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Having thus momently 'come through', the young Bach affirms unity in a longish fugue on a rising-and-falling-scale-theme, mostly in three parts but ending, not in fugal unity, but with a return to broken figuration in toccata style; at this point a passionate immediacy mattered more to Bach than a resolution of contrarieties. Moreover, this pattern is repeated: for another adagio section dominated by 'weeping' thirds and itself instable in tonality, again blows up in presto figuration, ending on an unresolved dominant. It is interesting that these early toccatas tend to palliate the 'monism' of fugue by using dual subjects in two complementary, interlocking sections. Duality is resolved in a final tierce de Picardie.

The E minor toccata (BWV 914) was composed shortly after Bach's move, in 1708, to Weimar, where he embarked on his first major compositional cycle. It approaches more nearly than the unbuttoned D minor work to the toccata ideal of a synthesis of painful passion with desperate discipline: we may recall that E minor became Bach's Crucifixion key. Even the introductory toccata-flourishes are at moderate speed and relatively sober in mien: while the succeeding fugato, though marked allegro, is in four severely interlocked parts that generate often acute dissonances. In any case, the approach to fugal unity is swept away by a return to 'quasi fantasia' style: perhaps because the young Bach believed that only through freedom could he win through to, and deserve, an achieved unity. He demonstrates this in concluding with a long, fully developed fugue on a wrigglingly serpentine subject balanced between stepwise-moving semiquavers, broken chords, and declining chromatics. Perhaps significantly, this fugue was adapted from an organ fugue recently written at Weimar; its physical energy seems to hint also at metaphysical dimensions.

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Copyright © 18 August 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK






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