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The G minor Toccata (BWV 915) was probably written in the same year as the E minor. It is a still more 'contrarious' piece that ends in even more patent and potent triumphalism. The startling opening juxtaposes cascades of whirling semiquaver triplets in 24/16 time with an elaborate ornamented recitative section, accompanied by massively dissonant chords in three parts, in an operatic style that Bach frequently adapted to organ sonorities. Yet this grand lament is partnered by a double fugue on two subjects, one arpeggiated with cuckooing falling thirds, the other stepwise-moving, the key being G minor's relative, B flat major. The unexpected jocularity, even wit, of this piece bears on what is yet to come: for Bach's ironic recognition of 'other modes of experience that may be possible' leads to the jolly fugue being succeeded by an arioso back in G minor and even more emotionally distraught than the first arioso, with dialogue between widely separated voices and with plunging intervals of a seventh, major, minor, or diminished. Such descents to 'horrendous' depths would seem to be means to an end: for this violent music shepherds us into a long fugue in 12/8 jig rhythm, with hilariously bouncing falling fifths and rising fourths -- both intervals being jovially Jovine, rather than Christian, images for God! As in the famous jig-fugue for organ, the unremitting pulse of this riotously roistering yet forcibly formal fugue -- remorseless in rhythm yet clotted in texture, wide-wandering in tonality, and often crazily chromaticised both in rectus and inversus form -- builds up momentum until it too 'blows up' in toccata figuration, finally channeled into a massive tierce de Picardie. Surely Bach, playing this piece to his friends, must have guffawed out loud!

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Copyright © 18 August 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK






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