J S BACH Toc­cata

De­spite early ques­tions over its prove­nance, this dra­matic piece has since be­come an iconic piece of work by the pro­lific com­poser. Brid­get Mermikides tran­scribes Toc­cata for clas­si­cal gui­tar.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

With its thun­der­ous chords, this dra­matic piece has be­come a hor­ror-film favourite. Brid­get tran­scribes it for clas­si­cal gui­tar.

This month we re­turn to the great Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach (1685-1750). JS Bach was recog­nised as an out­stand­ing com­poser and multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist dur­ing his life­time, but he had to en­dure a gru­elling work sched­ule. It was only around 100 years af­ter his death when – helped by great ad­mir­ers of his work such as Chopin – a sig­nif­i­cant and deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion of his mu­sic emerged. His in­cred­i­ble con­trol of har­mony, melody and coun­ter­point is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered by many as be­ing as close as pos­si­ble to mu­si­cal per­fec­tion and ‘truth’. The tech­ni­cal skill and range of emo­tions in his huge com­po­si­tional out­put has had a pro­found in­flu­ence, not just on western art mu­sic but also on a range of di­verse gen­res, in­clud­ing modernism, metal, jazz, pop, elec­tron­ica, tango and be­yond. His mu­sic is also very no­ta­tion­ally ‘pure’ in that all his pieces are trans­portable to prac­ti­cally any in­stru­ment, a qual­ity that un­doubt­edly con­trib­utes to the en­dur­ing legacy of his works. He is a cen­tral fig­ure even in clas­si­cal gui­tar reper­toire, de­spite the in­stru­ment as we now know it not hav­ing ex­isted in Bach’s life­time.

I’ve se­lected for this ar­range­ment, the Toc­cata sec­tion from the fa­mous Toc­cata and Fugue in D mi­nor BWV 565 writ­ten for or­gan. The ori­gins of the piece are, in fact, rather un­clear and some mu­si­col­o­gists have even ques­tioned whether it is ac­tu­ally writ­ten by the man him­self; the only copy from near the time be­ing made by a stu­dent of a stu­dent of Bach’s named Jo­hannes Ringk. The gen­eral con­sen­sus, how­ever, sup­ports his au­thor­ship in the last few years of his life. Re­gard­less of ori­gins, this is an ex­tra­or­di­nary and iconic piece of enor­mous drama, and it is to the church or­gan as per­haps Stair­way is to the elec­tric gui­tar. It is also – per­haps due to its dra­matic open­ing, use of thun­der­ous di­min­ished chords and con­nec­tion to the ‘spooky’ church or­gan – a long es­tab­lished cliché of the hor­ror movie genre. Mu­si­cally, the work dis­plays clear con­cepts that all hap­pen to work well on the gui­tar in the orig­i­nal key with drop D tun­ing. Th­ese in­clude 1: rep­e­ti­tion of a melodic phrase across three oc­taves (which fit quite snugly on the gui­tar) in bars 1-2. 2: sym­met­ri­cal mo­tion of a di­min­ished triad shape across the fret­board (bars 22-27). 3: over-ring­ing chord arpeg­gios (bars 2-3, 10-11) and 4: the short but iconic main theme in bars 12-15, which in­volves the rapid al­ter­na­tion of a fixed ‘pedal tone’ bass note (played with the pick­ing hand thumb) and a higher mov­ing melody played with the pick­ing hand fin­gers.

The tech­ni­cal re­quire­ments of this piece – though chal­leng­ing – are ac­tu­ally rather clear, so this work is not only a sat­is­fy­ing, and recog­nis­able, per­for­mance piece but an ex­cel­lent study in which to de­velop skills that may be used else­where.

NEXT MONTH Brid­get tran­scribes Gus­tav Holst’s rous­ing, I Vow To Thee My Coun­try

its thun­der­ous di­min­ished chords and ‘church or­gan’ con­nec­tion make it an est ab­lished cliché of the hor­ror movie

Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach: did he write Toc­cata, or not?

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