Toccata is a virtuoso
A virtuoso is an individual who possesses outstanding technical ability in the fine arts, at singing or playing a musical instrument. The plural form is either virtuosi or the Anglicisation, virtuosos, and the feminine form sometimes used is virtuosa...

 piece of music typically for a keyboard
Keyboard instrument
A keyboard instrument is a musical instrument which is played using a musical keyboard. The most common of these is the piano. Other widely used keyboard instruments include organs of various types as well as other mechanical, electromechanical and electronic instruments...

 or plucked string instrument
Plucked string instrument
Plucked string instruments are a subcategory of string instruments that are played by plucking the strings. Plucking is a way of pulling and releasing the string in such as way as to give it an impulse that causes the string to vibrate...

 featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosic passages or sections, with or without imitative
Imitation (music)
In music, imitation is when a melody in a polyphonic texture is repeated shortly after its first appearance in a different voice, usually at a different pitch. The melody may vary through transposition, inversion, or otherwise, but retain its original character...

 or fugal
In music, a fugue is a compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject that is introduced at the beginning in imitation and recurs frequently in the course of the composition....

 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
Claudio Monteverdi
Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi – 29 November 1643) was an Italian composer, gambist, and singer.Monteverdi's work, often regarded as revolutionary, marked the transition from the Renaissance style of music to that of the Baroque period. He developed two individual styles of composition – the...

's opera Orfeo
L'Orfeo , sometimes called L'Orfeo, favola in musica, is an early Baroque opera by Claudio Monteverdi, with a libretto by Alessandro Striggio. It is based on the Greek legend of Orpheus, and tells the story of his descent to Hades and his fruitless attempt to bring his dead bride Eurydice back to...

being a notable example).


The form first appeared in the late Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

 period. It originated in northern Italy. Several publications of the 1590s include toccatas, by composers like Girolamo Diruta
Girolamo Diruta
Girolamo Diruta was an Italian organist, music theorist, and composer. He was famous as a teacher, for his treatise on counterpoint, and for his part in the development of keyboard technique, particularly on the organ...

, Adriano Banchieri
Adriano Banchieri
Adriano Banchieri was an Italian composer, music theorist, organist and poet of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras. He founded the Accademia dei Floridi in Bologna.-Biography:...

, Claudio Merulo
Claudio Merulo
Claudio Merulo was an Italian composer, publisher and organist of the late Renaissance period, most famous for his innovative keyboard music and his ensemble music composed in the Venetian polychoral style. He was born in Correggio and died in Parma...

, Andrea
Andrea Gabrieli
Andrea Gabrieli was an Italian composer and organist of the late Renaissance. The uncle of the somewhat more famous Giovanni Gabrieli, he was the first internationally renowned member of the Venetian School of composers, and was extremely influential in spreading the Venetian style in Italy as...

 and Giovanni Gabrieli
Giovanni Gabrieli
Giovanni Gabrieli was an Italian composer and organist. He was one of the most influential musicians of his time, and represents the culmination of the style of the Venetian School, at the time of the shift from Renaissance to Baroque idioms.-Biography:Gabrieli was born in Venice...

, Luzzasco Luzzaschi
Luzzasco Luzzaschi
Luzzasco Luzzaschi was an Italian composer, organist, and teacher of the late Renaissance. He was born and died in Ferrara, and despite evidence of travels to Rome it is assumed that Luzzaschi spent the majority of his life in his native city.As a pupil of Cipriano de Rore, Luzzaschi developed...

 and others. 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
Hans Leo Hassler
Hans Leo Hassler was a German composer and organist of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras, elder brother of the less-famous Jakob 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
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

 more than a hundred years later.


The Baroque toccata, beginning with Girolamo Frescobaldi
Girolamo Frescobaldi
Girolamo Frescobaldi was a musician from Ferrara, one of the most important composers of keyboard music in the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods. A child prodigy, Frescobaldi studied under Luzzasco Luzzaschi in Ferrara, but was influenced by a large number of composers, including Ascanio...

