Bach arr. Stokowski: Toccata and Fugue in D minor

Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) was born in St. Marylebone, London, of Polish/Irish parentage. He received his musical education at the Royal College of Music and Oxford University. His first professional appointment was as organist at St. James’ Piccadilly, then St. Bartholomew’s, New York. Following a brief return to London he returned to the U.S.A. with his appointment as conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (1909-1912). He became an American citizen in 1915.

He subsequently found world fame as conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra (1912-1938). He reached an even wider audience as Musical Director of the Walt Disney cartoon film “Fantasia” (1940), and a little later appeared in the Hollywood musical “One Hundred Men and a Girl”.

Stokowski chose to return to England to live out the few remaining years of his life in the peace of the Hampshire village of Middle Wallop. He now lies buried beside his parents and sister in the St. Marylebone Cemetery within earshot of London’s North Circular Road, a far cry from the glamour of Hollywood.

In the 1920s/30s, much to the chagrin of purists, Stokowski transcribed a number of Bach’s works for a large modern symphony orchestra. As far as this D minor Toccata and Fugue is concerned, present-day Bach scholars are divided as to its authenticity.

Through the broad spectrum of the tonal colour and dynamic range of the modern symphony orchestra, Stokowski builds on those inherent in the original organ score. In fact one of the accusations against such a transcription, apart from taking a few compositional liberties, was an unnecessary “gilding of the lily”.

The word “Toccata” literally means “touch”, and is usually associated with a work for solo keyboard instrument which requires great dexterity on the part of the performer and, overall, a piece of dynamic brilliance. The Fugue “a 3 voci” follows directly, and is interspersed with free fantasia sections. Bach heralds the work’s end with a recitative passage, then through alternating slow and fast passages (based on a fragmented hint of the Fugue’s first subject) the music reaches its magisterial final bars.

It is in this millennium year that we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach.