrote (August 27, 2001):
[To Laurent Planchon] Céline Frisch's BWV 912 is a great performance; I also think highly of Watchorn's BWV 912. This work is the most playful and fun of the seven Toccatas; both artists get to the heart of the music.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 28, 2001):
Jim Morrison wrote:
< Uh oh, Laurent asked me how I felt about Watchorn's set of Toccatas on Hanssler. I was afraid someone would do that when I started mentioning his excellent liner notes.

What can I say but there's a major disconnect between me and Watchorn on this recording. I don't care for his playing style, which sounds a bit stiff to me, or the harpsichord, a huge instrument built by the Australian Alister McAllister, a instrument so powerful, Watchorn says, they had to record it from a greater distance than most harpsichord recordings. The result, to my ears, is a rather dull and tubby, though large, sound, just like I don't want a harpsichord recording to be. >
I've heard several of Watchorn's Bach recordings (solo concertos and English suites, but not the toccatas yet) and have been consistently disappointed. His approach to rhythm strikes me as unimaginative and wooden, lacking flair...ploddy and directionless even when it's fast. I also notice a tendency for him to slow down whenever the upcoming music is technically difficult, then speed up again when the notes are easier; I don't mind when people change tempo for interpretive reasons, but if it sounds like tempo changes that are only for technical reasons it doesn't give a good impression.

I wasn't happy with the tone of the harpsichord either. "Dull and tubby" as Jim says.

< I'd take my recordings of these works by Jaccottet (nla, I think, in the USA) Parmentier, van Asperen (on Teldec for which he uses a c1700 Mietke) or the couple of Toccatas I have of Hantai playing on one of this discs of Bach's early keyboard works. I'm not sure how many of those Toccatas Hantai has recorded, but I know he spread a few out over a couple of discs, of which I have only one.

Van Asperen has another recording of the Toccatas on a different label on which he plays the 1728 Zell. It's a recording I've never heard, though I think Brad has it. He's the only person I've heard of who's recorded the seven toccatas twice. >
It's pretty good but Leonhardt plays the D major toccata better than van Asperen, and on the same harpsichord (as you mention below, Jim...).

< And speaking of Brad, here's a fun party trick I'm sure he has some kind of opinion on, that you can do with CD's like the van Asperen's Teldec and Watchorn's Hanssler, which divide each toccata into separate tracks. Put them in the CD player and hit shuffle-play! I'm sure I've mentioned this before on the list, but the van Asperen Teldec disc has 30 tracks and the Watchorn has 29. >
I'm sure I'd enjoy that experience more than listening to Britney Spears and Mariah Carey on shuffle play. And both of those more than having pointy slivers of salted jalapeno shoved into my eyes.

Van Asperen's set of the toccatas on EMI 54081 has one track per toccata (as do Parmentier, Jaccottet, Verlet, ...). If van Asperen does these a third time, will it have one track per phrase or one track per note for even more convenient access?

I like the They Might Be Giants CD where it has a couple dozen tracks explicitly designed for shuffle play.

< Leonhardt's double Seon/Sony set SB2K 60375, which includes the Toccatas BWV 912, 913, along with the Italian Concerto, Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, as well as the Suite in Eb minor (based on the cello suite in Eb minor BWV 1010) and the Suite in C minor (based on the Lute Suite in G minor BWV 995) is what I'd call a must have disc. Like van Asperen, he plays the 1728 Zell on this recording. >
There are so many good recordings of 912 on harpsichord! Parmentier (Wildboar), Leonhardt, Malcolm (London 444390), Pixton (Centaur 2015), Jaccottet, Appel (Bridge 9005), Smith (Wildboar 9501), Verlet (Astree 8565), van Asperen, ....

A nice plus on the Malcolm disc is getting the jazzy prelude and fugue "Bach Goes to Town" by Alex Templeton, and the "Flight of the Bumblebee," and performances of the Italian concerto, Chromatic F&F, and French suite #5 that really cook. :)

< Once again, I'm not sure I'm the person you should really be listening to concerning Watchorn's disc because I care so little for it. We're clearly living on different planets when it comes to these works. Heck, I've seen reviews that compliment him on the excitement level of his playing and the fantastic sound of his harpsichord, something I'd never think of doing. >
Same here.... He gets all the , but....

< Anyone else out there feel a bit let down by Watchorn's disc? I know some list members enjoy is playing. Perhaps that could say a few positive things about his work. >

 

Toccata recordings

Jim Morrison wrote (April 8, 2002):
Quick trivia question here that I don't know the answer to. Who was the first harpsichordist to record all seven of the Bach Toccatas 910-916? Anyone know when Jaccottet recorded those? (thanks for the information on her Philip. If anyone knows where I can pick up her French Suites and Partitas please let me know. I like her English Suites as well, though I only have the first disc. Go figure.)

Leonhardt ever give the Toccatas a complete go?

One of my favorite harpsichordist's, Bob van Asperen, must surely be the only person to have recorded them twice.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 8, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] My guess would be Martin Galling for Vox, as I don't know if Ralph Kirkpatrick or Karl Richter recorded all of them. (Or who else might have played them for Archiv ahead of Galling?) I'm fairly sure that Landowska, Valenti, Kipnis, and Leonhardt didn't ever record them all. Or, if Leonhardt did eventually, it was for a variety of labels throughout his career and never as a single project.

