Fugues can be FUN! Who knew?

Toccata in Em J.S.Bach (1685-1750)

A ‘toccata’ is a free-style piece, usually on the showy side. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ is probably the most [in]famous, but he wrote many others.

This morning’s toccata opens with a moody introduction, then a mysterious ‘fugue light’, then a dream-like improvisatory section. All of this sets up a rather marvelous fugal finale.

A ‘fugue’ is a piece written to follow all the rules set forth by the Intergalactic Fugue Commission. First a fugue must have a ‘fugue subject’ — the main tune on which the fugue is built. Then there’s a formula that must be followed to start a fugue — first the fugue subject must be played by itself, then as each of the other parts enters the first thing it must play is the fugue subject. And lastly, the fugue subject is supposed to keep reappearing throughout the rest of the piece.

Usually fugues are rather like Shakespeare sonnets: a very rarefied taste, takes a lot of work to appreciate them, very forbidding and austere — the complete opposite of ‘easy listening’. And Bach wrote plenty of fugues like that. But the finale to this morning’s Toccata is one of my favorite fugues: while following all the rules Bach manages to pour a lot of fire into a normally stuffy musical form. Who knew a fugue could be FUN?