Johann Sebastian Bach

Toccata and Fugue, for organ in D minor ("Dorian"), BWV 538 (BC J38)

    Description by John Palmer

    According to the obituary printed after his death, Johann Sebastian Bach composed most of his organ works in Weimar, where he worked between 1708 and 1717. This is not surprising, since after his appointment at Weimar his duties did not involve the composition of works for the organ. His years as organist there witnessed a tremendous development in his compositional style, particularly in the realm of freely composed preludes and fugues.

    Scholars believe Bach began this work while in Weimar, and completed it probably in 1712-1723. Bach's omission of the B flat from the key signature (it appears instead as an accidental) has prompted the nickname "Dorian," but it is clearly minor, not truly Dorian. The lively toccata is, as one would expect, a great vehicle for the demonstration of digital dexterity, but its square rhythms mark it as an early work. Bach seems to have been influenced by the north German school in his use of two manuals for the toccata. The fugue is the real prize of this work; its weight makes the preceding toccata seem superfluous. Striking stylistic contrasts abound in the fugue, with an Italianate, vocal-style subject and numerous repeated chords, another nod to the north German school. At 222 measures, it is one of the composer's longest fugues, over half of it being dedicated to intense episodic development. In the exposition, we hear four entries of the subject, a seven-measure, syncopated theme, each paired with one of two countersubjects. A counter-exposition follows, reversing the order of the entries, placing the dominant-level answers before the tonic entries as the counterpoint loosens a bit. The four entries in the developmental segment, the first and third of which initiate brief canons, explore various harmonies. In the recapitulation, three more entries also introduce canons and, as with earlier subject entries, maintain a dense contrapuntal structure. With one exception, episodes are not built on new material, but derive from a canonic sequence that follows the first answer in the exposition. These episodes also are canonic, but the nature of the material makes the passages sound less contrapuntal than the subject entries and emphasizes cross rhythms. Even after the final entry, with its full pedal, Bach begins another episode, this one functioning as a coda.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Toccata
    2. Fugue

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 19075915582
    2018 Decca
    2018 Piano Classics PCL 10139
    2018 Signum Classics SIGCD 808
    2017 Rondeau ROP 6140
    2017 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 16010
    2017 Gothic Records G 49304
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95310BR
    2016 Lawo Classics LWC 1087
    2016 Onclassical OC 150B
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95166BR
    2016 La Dolce Volta LDV 201
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88985321742
    2015 Ligia LIDI 0104274
    2015 Brilliant Classics 94981BR
    2015 MDG MDGSC 9491893
    2015 Prestare ZWF 3331568
    2015 ZYX Classics CLA 101892
    2014 Profil / Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 13053
    2013 TYX Art TXA 12015
    2012 EtCetera Records ETC 1442
    2012 Brilliant Classics 94380
    2012 Rewind REW 500
    2012 Tactus TC 580001
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2011 Erato 2564676018
    2011 Antes Edition / Zebralution
    2010 Documents 233041
    2010 Brilliant Classics 94050
    2010 Dorian 92104
    2010 Hyperion 64409
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4778628
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 477 862-8
    2010 Decca
    2010 Apex 256467940
    2010 Hyperion CDA 30004
    2010 Regis Records 1317
    2010 Regent 301
    2010 Decca
    2010 ZYX Classics 1023
    2009 Raven 908
    2009 Ricercar 289
    2009 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2009 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2009 EMI Classics
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926428
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Ramée 0903
    2009 Ricercar 276
    2009 Calliope 5718
    2009 X5 Music Group 14359
    2008 ZYX Music 10316
    2008 Philips 464988
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93668
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 4777521
    2008 Maestro Music 4696560
    2008 EMI Music Distribution 09393
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 4694202
    2007 Musical Concepts 191
    2007 Analekta 24022-43
    2007 Elatus
    2007 Priory Records 867
    2007 Cascade Records 2100
    2007 Erato 4699028
    2006 Brilliant Classics 93102
    2006 Brilliant Classics 99697
    2006 Raven 875
    2006 Alba 209
    2006 Novalis 150180
    2006 Loft Recordings 1080
    2005 Regis Records 2042
    2005 Hyperion CDA67506
    2005 Arsis 402
    2005 Interdisc Trading 97440
    2005 Direct Source 4438
    2004 Sony Classical 92769
    2004 Archipel 84
    2004 Archiv Produktion 000185602
    2004 Brilliant Classics 92391
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 000310102
    2003 Art & Music 1539/58
    2003 Sony Music Distribution 87983
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    2003 Pro Organo 7138
    2002 CBC Records 2009
    2002 Hyperion 44121/36
    2001 Loft Recordings 1023
    2001 Calcante Recordings 41
    2001 Ornament 11445
    2001 Motette 50721
    2001 CPO 999754
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 469616
    2001 Direct Source / Direct Source Special 3378
    2001 Legacy CJH005
    2000 Kleos Classics 5107
    2000 Harmonia Mundi 907249
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 73878
    2000 Archiv Produktion 463712
    2000 Haenssler 92092
    2000 Cedille Records 5003
    2000 Raven 470
    2000 Simax 1152
    1999 Teldec 25705
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    1999 Harmonia Mundi 290772
    1999 Teldec 3984-25713-2
    1999 Valois 4425
    1999 Quicksilva 6231
    1999 Archiv Produktion 419904
    1999 Gothic Records 49104
    1999 Berlin Classics 9367
    1999 Lyrichord 6005
    1998 JAV Recordings JAV103
    1998 Capriccio Records 10720
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453 064-2GTA2
    1997 Point Classics 265032
    1997 Par Excellence/St. Clair 99342
    1997 Naxos 414014
    1997 BX 98502
    1997 Gothic Records 49093
    1996 Cedille Records 6
    1996 Teldec 97901
    1996 Archiv Produktion 447292
    1996 Par Excellence/St. Clair 24362
    1996 BIS 123/125
    1995 London 443485
    1995 Vox 5100
    1995 Naxos 553150
    1995 London 444410
    1995 Novalis 150130
    1995 Sony Music Distribution 23251
    1994 Disques Pierre Verany 730001
    1994 Novalis 150036
    1994 Erato 96358
    1994 Erato 96719
    1994 Summit Records 101
    1993 Dorian 90149
    1992 Telarc Distribution CD80286
    1992 Moss Music Group 5059
    1990 Hyperion 66434
    1988 CBS Records 42643
    1986 Newport Classic 60001
    1984 Archiv Produktion 410999
    Priory Records 267
    Brilliant 93102-VOL6
    Brilliant 99706
    Brilliant 99706/14
    Brilliant 93102/152
    Analekta 4027
    Digital Concerto 615
    Powder Classics 5056
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    Deutsche Grammophon 403302
    Ligia 104069/70
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    London 421337
    Philips 420860
    Musique d'Or 1014
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    Deutsche Schallplatten 1056
    Newport Classic 60090
    Archiv Produktion 413638
    Philips 4163632
    Cascade Records 2133
    Cascade Records 2136
    Cascade Records 2105
    Vox 5059
    Priory Records 523
    Unison 80012