That quest for completeness seems to be mostly a CD-era phenomenon: not all seven of those toccatas will fit onto a single LP. That pseudo-need for completeness is "library mentality", as Igor Kipnis complained in a chapter in The New York Times guide to listening pleasure (1968, ed. Howard Taubman). What's the appeal of listening straight through seven pieces in the same genre by the same youthful composer, united only by that commonality? The toccatas were never intended as a "set".... And now, fairly soon after 1968, it's the norm: one has to record all of them to be taken seriously. Crazy! (Who sits all the way through all the Mendelssohn string symphonies at one go, as nice as they are individually?)

Van Asperen is the only one I can think of who's recorded the toccatas all twice, as integral sets...unless Anthony Newman also has, which wouldn't surprise me.

Juozas Rimas wrote (April 8, 2002):
< pleasure (1968, ed. Howard Taubman). What's the appeal of listening straight through seven pieces in the same genre by the same youthful composer, united only by that commonality? The toccatas were never intended as a "set".... And now, fairly soon after 1968, it's the norm: one has to record all of them to be taken seriously. Crazy! (Who sits all the way through all the Mendelssohn string symphonies at one go, as nice as they are individually?) >
Well, there is another side of the complete sets. Not all CDs are supposed to be listened to at one go (frankly, I'd need a special state of mind to sit through the whole AoF, let alone SMP). It's just handy to have toccatas in one disc.

Incidentally, on an old LP of Nikolaeva's toccatas it's written that the fis-moll and c-moll toccatas were probably written around 1720 (although it's around 1706 for all pieces at jsbach.org). Why the discrepancy?

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 9, 2002):
Juozas Rimas Jr inquired:
>>Incidentally, on an old LP of Nikolaeva's toccatas it's written that the fis-moll and c-moll toccatas were probably written around 1720 (although it's around 1706 for all pieces at jsbach.org). Why the discrepancy?<<
Recently an announcer on WFMT, a classical music station, mentioned before playing the cantata that BWV 4 (Christ lag in Todesbanden) was from the Leipzig period. This was based on the information given on the LP ( from the 50's with Robert Shaw, conductor) which was still considered correct at the time, but as a result of more thorough research over the past half century (stylistic, paper, and handwriting analysis) a number of Bach's works have had different dates assigned to them. This is probably what also happened in the case that you cite. Many of these changes came as the result of the in-depth analysis required for the publication of the NBA. In any case, the toccatas are among the most recent works to undergo this type of scrutiny (1999). The fis-moll and the c-moll toccatas, based on the results of stylistic analysis by Jean-Claude Zehnder (Kolloquium Rostock, pp. 333-334) are from the period 1709-1711, chronologically following BWV 912-915, but earlier than BWV 916. These results are accepted by the NBA as the most reasonable assessment.

Jim Morrison wrote (April 9, 2002):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks for your help, Brad.

I'm a bit curious about your comments.

When you spoke about the 'library mentality" (I happen to have greatly enjoyed the time I spent working in libraries) are you talking about music in general? or Bach recordings in general? Or perhaps the Toccatas in particular? Certainly quoting Kipnis, that most incomplete and miniature recording artist, isn't exactly bringing in the voice of authority. (I'm surprised that he could record a complete, single Scarlatti sonata without switching instruments between the repeats. And I say that as a fan. He's a fun harpsichordist to listen to.)

Think of all those WTKs: Fischer, Landowska, Tureck, Kirkpatrick.
Think of Casals Cello Suites.
All those complete Brandenburgs.

And let's not get into those complete Chopin and Beethoven cycles that I could bring up. (Just got my hands on Rubinstein's late 30s Nocturnes and the Moravek mid
60s set as well. An Amazon.de shipment got in faster than usual. Maybe they're upgraded their cross Atlantic delivery from canoes to steam ships.)

I'm just a rookie at discographies. There are so many pre Cd recordings that I will probably never know about.

When did Galling record for Vox? I don't recall ever seeing the name.

Complete recordings of the Art of Fugue also seem to come with the age of the CD. What kind of connection is there?

I've got some theories, but I'd would be nice to see some clarification from Brad (or others who know something on the issue) before I start spilling my obvious beans.

Big confession. I hardly ever listen to a complete recording of anything! I mean really listen to it, not just have it on while I do something else and occasionally tune into the music. I'd be surprised of very many of us had the time to do that. When did anyone ever really listen to a complete cycle of anything? Hardly ever, right? Heck, it's hard to make it through 50 minutes of a concert without an intermission. Who ever, besides someone making a recording or giving a special recital, even plays through all the Bach Toccatas in one sitting? It's not natural, is it? Maybe natural is the wrong word, but it's certainly rare.

I would like to see more collection recordings of Bach's music, and I'd espeically love to see live recordings. I've mentioned it before on the list, but boy is it ever stricking how few period instrument live recordings exist. What's wrong with those guys? Why don't they release any more than they do?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 9, 2002):
Jim Morrison wrote:
< When you spoke about the 'library mentality" (I happen to have greatly enjoyed the time I spent working in libraries) are you talking about music in general? or Bach recordings in general? >
I understood him to be talking about having recordings of complete sets of works.

< Big confession. I hardly ever listen to a complete recording of anything! I mean really listen to it, not just have it on while I do something else and occasionally tune into the music. I'd be surprised of very many of us had the time to do that. When did anyone ever really listen to a complete cycle of anything? Hardly ever, right? >
I don't often listen to a complete cycle, but I do take the time to listen to a complete disc - yesterday I lay down on my couch and listened to the first disc of Paul Badura-Skoda's partitas, which I just received. I like to take the time to listen like that, and really get into the nof a disc. But I don't do it all the time - I am not independently wealthy.

