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Title: Toccata  
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Subject: Annibale Padovano, Opus clavicembalisticum, List of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, L'Orfeo, Toccata (Khachaturian)
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Toccata (from Italian toccare, "to touch") is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard or plucked string instrument featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosic passages or sections, with or without imitative or fugal interludes, generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer's fingers. Less frequently, the name is applied to works for multiple instruments (the opening of Claudio Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo being a notable example).


  • History 1
    • Renaissance 1.1
    • Baroque 1.2
    • After the Baroque 1.3
  • Literature 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4



The form first appeared in the late Renaissance period. It originated in northern Italy. Several publications of the 1590s include toccatas, by composers such as Girolamo Diruta, Adriano Banchieri, Claudio Merulo, Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, and Luzzasco Luzzaschi. These are keyboard compositions in which one hand, and then the other, performs virtuosic runs and brilliant cascading passages against a chordal accompaniment in the other hand. Among the composers working in Venice at this time was the young Hans Leo Hassler, who studied with the Gabrielis; he brought the form back with him to Germany. It was in Germany where it underwent its highest development, culminating in the work of Johann Sebastian Bach more than a hundred years later.


Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by organist Ashtar Moïra

Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed on a piano by Randolph Hokanson

Composed by Trubschachen, Switzerland by Burghard Fischer

Composed by Johann Pachelbel, performed on a church organ in Trubschachen, Switzerland by Burghard Fischer

Composed by Girolamo Frescobaldi, performed by Sylvia Kind on a harpsichord of the type used by Wanda Landowska

Composed by Alessandro Scarlatti, performed by Sylvia Kind on a harpsichord of the type used by Wanda Landowska

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The Baroque toccata, beginning with Girolamo Frescobaldi, is more sectional and increases in length, intensity and virtuosity from the Renaissance version, reaching heights of extravagance equivalent to the overwhelming detail seen in the architecture of the period. Often it features rapid runs and arpeggios alternating with chordal or fugal parts. Sometimes there is a lack of regular tempo, and almost always an improvisational feel.

Other Baroque composers of toccatas, in the period before Bach, include Johann Pachelbel, Michelangelo Rossi, Johann Jakob Froberger, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Alessandro Scarlatti and Dieterich Buxtehude.

Bach's toccatas are among the most famous examples of the form, and his fugue movement. In such cases the toccata is used in place of the usually more stable prelude. Bach's toccatas for harpsichord are multi-sectional works which include fugal writing as part of their structure.

After the Baroque

Beyond the Baroque period, toccatas are found less frequently. There are a few notable examples, however. From the Romantic period Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt each wrote a piano toccata - the ambitious Schumann piece being considered one of the most technically difficult works in the repertoire and the foremost representative of the genre in the 1800s. The Liszt toccata is a very short and austere composition from his late period, and is practically a toccata only by name. Smaller-scale toccatas are sometimes called "toccatina": Liszt's contemporary and well-known virtuoso in his day Charles-Valentin Alkan composed a brief toccatina as his last published work (Op. 75).

From the early 20th century jazz composer Nikolai Kapustin composed a toccatina as part of his Eight Concert Etudes, Op. 40. The symphonic rock band Sky also composed a toccata for their second album, featuring the keyboardist Steve Gray.


Robert Browning used the motif or concept of a toccata by Baldassare Galuppi to evoke thoughts of human transience in his poem "A Toccata of Galuppi's" (although Galuppi did not actually write any piece with the name 'Toccata').[4]


  1. ^ "BWV 565: a toccata in D minor for organ by J. S. Bach?", Early Music, vol. 9, July, 1981, pp. 330–337.
  2. ^ Roberge, Marc-André (25 September 2012). "Titles of Works Grouped by Categories". Sorabji Resource Site. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  3. ^ Kammermusik No. 5, for viola and orchestra, Op. 36, No. 4. About. Classical Archives. [2]
  4. ^ Charles Van Den Borren (May 1, 1923). "Research regarding the fictional toccata by Galuppi of Browning's poem".  

External links

  • Robert Browning, "A Toccata of Galuppi's" published 1855 e-text
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