The Many Faces Of Bach’s Toccata And Fugue

At some point about 1740, it is thought that Bach wrote what has become perhaps his most famous work for the organ, the extremely well known Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – well many people think that he wrote it, an equal number it seems are convinced that he did not write it.  Perhaps it was written by Shakespeare?

However that may be, and to be honest, I don’t really care who wrote it, as it is simply a very enjoyable piece of music, which for me is all that matters. It has been interpreted by no end of musicians in an amazing range of styles and on all manner of instruments.   I suspect that it has been subjected to more versions than just about any other piece of music, some good, some superb, and some – of course – God awful.

I have a number of different versions of this work in my music collection, and as I was listening to several of them the other day I thought it might be fun to have a look and see how many differing versions I could find, and I was amazed at what I found…  Everything from organs, through banjos to Heavy Metal versions, all good in their way and enjoyable to a greater or lesser degree – depending on one’s musical tastes I suppose.   Mine are extremely catholic (please note the small “c”) so I like pretty well all the versions that follow.

So, to set the scene, here is a performance of the standard version, on a church organ thus…

Splendid stuff I think you will agree.  Such power and emotion in this extraordinary piece of music.  I particularly love the second section where the organ runs happily up and down the keyboard…   Such happy music.   And then the sudden surges of the amazing power of a full size church organ.. Breath-taking stuff.

But, as I indicated above, there are many other versions of this piece, and some by their very nature are much less powerful, but still have the emotions of the original version, this one for example.  I know that it has a sound a bit like an organ, but it assuredly is not one.

I love the ethereal sound of the glass harmonica, such a purity of tone and that vibration… goes straight through me, but I do have a very serious sound system with speakers more than capable of reproducing all those clear sounds…  I am also always very impressed by the mere fact that anyone can play that collection of glasses, how the hell do they manage it?

So now from the sublime to the silly, we have a version on the ukulele of all unlikely things…

With all  due respect to the young guy playing his instrument, perhaps not the best version of Bach’s music that has ever been offered to the waiting world, but it has a certain charm I find, and lets face it, it takes courage to bung a video of yourself playing this iconic work on a ukulele onto Youtube.

And in fact as it goes along, it does develop a sort of thoughtful air I found.   The trick is to listen to it without thinking “who in their right mind would play this music on such a damn fool instrument?”

Earlier in this post I let fall the words Heavy Metal, now generally Heavy Metal groups do not play Bach, but to my surprise I found quite a few Heavy Metal versions of this piece, so here to demonstrate this unlikely situation are a couple of them for your pleasure.

Fun eh?

ANd now Ian Anderson offers us this version…..  Sorry about the long intro, nothing I can do about that…

Quite fun don’t you think?   Actually he plays extremely well, not simply a “Sex Drugs And Rock And Roll” guy obviously.

And now for something totally unexpected…  A couple of literally electronic versions of this work, the first one, believe it or not is actually played by a collection of floppy disc drives….  Really!

I am at a complete loss as to what to say about this one….   Worth reading the guy’s description of how he managed to get this to work though.  I love such individuals, why on earth would anyone even think of doing this?   Wonderful bloke!!

And here is yet an even weirder version, this time “played” on an old dot matrix printer believe it or not…………………………

Whilst I would agree that both of these leave something to be desired on a musical level, they demonstrate clearly what an amazing composer Bach really was.  If his music can survive this and still manage to have power and meaning when played on a printer or collection of disc drives, then he must have been one hell of a composer I feel.

Enough of the silly end of things, now lets have a look at a vocal version, this time by of all unlikely groups, a bunch of Iranian singers giving us their acapella version of this work.

Wasn’t that beautiful?  And somewhat unexpected too I feel.  I particularly enjoyed the deep bass voice grumbling along below all the others, only audible at times, but great nonetheless.

Next, inevitably, I have an electro version for your delectation…   Not very original in any way, but fun I suppose…

And to finish off, a version that I really love, even though it is musicall totally corny in my view. Provided you have a sound system capable of playing bass notes with real power, than this is far and away the most entertaining version of this piece….  Wait for the double basses to come in near the start.. .breathtaking they are…

So there you go, a wide range of interpretations of this superb piece of music, and I feel that the last one has all the fun and dignity of the original organ version about it.

I hope you have enjoyed my selection of versions of this work, I certainly enjoyed the hunt for them!


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