 

Quickie re Toccatas

Thomas Boyce wrote (February 19, 2003):
Which toccatas are the best ones? Not the most intellectual question I've ever come up with.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (February 19, 2003):
[To Thomas Boyce] I think Gould's is excellent. And Peter Bright would vouch for Hewitt's new Hyperion CD containing Bach's Toccatas. I plan to buy the latter when I can. It's on top of my 'want' list.

Pete Blue wrote (February 19, 2003):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Piano or harpsichord? IMO the difference is vast and crucial.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 19, 2003):
[To Thomas Boyce] The ones by Froberger and Frescobaldi, and the other mid-17th-century Italians such as Michelangelo Rossi. Sweelinck's are OK but less distinguished. Kerll's and Weckmann's are fun....

Oh, you meant Bach? :) The D major is the "greatest hit" and the D minor is (arguably) the weakest. The D major and E minor are the two that get the greatest WOW from an audience with (relatively) the least amount of work.

But Froberger's and Frescobaldi's are "better." Those are REAL toccatas. Bach's toccatas are just Buxtehude's "Praeludium" form recycled and renamed. (Especially compare Buxtehude's BuxWV 163 with Bach's G minor toccata...formally it's pretty much the same piece, with different notes and somewhat different proportions.) Young Bach was just using a fairly effective form derivatively, and finding his way as a composer; interesting results, but not his best music.

There are also those (especially scholar Robert Marshall, and editor Heinz Lohmann, and myself among others) who believe Bach's toccatas are really primarily organ pieces that just happen to work well also on harpsichord and other keyboards. The rationale for this assessment is explained well by Marshall.

(Ducking and running for cover now, after saying some of these other people wrote toccatas better than our hero Bach did....)

Francine Renee Hall wrote (February 20, 2003):
[To Pete Blue] Piano.

Ron Shaffer wrote (February 20, 2003):
[To Pete Blue] I agree the difference is vast .... but, IMHO, both are worthwhile.

Ron Shaffer wrote (February 20, 2003):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Sample both .... you'll be surprised at the differences.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 20, 2003):
[To Francine Renee Hall] I think the Gould set could have been so much better than it is (since the earliest performance in there, the E minor, is good)...on the whole I consider it very disappointing since (IMO) it doesn't meet Gould's own usual standards, and because Gould very clearly disliked the pieces...not just in his words about them, but in the way he played them. My more detailed reasons for that assessment are in this review: Amazon.com

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 20, 2003):
[To Ron Shaffer] True, but it's not as ear-opening as playing them on organ is. :)

(And comparing them against Bach's other organ works, and Buxtehude's.)

Jim Morrison wrote (February 20, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] jeez, just one link Brad? You've been complaining about those toccatas for years on the Gould list! Stop holding out on us.

Jim (who also thinks that Gould's disc could have been better, though I don't really listen to these work on piano anyway. Haven't heard Hewitt's to be specific. Parmentier is fantastic, as mentioned earlier. Both of van Asperen's are good. Jaccottet as well. How could we have not picked up on that Parmentier thread?)

Jim Morrison wrote (February 20, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< There are also those (especially scholar Robert Marshall, and editor Heinz Lohmann, and myself among others) who believe Bach's toccatas are really primarily organ pieces that just happen to work well also on harpsichord and other keyboards. The rationale for this assessment is explained well by Marshall.
(Ducking and running for cover now, after saying some of these other people wrote toccatas better than our hero Bach did....) >
There are a few recordings of the toccatas on organ. Kevin Bowyer has them spaced about in his series. Somebody else, whose name escapes me at the moment, but one I have in my collection, recorded a few of them as well.

Jim (Froberger-head. Fantastic composer.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 20, 2003):
[To Jim Morrison] How are Bowyer's? I haven't heard them. I have only his Volume 3 and there aren't any toccatas on that one.

Last night I listened to Tactus 672215, which is an organ disc of Roberto Loreggian playing a fugue in E minor attributed to Marcello...which is actually an elaboration of a fugue from Bach's E-minor toccata BWV 914. (Yes, Bach rearranged by a contemporary.) Hot stuff. Then he goes on to play five Vivaldi concertos arranged for organ: Bach's BWV 593, 596, and 594 interspersed with two anonymous 18th C arrangements. It's on a basilica organ in Milan, variable wind and all. Delightful playing, extremely energetic and intense.

Then I went on to the companion disc 672216, which is Loreggian again in more Vivaldi concertos but this time on an Italian harpsichord. Bach's BWV 972, 973, 976, and 978 interspersed with four more anonymous arrangements. I got only halfway through the disc because his playing is SO intense and exciting (almost too much, especially in the finale of BWV 973), I thought I might explode or something, or wake up others who were trying to sleep. Just too much of a good thing: harpsichord playing that completely commands the listener's attention. :)

Jim Morrison wrote (February 20, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] First, let me say I am not what you'd call an expert witness on the Bowyer Toccatas. I'm not a great fan of organ music (my problem, of course, not the instrument, I use to not like the harpsichord but now I can't get enough of it) nor do I love the Toccatas and I don't turn to them very often.

