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My latest musical offering, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, (BWV 565) took a little longer than I originally anticipated. I wanted to preserve the music of the original score published in 1833 but this proved a little more ambitious than I had realised. For my previous project, which was a modern interpretation of Vivaldi’s Summer Concerto (3rd movement), it was quite easy to take the original Italian score and recreate the music we all recognise and love. However I soon realised that the version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue that we are all familiar with is actually rather different to the 1833 score. The notes are all there but the way they are played appears to have evolved quite considerably. Of course there is no real harm in this – creative interpretation is what adds spice to music.
So I spent a lot of time listening to various recordings of Bach’s work and tried to reflect these in my rearrangement of the original score. This was a rather long winded process as it required me transcribing how I believed the music should sound and then playing it back to see if what I had written sounded correct. To avoid confusing my ears too much I played my earlier drafts using an organ to get the sound right. Once I was satisfied with this I started the process of adapting the score to the contemporary instruments used in the final piece.
In my final version there is no organ. I have tried to bring out the fantastic counterpoint melodies and harmonious voices using mainly guitars (a couple of lead guitars and a bass guitar). To give the piece more body and provide some additional harmonies from the original organ rendition I used a range of string instruments more typical of an orchestral performance. Once I had put together these parts I decided not to risk confusing the product with additional instruments or effects. Bach’s music is simply so beautiful there was no reason to try and enhance it.
I hope the use of guitars and other string instruments will help you appreciate some of the harmonies and themes in the underlying score which can get hidden when it is played on a large church organ. Clearly a large reverberating pipe organ creates an exciting sound but in the louder sections you have to concentrate to pick out the individual harmonious parts. I understand that the Arnstadt organ played by Bach at the time this work is thought to have been written was a simpler instrument than those often used by modern musicians. In fact there is even a body of opinion that this piece originally started out as string music due to the structure of some of the parts. By using different sounding string instruments and separating them in the stereo mixing I have tried to help the listener’s ears to separate out these various harmonious sounds.
Most of the work was carried out in my last couple of weeks at the Table Mountain National Park studios. A further week was then needed in the Surrey studio to finish off the recording and mixing. This was useful because I have more extensive facilities in the UK and German studios. Clearly my arrangement sounds quite different to the familiar organ recital although I have been careful to ensure that all the notes from the original are faithfully recreated in my arrangement.
Why not have a listen and see what you think? As always I encourage any feedback – just use the comments box. Meanwhile I have been going through my classical archives to select another piece for the TRANSFORMATES 變 Music Project to interpret. Watch this space! If you would like to read more about this music project please take a look at the music section of this website (the link is here) or visit the TRANSFORMATES 變 Project’s own website using the link here. Just click on the video link below to listen to my interpretation of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. If you know of other’s who will enjoy the piece please share the link.
The TRANSFORMATES 變 Music Project YouTube playlist can be found here.