Bach AWOL

Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C, BWV 564 J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
— organ

Bach’s first official organ post was at Arnstadt, which featured a small instrument in a small town (population 3800) and a choir director noted for leaving in the middle of the sermon to visit a wine shop.

In 1705 a 20-year-old Bach applied for and got permission to leave take an unpaid leave of absence for a month to hear Buxtehude. He left his job in the capable hands of an assistant, and traveled to Lubeck where he met the approximately 68-year old Dietrich Buxtehude, organist at St. Mary’s, and director of the town music.

Now in those days Advent was another penitential season – no music allowed in the service – something of a Lent Lite. Curiously, however, grand music outside of the service was O.K., so Buxtehude traditionally put on a series of evening concerts in Advent. Bach had originally only planned to stay for the month of November – it would appear he didn’t know about the Advent concerts. So he had a tough decision – return home as planned, miss the Advent concerts and hope he could make the 500-mile-round-trip on foot next Advent? Or stay an extra month? Bach chose the latter and took his lumps when he got home.

Buxtehude was also well known as a virtuoso organist, famous for a rather free-style approach to composition. This apparently impressed Bach greatly, as he came home and wrote the [in]famous Toccata and Fugue in Dm (BWV 565) made famous by Bela Lugosi, Captain Nemo, and Disney’s Fantasia. He also wrote a sister piece, the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C (BWV 564) which is simply bursting with exuberance and joy.