Having said that I do usually like Bowyer and he's one of my favorite organists. (Once again, my collection isn't large. He may be average.) And he's decent in the versions of 910, 912, and 913 that I have by him. (He also plays other harpsichord pieces like 894, 974, 989, and 894 on the recordings that I have: volumes 12 13. I have no idea how many other harpsichord works he plays. Hasn't Nimbus gone out of business. Say bye-bye to these recordings.)

He seems to play with more energy than some of the others in my collection, and I like that. Though I can see that at times he might seem a bit shallow. Clear vibrant sound with a littl grain/grit to it. Not as 'thick' as some. Again, I like that. Tempi are probably faster than some other recordings. Engaging, attention getting performences, I think. Nice rhythm to some of the peices, kind of bouncy.

And certainly in the Toccatas I find him superior to the more laid back Reitze Smits on Emergo Classics. Who knows, maybe in a few years I'll find her work deeper than his.

Let's see what Gramophone said about Bowyer:

Bowyer's straightforward approach to Bach makes for comfortable listening. At all times there's subtle, unobtrusive articulation which doesn't draw attention to itself. After hearing the two settings of Von Himmel hoch, or the fugues, one feels that his clear, unaffected playing is preferable to the self-conscious phrasing of other British organists. Also noticeable is the finely judged rubato.

However, some listeners may find Bowyer's playing too impersonal and restrained. In the Toccata in F sharp minor, for example, one might long for the declamatory flair that a harpsichordist would bring to this dramatic music; or one might wish for a more liberal use of ornamentation. In the C minor Fantasia, BWV 562, though, Bowyer shows what he can achi: expressive ornamentation is plentiful, and the final semiquaver flourish is strongly delivered. One wishes he had been just as responsive to Bach's imaginative harmonic colouring, but instead we get a rather matter-of-fact performance of the Kleines harmonisches Labyrinth. Also, it's a pity that his penchant for rapid tempos seriously detracts from the impact of the Fantasia in G, BWV 572, the Allabreve in D, BWV 589, and the Prelude and Fugue in C, BWV 550

Concering the Loreggian organ disc, that's one of my all-time favorite organ discs. That must say something about me. I love that organ as well. His playing is way more intense, to me, than Bowyer's, though I don't have recordings of them playing the same compositions to do a side-by-side comparison.

Just what is a basilica organ? Do they usually sound like this? If so, I've got to get me some more basilica organ discs.

I'm sure it also says something about me that one of my favorite organ discs is played by a harpsichordist.

Jim Morrison wrote (February 20, 2003):
< And certainly in the Toccatas I find him superior to the more laid back Reitze Smits on Emergo Classics. Who knows, maybe in a few years I'll find her work deeper than his. >
HIS work. HIS. Sorry about the slip, Reitze.

He plays like a girly girl! ;-)

Thomas Boyce wrote (February 20, 2003):
Well, I like Bowyer a lot. And right now, I'm comparing some times of pieces with Lionel Rogg. Rogg is, 9 times out of 10, slower than Bowyer. I don't like ponderous organ playing, which Bowyer isn't. I'm listening to the Rogg right now, and I'm really not sure I'm going to like it as much as I do the Bowyer. Nota bene: This is the last complete organ set I'm going to buy. Four is enough!

Jim Morrison wrote (February 20, 2003):
[To Thomas Boyce] Yeah, I'm listening to Bowyer right now as well. Good work I think. In fact, I'm liking him more than I ever have. Could it be I'm finally catching the feel for organ music?

I probably just need to listen to nothing but organ music for a few days/weeks until it really sinks in.

Thomas Boyce wrote (February 20, 2003)
Also, the recordings of Bowyer are fantastic. Just a great clear sound. Check out the Vivaldi transcriptions!

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 20, 2003):
[To Jim Morrison] "Girly girl," huh? You didn't by any chance see Disney's remake of "The Music Man" on Sunday night TV? (The other salesman sweeps into town, gets into conversation with Marian the Librarian, and keeps calling her "girly girl"....)

Donald Satz wrote (February 20, 2003):
[To Thomas Boyce] Rogg may be slower than Bowyer, but he is much quicker than folks like Jacob and Rübsam. Personally, I feel that Bowyer tends to be too fast and rather superficial.

Jim Morrison wrote (February 21, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] No. I tried to watch it, but thought this version paled in comparison to the original 1962 film (I guess it was the original), so I only watched a few minutes of it.

The 1962 film version of Ya Got Trouble in Rivercity is a riot, one of my favorite passages in any musical I've seen.

Josiah Armes wrote (February 22, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< The ones by Froberger and Frescobaldi, and the other mid-17th-century Italians such as Michelangelo Rossi. Sweelinck's are OK but less distinguished. Kerll's and Weckmann's are fun....
Oh, you meant Bach? :) The D major is the "greatest hit" and the D minor is (arguably) the weakest. The D major and E minor are the two that get the greatest WOW from an audience with (relatively) the least amount of work.
But Froberger's and
Frescobaldi's are "better." Those are REAL toccatas. Bach's toccatas are just Buxtehude's "Praeludium" form recycled and renamed. (Especially compare Buxtehude's BuxWV 163 with Bach's G minor toccata...formally it's pretty much the same piece, with different notes and somewhat different proportions.) Young Bach was just using a fairly effective form derivatively, and finding his way as a composer; interesting results, but not his best music.
There are also those (especially scholar Robert Marshall, and editor Heinz Lohmann, and myself among others) who believe Bach's toccatas are really primarily organ pieces that just happen to work well also on harpsichord and other keyboards. The rationale for this assessment is explained well by Marshall.
(Ducking and running for cover now, after saying some of these other people wrote toccatas better than our hero Bach did....) >
I am not going to throw anything at you. I have to agree with you that Froberger and Frescobaldi and other similar composers are closer to the true "Toccata"...at least as it was defined at that time. And also that some of Bach's Toccatas are just Buxtehude-style Preludes. I am particularly fascinated by Bach's Toccata in E major (for Organ), BWV 566, which IMO is more like Buxtehude than any of Bach's other works.

