Fantasia in Eight Parts: "Toccata and Fugue in D minor"

August at The Walt Disney Family Museum features Walt Disney’s classic Fantasia (1940), a musical masterpiece that features the talent of renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski, and led to the development of stereophonic surround sound. As Fantasia is a feature film made up of eight animated segments, we've taken the film apart to focus on each segment individually. With some 7,466 pipes, the Alexander Memorial Organ at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral is one of the largest organs in the Western United States, and its beauty one of the finest American classic organs. In celebration of this, we are thrilled to have Benjamin Bachmann--the Canon Director of Music at Grace Cathedral--tell us a little more about one of the most famous musical pieces on the organ: "Toccata and Fugue in D minor"!

The dramatic first bars of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 by J.S. Bach are the most famous in all organ literature.  Often associated with Halloween and all things haunted and horrid, it typifies gothic, scary organ music played by a mad scientist or phantom.  It also is the first musical sequence of the film, Fantasia, in an orchestration by Leopold Stokowski and conducted by Mickey Mouse. 

The word Toccata is Italian, meaning “to touch”, and toccatas often have fast scales and arpeggios meant to show off the player’s brilliant technique.  It is followed by a Fugue, which has a basic melody called a subject that, like a round, brings different voices in one at a time. 

In addition to its reputation as Halloween music, there is a big mystery behind this well-known piece, and that is the identity of the composer.  Yes, this most famous piece by J.S. Bach is most likely not by J.S. Bach.  There is no copy of the manuscript written in Bach’s hand and much of the music doesn’t fit elements of his style.  It may have been written another organist, Johannes Ringk who put Bach’s name on it in the hopes of it being heard by a crowd more familiar with Bach’s name than Ringk’s.  Whoever the composer, Toccata and Fugue in D minor is one of the most popular works in music, and certainly the most famous for its intended instrument, the pipe organ.   

For more information on Grace Cathedral's organ and programs/concerts, please check out their calendar of events. Fantasia screens daily through August at 11am, 1:30pm, and 4pm (except Tuesdays). Further program information and tickets are available at the Reception and Member Service Desk at the Museum, or online by clicking here.

[Images: Courtesy The Walt Disney Company, ©Disney.]

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