, 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 arpeggio
An arpeggio is a musical technique where notes in a chord are played or sung in sequence, one after the other, rather than ringing out simultaneously...

s alternating with chordal or fugal
In music, a fugue is a compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject that is introduced at the beginning in imitation and recurs frequently in the course of the composition....

 parts. Sometimes there is a lack of regular tempo, and almost always an improvisation
Improvisation is the practice of acting, singing, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment and inner feelings. This can result in the invention of new thought patterns, new practices, new structures or symbols, and/or...

al feel.

Other Baroque composers of toccatas, in the period before Bach, include Johann Pachelbel
Johann Pachelbel
Johann Pachelbel was a German Baroque composer, organist and teacher, who brought the south German organ tradition to its peak. He composed a large body of sacred and secular music, and his contributions to the development of the chorale prelude and fugue have earned him a place among the most...

, Michelangelo Rossi
Michelangelo Rossi
Michelangelo Rossi was an important Italian composer, violinist and organist of the Baroque era....

, Johann Jakob Froberger
Johann Jakob Froberger
Johann Jakob Froberger was a German Baroque composer, keyboard virtuoso, and organist. He was among the most famous composers of the era and influenced practically every major composer in Europe by developing the genre of keyboard suite and contributing greatly to the exchange of musical...

, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck was a Dutch composer, organist, and pedagogue whose work straddled the end of the Renaissance and beginning of the Baroque eras. He was among the first major keyboard composers of Europe, and his work as a teacher helped establish the north German organ...

, Alessandro Scarlatti
Alessandro Scarlatti
Alessandro Scarlatti was an Italian Baroque composer especially famous for his operas and chamber cantatas. He is considered the founder of the Neapolitan school of opera. He was the father of two other composers, Domenico Scarlatti and Pietro Filippo Scarlatti.-Life:Scarlatti was born in...

 and Dieterich Buxtehude
Dieterich Buxtehude
Dieterich Buxtehude was a German-Danish organist and composer of the Baroque period. His organ works represent a central part of the standard organ repertoire and are frequently performed at recitals and in church services...


Bach's toccatas are among the most famous examples of the form, and his Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV
The Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis is the numbering system identifying compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach. The prefix BWV, followed by the work's number, is the shorthand identification for Bach's compositions...

 565 is one of the most popular organ works today, although its authorship is disputed by some authorities. His toccatas for organ are improvisatory compositions, and are often followed by an independent fugue
In music, a fugue is a compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject that is introduced at the beginning in imitation and recurs frequently in the course of the composition....

 movement. In such cases the toccata is used in place of the usually more stable prelude
Prelude (music)
A prelude is a short piece of music, the form of which may vary from piece to piece. The prelude can be thought of as a preface. It may stand on its own or introduce another work...

. 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
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....

 and Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt ; ), was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.Liszt became renowned in Europe during the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age...

 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. From the early 20th century Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev was a Russian composer, pianist and conductor who mastered numerous musical genres and is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century...

 and Aram Khachaturian
Aram Khachaturian
Aram Ilyich Khachaturian was a prominent Soviet composer. Khachaturian's works were often influenced by classical Russian music and Armenian folk music...

 each wrote a toccata for solo piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

, as did Maurice Ravel
Maurice Ravel
Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer known especially for his melodies, orchestral and instrumental textures and effects...

 as part of Le Tombeau de Couperin
Le Tombeau de Couperin
Le tombeau de Couperin is a suite for solo piano by Maurice Ravel, composed between 1914 and 1917, in six movements. Each movement is dedicated to the memory of friends of the composer who had died fighting in World War I...