But one has to look at Bach's two mature Toccatas: the "Dorian" and the Toccata in F major and the accompanying fugues. They are masterpieces, considered by organists to be some of his greatest organ works of all time. And they are true Toccatas, if somewhat different stylistically from Frescobaldi.

And of course, now that I have written all that, it has occurred to me that you all may be referring to Bach's Toccatas for harpsichord and other non-organ instruments, while I am referring to the five Toccatas & Fugues written specifically for the pipe organ. Of which the famed Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, most probably not even written by Bach, is the most well-known example.

And yes, Bach is my hero too, but there are other composers that I can enjoy nearly as much as Bach. Such as Handel, Beethoven, Schumann, Franck, Corelli, just to name a few. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

Keyboard Toccatas BWV 910-916 - Discography

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 7, 2004):
I have compiled a discography of the Keyboard Toccatas BWV 910-916 (KBT). I have used every possible source I could find, including websites as J.S. Bach Home Page, All Classical Guide, web-stores as Amazon, and other websites I have been able to find using Google search engine, as well as various catalogues and my private collection.

You can find a list of the complete recordings of the KBT split into several pages, a page for a decade, starting at the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV910-916.htm
The discography includes complete sets of the 7 Toccatas, as well as complete recordings of individual Toccatas. It does not include recordings of individual movements from these works.

All in all there are at least 106 different recordings of these rather neglected works. This figure is quite impressive considering that these are the least recorded (and performed) of all Bach's keyboard works, which are organised in groups (Partitas, English & French Suites, etc.)

If you are aware of a recording of the KBT not listed in the discography pages, or if you find an error or missing information, please inform me, either through the BRML or to my personal e-mail address.

There have been some discussions of the KBT in the BRML. Those discussions have also been compiled, and the above page includes also links to the discussions. You are invited to use this discography and the previous discussions as a springboard for a new discussion of the Keyboard Toccatas. Right now I am listening to the excellent and most captivating rendition by Menno van Delft (Brilliant Classics).

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 7, 2004):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV910-916.htm
There have been some discussions of the KBT in the BRML. Those discussions have also been compiled, and the page includes also links to the discussions. You are invited to use this discography and the previous discussions as a springboard for a new discussion of the Keyboard Toccatas. >
Please add, somewhere on the page, a reference to Robert Marshall's article "Organ or 'Klavier'? Instrumental Prescriptions in the Sources of the Keyboard Works". In one of its sections he demonstrates that, most likely, these toccatas were [primarily] for the organ. (They, of course, also work well on the other keyboard instruments; but his case is for their primacy as organ pieces.)

Indeed they work marvelously on organ (I've been playing them in organ concerts since 1985, and longer than that on other instruments); and they're included in Heinz Lohmann's very well-researched organ edition (Breitkopf & Haertel #6583, published 1979).

The Marshall article is readily available in both of these books:
Amazon.com
Amazon.com

I see the discography has some of the organ recordings but is missing the one by Reitze Smits (1991). Sorry I don't have the details about that one; I've only heard a friend's copy of it. Enjoyable!

May I suggest that the page header be changed from "Keyboard Toccatas BWV 910-916" down to "Toccatas BWV 910-916", along with the English Title section?

They've been stigmatized as non-organ pieces basically because of 19th century conceits about organ music (for the editing of the BGA, and therefore also being grouped with the "keyboard" works in the BWV)...somebody took a look at them, saw the lack of independent pedal parts, and whoof...decided they weren't organ works.

Part of Marshall's case--not all of it, of course--is in the observation that the title is "Toccata manualiter" in about half of the sources. There would be no need to say "manualiter" if there weren't the expectation that they'd normally be played on an instrument that has a pedalboard, but (for these pieces) not using the pedals as an independent part. Naturally for music of this style and period, one can also play a few of the notes optionally on pedal for musical effect; the notation "manualiter" merely means that pedal is not required.

Similarly, Buxtehude's Praeludium in G minor BuxWV 163 for organ (manualiter) gets played and recorded on harpsichord and clavichord, as well. When one considers that the main source for it comes to us through Bach's circle, it is very tempting to form the hypothesis: Bach himself perhaps brought it home with him from his visit to Bux in 1705-6. Especially so, as Bach's own G minor toccata BWV 915 has such similar form...and even some of the same melodic/rhythmic ideas. Frankly, all of Bach's toccatas look and sound to me like direct musical descendants of this piece; an excellent compositional model.

Aryeh, I'll send you an mp3 of that Buxtehude piece, if you think it will make a valuable/interesting musical connection on that Toccatas page. Non-organ recordings are (at least) Paul Simmonds on clavichord, and Rinaldo Alessandrini and Lars Ulrik Mortensen on harpsichord. I won't rip those, due to copyright; but I've made an mp3 rip of my organ performance that's ready for release (this year sometime, we hope; editing of the album was completed in the autumn). That will be released as a conventional CD on St Olaf Records when we get the packaging done! The file is 5746K @96 kbps; timing 8'10".

