Bach was best known during his lifetime as an organist, organ consultant, and composer of organ works in both the traditional German free genres such as preludes, fantasias, and toccatas and stricter forms, such as chorale preludes and fugues. According to Ahti Tarkkanen's historical article Blindness of Johann Sebastian Bach, “At the age of 64 years, his vision started to decline. By persuasion of his friends, he had his both eyes operated by a travelling British eye surgeon. Bach was totally blind and unable to play an organ, compose or direct choirs and orchestras. He was confined to bed and suffering from immense pain of the eyes and the body. He died less than 4 months after surgery.” (Tarkkanen, 2013).
Bach composed over 1000 works, which he composed in a variety of styles and forms. Bach, in his early organ works, applied his own counterpoint skills to the speedy themes of his influences: Vivaldi, Corelli, and Albinoni. Historians mark the end of the Baroque period with Bach’s death in 1750, paying homage to one of the most revered composers of all time.
In Baroque composition, contrast is an integral component. The distinctions between loud and soft, solo and ensemble (as in the concerto), various instruments and timbres all play a consequential role in numerous Baroque compositions.
Some of the styles and forms utilized in Baroque music are: Concerto Gross, Fugue, Suite, Sonata, Toccata, Passacaglia, and vocal forms such as Opera. The lute, violin, viola, cello, and double bass were some of the string instruments utilized in Baroque compositions. Wind instruments in Baroque music included the flute, oboe, bassoon, and recorder. Keyboard music in Baroque compositions were reserved for the organ, or harpsichord.
The most significant instrument to the Baroque period was the organ. “Moreover, the Baroque organ was an organ of transition. This is particularly important when we think of the organ of Bach. Bach played German organs of every type from late renaissance vintage with 'spring chests', to the mature works of Gottfried Silbermann in which the seeds of romanticism were already sown.” (Sumner, 1954). The most famous organ builders and greatest organs were all in northern Europe. Silbermann organs were considered masterpieces not only by J.S. Bach, who was often asked to test these new organs to their max potential wind and sound qualities. Silbermann organs, to this day, are considered some of the best and most high quality organs ever built.
Toccata and Fugue in D minor is a thundering piece which evokes the feeling of exploring the darkness of the unknown and the magical. It also conjures up feelings of suspense, excitement, and thrill. This piece evokes images of a terrible storm. The quick, downward motion of the first three runs can be seen as strikes of lightning, and the following turbulent chord that begins in the pedals and comes up through the keys is reminiscent of clashing thunder. The toccata ends with a brief pedal solo with full, dark chords that bring this section to a haunting conclusion. Toccata and Fugue in D minor has been featured in films, particularly in Fantasia, and video games.
Noehren, R. (1999). An organist's reader: Essays. Warren, Mich.: Harmonie Park Press. Sumner, W. L. (1954). The Baroque Organ. Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association. Barnicotts. Tarkkanen, A. (2013). Blindness of Johann Sebastian Bach. Acta Ophthalmologica, 91(2), 191-192. Tucker, D. (1998). Great Piano Works -- The Mini Series: Johann Sebastian Bach. Alfred Music Publishing.