Bach – Toccata and Fugue inn D-minor (arr. Stokowski)

by Max Derrickson

We think of pipe organs today as magnificent powerhouses of music, which indeed they can be, but the origins of the pipe organ are rather humble.  Historians believe it was in the 3rd Century BC that a Greek engineer named Ktesibios took to solving the engineering problem of playing multiple pipes at once.  He invented the “hydraulis” which, as its name implies, used water pressure to regulate the flow of air [. . .]


Johann Sebastian Bach
(Born in Eisenach, Germany in 1685; died in Leipzig, Germany in 1750)

Toccata and Fugue in D-minor, BMV 565
Arranged for Orchestra by Leopold Stokowski


By the 18th Century, the pipe organ was established with its wind bellows and distinctive-sounding pipes that have continued as the modern organ, and organ music was especially cherished in Germany.  In 1708, the 23-year old Johann Sebastian Bach was already well known as an extraordinary organist, as well as designer and builder of organs, and at that point he began a seven-year post as the organist at the ducal court in Weimar.  Bach was also a bit of a fire-brand and enjoyed showing off.  One of the first pieces he composed in this new post was his Toccata and Fugue in D-minor [. . .]

Almost 200 years later another great organist came to know Bach’s Toccata and Fugue well.  Born and trained as an organist in Britain, Leopold Stokowski (1882 – 1977) [. . .]  and with his love of Bach’s great works, began transcribing them for orchestra, beginning with the magnificent Toccata and Fugue in D-minor.  Within a decade, Stokowski would become even more renowned as the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and when Walt Disney began work on his animated film Fantasia, [. . .]

Bach’s original work is a powerhouse of sound and inventiveness, its opening toccata ablaze with notes for superhuman fingers, its fugue a piece of might and majesty, its harmonies cutting edge for its time.  The work is immensely moving.  What Stokowski brought to it was [. . .]   Hearing Bach’s masterpiece in Stokowski’s orchestral arrangement is an extraordinary experience.