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 8, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] I would watch your wording here.

I have seen and heard the Tokkaten performed just as much as the Goldbergs, the Englisches and Franzoesisches Suiten, the Partiten, the Inventionen and Sinfonien, the Chromatisches Phantasie und Fuge, the Partite (Ouvertuere) nach franzosicher Art and Konzert nach italienisches Gusto, and the Das Wohltemperierte Klavier Erster and Zweiter Teile.

To me, the works that are really being ignored are the solo Fugen, the Suiten and Suitensaetze BWV 818-824, the Konzertbearbeitungen BWV 972-987, and the miscellaneous Praeludien, Phantasien, Phantasien und Fugen, and Praeludien und Fugen. Not to mention the earlier versions and variants of the works abovestated and such works as the Konzert und Fuge c-Moll BWV 909.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 8, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I hate to burst your bubble here, but the theory you expressed has one problem with it.

According to the New Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians and other sources, Johann Gottfried Walther (who outside the Duebens is one of the primary source for Buxtehude's music) acquired a lot of his manuscripts from Andreas Werckmeister as well as from his own efforts. Therefore, while it might be tempting to think of that scenario happening, it flies squarely in the face of documented fact.

Aslo, I would point you to traditional North German Baroque tabulature. It was not until the latter 18th century that Orgelmusik and Klaviermusik were separated. Therefore we have situations like the one you addressed about BuxWV 163 (which, BTW, would also go for all the other works until we get to the Choralvorspiele, as well as BuxWV 225).

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 9, 2004):
In some remarks at: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/12827
I mentioned the connections of these Bach toccatas with the organ, and specifically with a piece by Buxtehude (Praeludium BuxWV 163).

Aryeh has kindly added a link to this Buxtehude piece, downloadable from the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV910-916-Mus.htm

Here is my introduction of that Buxtehude piece:
< Similarly, Buxtehude's Praeludium in G minor BuxWV 163 for organ (manualiter) gets played and recorded on harpsichord and clavichord, as well. When one considers that the main source for it comes to us through Bach's circle, it is very tempting to form the hypothesis: Bach himself perhaps brought it home with him from his visit to Bux in 1705-6. Especially so, as Bach's own G minor toccata BWV 915 has such similar form...and even some of the same melodic/rhythmic ideas. Frankly, all of Bach's toccatas look and sound to me like direct musical descendants of this piece; an excellent compositional model.

Aryeh, I'll send you an mp3 of that Buxtehude piece, if you think it will make a valuable/interesting musical connection on that Toccatas page. Non-organ recordings are (at least) Paul Simmonds on clavichord, and
Rinaldo Alessandrini and Lars Ulrik Mortensen on harpsichord. I won't rip those, due to copyright; but I've made an mp3 rip of my organ performance that's ready for release (this year sometime, we hope; editing of the album was completed in the autumn). That will be released as a conventional CD on St Olaf Records when we get the packaging done! The file is 5746K @96 kbps; timing 8'10". >

This performance was recorded June 1997 in the Martin-Luther-Kirche, Emden, Germany. Here is a photo of the organ, a three-manual Beckerath (classic design, with tracker action) that was new in the mid-1990s: http://kulturserver-nds.de/hpg/media/1674.jpg

It was fortuitous that this recording session happened at all. We were on a tour playing trumpet/organ concerts, and a parishioner of this church heard one of them in a nearby town. He had recently bought good recording equipment and wanted to teach himself how to be an engineer/producer; he's an attorney (Rechtsanwa) who loves music. So, he requested permission to record the concert he attended, and that worked out well. He also quickly booked several days for us as recording sessions at the end of the tour, and hosted us in his house...again just for the love of the music, and to get to know how musicians go about their business. He simply let us record and record all day, and he popped in now and then to watch, between serving clients at his office down the street. Then in the evenings we listened back to everything on his stereo system to figure out which takes sounded best.

Then that box of DAT tapes and our handwritten notes sat around for six years, waiting for the time and funding to work on it, to assemble it all into a releasable album. We finally got around to that last summer and autumn, getting a label and an engineer to put the dozen rounds of editing work into it, adjusting things until we all are satisfied. So, all the musical part is now ready and we're working on the packaging. Maybe it will get done before the 7th anniversary of the sessions?

It's not unusual for classical recording projects to take even longer than that, between the session and the release, waiting for the time/funding/commitment to get it done. But it's almost unheard-of that musicians get free lodging and meals, free use of recording equipment, and free access to a top-of-the-line new instrument in a suitable venue...on just a few days of notice.

Anyway, enjoy! The point is the musical connection between that Buxtehude piece and the form/content of the Bach toccatas, hearing how young Bach picked up the style ("Stylus Phantasticus") and made it his own.

David Glenn Lebut wrote (February 10, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] However, I would be a little wary of linking Bach's Klaviertokkaten with Buxtehude's model. In most of them (i.e., BWV 910, 911, 912, 913, 915, and 916), there are more elements of Alessandro Scarlatti than Dietrich Buxtehude. I would like you to compare Bach's Klaviertokkaten, the Toccate of Alessandro Scarlatti, and the Orgel-und Klavierpraeludien and Tokkaten of Buxtehude and see what you think. This is not a debunking of your views, but a deep curiosity as a performer to see what a professional performer would think.

Neil Halliday wrote (February 10, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] This is an excellent recording of that Buxtehude piece, Brad!.