, Claude Debussy
Claude Debussy
Claude-Achille Debussy was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions...

 in his 'Suite: Pour le Piano' and also "Jardins sous la pluie" (which is a toccata but not in name),and York Bowen
York Bowen
Edwin York Bowen was an English composer and pianist. Bowen’s musical career spanned more than fifty years during which time he wrote over 160 works. As well as being a pianist and composer, Bowen was a talented conductor, organist, violist and horn player...

's Toccata Op.155. Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji
Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji
Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji was an English composer, music critic, pianist, and writer.-Biography:...

 wrote four toccatas for solo piano. The toccata form was of great importance in the French romantic organ school, something of which Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens
Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens
Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens , was an organist and composer for his instrument.Born at Zoerle-Parwijs, near Westerlo, Belgium, Lemmens took lessons from François-Joseph Fétis, who wanted to make him into a musician capable of renewing the organ-player's art in Belgium...

 laid the foundation with his Fanfare. Toccatas in this style usually consist of rapid chord progressions combined with a powerful tune (often played in the pedal). The most famous examples are the ending movement of Charles-Marie Widor
Charles-Marie Widor
Charles-Marie Jean Albert Widor was a French organist, composer and teacher.-Life:Widor was born in Lyon, to a family of organ builders, and initially studied music there with his father, François-Charles Widor, titular organist of Saint-François-de-Sales from 1838 to 1889...

's Symphony No. 5
Symphony for Organ No. 5 (Widor)
The Symphony for Organ No. 5 in F minor, Op. 42, No. 1, was composed by Charles-Marie Widor in 1879. It lasts for about thirty-five minutes. Its Toccata is the best known of all of Widor's compositions.-Structure:The piece has five movements:# Allegro vivace...

, and the Finale of Louis Vierne
Louis Vierne
Louis Victor Jules Vierne was a French organist and composer.-Life:Louis Vierne was born in Poitiers, Vienne, nearly blind due to congenital cataracts, but at an early age was discovered to have an unusual gift for music. Louis Victor Jules Vierne (8 October 1870 – 2 June 1937) was a French...

's Symphony No. 1. More recently, John Rutter
John Rutter
John Milford Rutter CBE is a British composer, conductor, editor, arranger and record producer, mainly of choral music.-Biography:Born in London, Rutter was educated at Highgate School, where a fellow pupil was John Tavener. He read music at Clare College, Cambridge, where he was a member of the...

 wrote Toccata in 7, so called because of its time signature. Toccatas occasionally make appearances in works for full orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...

; a notable example is the final movement of the Eighth Symphony
Symphony No. 8 (Vaughan Williams)
Ralph Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 8 in D minor was composed between 1953 and 1955. It was the first of his symphonies which Vaugham Williams allowed to be given a number. Sir John Barbirolli conducted the premiere of the piece on May 2, 1956, with the Halle Orchestra. Eugene Ormandy gave the...

 of Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams OM was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many...

. As for toccatas written for string instruments, the final movement of John Adams' Violin Concerto is entitled "Toccare," a possible reference to the origins of the word toccata; and the first movement (Schnelle halbe) of Paul Hindemith
Paul Hindemith
Paul Hindemith was a German composer, violist, violinist, teacher, music theorist and conductor.- Biography :Born in Hanau, near Frankfurt, Hindemith was taught the violin as a child...

's fifth Kammermusik
Kammermusik (Hindemith)
Kammermusik is the name given to a series of eight musical compositions by the German composer Paul Hindemith.Written between 1921 and 1927, the first two works are for small ensembles , and share the opus number 24. Kammermusik No...

 (a viola concerto) is written as a toccata.


Robert Browning
Robert Browning
Robert Browning was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets.-Early years:...

 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
A Toccata of Galuppi's
"A Toccata of Galuppi's" is a poem by Robert Browning, originally published in the 1855 collection Men and Women. The title refers to the fact that the speaker is either playing or listening to a toccata by the 18th-century Venetian composer Baldassare Galuppi.-Musical background:It is not known...

" (although Galuppi did not actually write any piece with the name 'Toccata').


External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.