All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Toccata in D major

BWV 912 performed by Bertrand Cuiller
at the Bartolotti House, Amsterdam

"The composer grabs us firmly by the arm and forces us right into the music."

Extremely electric

Bach experiments with the Italian keyboard tradition

This Toccata in D major is the most popular of Bach’s seven toccatas. Bertrand Cuiller, too, has played it very often in the past. “The piece is very theatrical”, he says. “It is extremely ‘electric’”. The powerful opening, which feels very improvised, is followed by a more well-thought-out section, in which various themes enter into dialogue. An expressive recitative forms the transition to an adagio in the unusual key of F-sharp minor. The adagio is conceived as a fugue, but according to Cuiller it is also a bit like a lamento.
Bach builds the dramatic tension up again in a second recitative and eventually lets rip with ‘fireworks’. The toccata closes with a wild dance that is strongly reminiscent of a gigue. Based on a fairly simple idea, Bach uses every possible key in rapid tempo. This sort of piece really shows the tempestuous side of Bach, thinks Cuiller. “It was not only in his mind”.
In such works from his youth, Bach transgresses every harmonic limit imaginable. As there is no surviving manuscript by Bach, editions must be based on later sources, and we know that Bach’s music was ‘cleaned up’ by some publishers. Partwriting and chromaticism that did not comply with the ‘rules’ (which Bach himself did not follow) were regularly corrected – also among versions of this Toccata. Who knows what gems of inventiveness lie in wait somewhere in a faraway archive?

Toccatas, BWV 910-916
The seven toccatas by Bach can be regarded as a conclusion to his early period as a keyboard composer. He did not conceive of them as a collection himself; that only happened after his death. Yet they do show a clear relationship, with regard to both form and style. They are extensive works with multiple sections. But unlike the later suites and partitas, the sections flow more or less seamlessly into one another. Here, Bach still has one foot firmly in the seventeenth century.


Toccata in D major

keyboard work

Seven toccatas




Special notes
BWV 912a is an early version, probably intended for organ

Cast & Crew

Release date 13 April 2018
Recording date 27 May 2017
Location Bartolotti House
Harpsichordist Bertrand Cuiller
Harpsichord Bruce Kennedy after Michael Mietke, 1989
Director, camera en editor Gijs Besseling
Music recording Guido Tichelman, Pim van der Lee
Music edit and mix Guido Tichelman
Camera and lights Danny Noordanus
Data handling Eline Eestermans
Interview Jan Van den Bossche
Producer concert Marco Meijdam
Producer film Jessie Verbrugh
Acknowledgement Vereniging Hendrick de Keyser

Vocal Texts




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