I love your choice of registration, which shows a selection of the organ's capabilities, from quiet to powerful; and your playing appears to be of the highest order. The recording engineering sounds excellent - and I love the modern appearance of the organ, as shown in the photo. (Speaking of modern, this instrument is tuned to equal temperament, yes?).

As you say, we can hear just how much Bach has followed Buxtehude's example in organ writing, not to mention the keyboard toccatas.

Congratulations for this exciting performance of a brilliant organ work.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 10, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< However, I would be a little wary of linking Bach's Klaviertokkaten with Buxtehude's model. In most of them (i.e., BWV 910, 911, 912, 913, 915, and 916), there are more elements of Alessandro Scarlatti than Dietrich Buxtehude. I would like you to compare Bach's Klaviertokkaten, the Toccate of Alessandro Scarlatti, and the Orgel-und Klavierpraeludien and Tokkaten of Buxtehude and see what you think. This is not a debunking of your views, but a deep curiosity as a performer to see what a professional performer would think. >
Yes, I've played through some of Alessandro Scarlatti's keyboard music; and plenty of other Italian and German toccatas from that generation, and earlier. You're right, there is some resemblance...just from being the genre that it is. Of course there is. All the way back into Picchi and Frescobaldi, through Froberger and the Neapolitans and the Hasslers and Pachelbel and Sweelinck and everybody else. Such music has been around for a long, long time, that toccata structure.

But, to assert an influence more from A Scarlatti than Buxtehude: do you have evidence that Bach at age 20-30 (when he wrote his toccatas and praeludia: some with pedals, some without) knew any of Alessandro Scarlatti's music directly?

Besides--isn't it true that Alessandro Scarlatti's toccatas were all (or, at least most) written after Bach's? From about the last ten years of his life, i.e. 1715-1725?

Meanwhile, young Bach before 1710 obviously knew Buxtehude as he had just got home from visiting him for four months, winter 1705. I have all of Buxtehude's extant organ works right here, and all of his praeludia and toccatas look like the style that young Bach adopted into his own, right down to many of the same keyboard flourishes. What's wrong with the conventional view that Bach's primary influence here was, indeed, Buxtehude?

Anyway--yes, it's reasonable to note that Bach's and A Scarlatti's toccatas have some resemblance; but as for A.S. influencing J.S.B. with them, I don't think so.

I do enjoy listening to Rinaldo Alessandrini's recording of A.S. toccatas: Arcana A3, recorded 1991. He uses a Roman harpsichord from 1678, and his performance sparkles. I wouldn't say the music is especially memorable, though....

If you want some toccatas that are a blast to play, get Michelangelo Rossi's. I like those parts in #6 where it really can't decide whether it's in 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, or 3/8. (In the notes: not with the meter signature explicitly changing.) There are some metrical puns like that in plenty of William Byrd's music, too.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 11, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I guess I should make my point clearer.

The typical North German (Buxtehudian) format of the Tokkate (and also the Praeludium and Phantasie) have a more rigid structural format: Free-Fugal-Free (Figural)-Fuagl-Free (in some cases there might be a thrd Fugal section and another Free section). A majority of the Bach Klaviertokkaten (and also the Tokkate C-Dur BWV 564, for that matter), however, have a more loose formal structure with more added movements. This format is typical of the latter Baroque Italian Toccate as exemplified by Alessandro Scarlatti. Even the counterpoint is looser in the Fugal sections than in the North German style (again like the Italians).

It would be interesting (I think) to compare the Klaviertokkaten and BWV 564 with the Tokkate E-Dur BWV 566 (which has [reportedly] as its model BuxWV 141 [Praeludium E-Dur]) Here we have a truly North German-style Tokkate very much in the line of Buxtehude.

Another thing: the individual sections of the works mentioned above seem (at least to me) to be able to stand on their own. This is also true of the Alessandro Scarlatti-style latter Baroque Italian Toccate. However, the North German-style Tokkate is 1 long progression, the individual sections uniting so intrinsically with one another to form a whole that they would not necessarilly make much sense on their own. Even the cadences are different between sections in the latter than in the former. In the latter (with the exception of the final section), the sections usually end with a half-cadence. In the former, however, the sections usually end with a full, tonic (for that section, not necessarilly for the whole work) cadence.

In summation, I find that most of the Klaviertokkaten (and BWV 564) fall much closer to the Italian Toccate rather than the Buxtehudian (North German) Tokkate.

Also, I would point out that most of the Klaviertokkaten were written after 1710. According to what I have read and heard, Bach only wrote 2 Klaviertokkaten before 1710 (most likethe fis-Moll and c-Moll[?] Tokkaten BWV 910 and 911, although I would probably favor BWV 913 and 914). I have read where he was acquainted with Alessandro Scarlatti's works (he familiarized himself with almost all Italian musical thought, genre, and works in about 1711-1717).

As to your point about the earlier works, yes they do show the North German influences and also the French. For example, the Fugal section of BWV 565 speaks to me like the Tokkate d-Moll BuxWV 155 and also the minor-key Orgelwerke of Georg Boehm (who was amongst the first generation of the Norddeutsch Orgelschule to incorporate the indigenous style of Northern Germany with the style of the French), as well as the fugal writing style of the French Clavecinists and Organists. I have no argument there. My argument is with the Klaviertokkaten specifically (and perhaps with BWV 564 as well). Here , in these 8 works, I find that there is a shift taking place from the earlier works (with their North German and French models) to the more early mature period works (in which there is a more Italianate influence). The rules (which were more rigid before, especially in counterpoint and fugal writing) are becoming more loosened. Movements which heretofore would probably not have even been considered are starting to creep into the form (at least under Bach's hands). We also start (in these works) to see the Keyboard "sing" in many of the movements. In a way, I feel that these works pave the way for the Konzertbearbeitungen and such works as the Praeludium (Tokkate) und Fuge F-Dur BWV 540 and later works.

Craig Schweickert wrote (February 11, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< Also, I would point out that most of the Klaviertokkaten were written after 1710. According to what I have read and heard, Bach only wrote 2 Klaviertokkaten before 1710 (most likely the fis-Moll snd c-Moll[?] Tokkaten BWV 910 and 911, although I would probably favor BWV 913 and 914). I have read where he was acquainted with Alessandro Scarlatti's works (he familiarized himself with almost all Italian musical thought, genre, and works in about 1711-1717). >
910 Toccata, f# c1710
911 Toccata, c c1710
912 Toccata, D Weimar, c1710
913 Toccata, d before 1708
914 Toccata, e before 1708
915 Toccata, g before 1708
916 Toccata, G Weimar, c1710

- Work-list for J.S. Bach in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

Back to the books!

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 11, 2004):
[To Craig Schweikert]
912a pre 1705
913 1703-1707 more likely 1706-1707
912 1707-1708
914 1707-1708
915 1707-1708
916 1709-1710
910 1709-1711 no later than 1714
911 1709-1711 no later than 1714

NBA V/9.1 KB

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 11, 2004):
< (...) plenty of other Italian and German toccatas from that generation, and earlier. You're right, there is some resemblance...just from being the genre that it is. Of course there is. All the way back into Picchi and Frescobaldi, through Froberger and the Neapolitans and the Hasslers and Pachelbel and Sweelinck and everybody else. Such music has been around for a long, long time, that toccata structure. >
Here is the printed series with much of that good stuff: http://www.corpusmusicae.com/cekm.htm

My favorites from there are the Michelangelo Rossi (as I mentioned), Bernardo Storace, and Christian Erbach. Such terrific, yet little-known, music!

Something I especially appreciate about the editorial method of that series is: except for changing the clefs to typical treble and bass, they present the music as it is in the manuscripts they worked from. They don't go trying to conflate readings from multiple sources, or "fixing" things other than the most obvious places where the notes have copying errors (e.g. off by a third), and occasionally suggesting changes of accidentals...always noted clearly on the same page of the music, not off in an appendix or a separate book. That is, they let performers come to our own conclusions about things that look questionable in the musical text...allow us to think for ourselves like composers, not just consumers where editors have made decisions whitewashing the music's quirks and inconsistencies.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 12, 2004):
[To Craig Schweikert] Actually, that is in keeping with my point. The ones I mentioned in the parentheses apparently were earlier, whilst most of the others were later.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 12, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I have seen the edition, and I feel that it is a good source for most of the early Tabulaturbuchs and the like, as well as those works by composers that do not have editions of their Keyboard music published recently yet. That said, I would advise, however, that form many of the composers used in the series to look rather at the published editions of their works. Many cases (such as in the Keyboard works of Frescobaldi) there are Critical Editions out there, whereas in the case of the series suggested, there is no evidence that Apel went into any great pains to try to come to a better understanding of the manuscripts/autographs and publish his findings in music format. Most of what he puts down in these editions is practically a mirror image of the aforementioned Critical Editions in the case of composers like Frescobaldi and Pasquini.

 

Toccatas BWV 910-916 - Revised Discography

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 23, 2007):
In February 2004, I informed you of a list I had compiled of the complete recordings of the Toccatas BWV 910-916. The list included then 106 albums. During the past three years I have gathered info of additional recordings, using every possible source I including web-catalogues, web-stores, web-magazines, artists' websites, labels' websites and other websites, as well as various printed catalogues and my personal collection. Many BRML members and other Bach fans have supplied me info of unfamiliar recordings. Their names are mentioned as contributors at the bottom of the relevant pages. I am sincerely grateful to them all.

You can find the list of complete recordings of Toccatas split into several pages, a page for a decade, starting at the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV910-916.htm
The list includes both recordings of all 7 Toccatas and recordings of individual Toccatas. Except of a few cases, recordings of individual movements are not included. All in all, 152 albums with the Toccatas are now listed. As in previous discographies in the BCW, each recording is listed only once. All the issues of each recording are presented together. If a performer has recorded the Toccatas more than once, the info includes also the recording number.

If you are aware of a recording of the Toccatas not listed in these pages, or if you find an error or missing information, please inform me, either through the BRML or to my personal e-mail address.

 

BCW: Toccatas BWV 910-916 - Revised & Updated Discography

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 5, 2011):
The discography pages of the Toccatas for keyboard BWV 910-916 on the BCW have been revised & updated:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV910-916.htm
The discography is arranged chronologically by recording date, a page per a decade, and includes 198 different recordings.
If you have any correction, addition, etc., please inform me.

 

Toccatas BWV 910-916: Details
Recordings:
1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019
Reviews:
K Bowyer - Vol. 13 | Toccatas - A. Hewitt | Toccatas - E. Parmentier | Toccatas - P. Watchorn & R. Troeger
Discussions:
General Discussions - Part 1 | Toccatas - B.v. Asperen

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