The Toccata in F sharp minor, BWV910 is the least well-known of the seven. It’s written in an unusual key for Bach’s time, and contains two fugues, quite different in character. After the ‘warming up’ section of scales and descending figures (which would certainly not be out of place on the organ), we come to a noble adagio that is very chromatic, the subject of which will reappear in the final fugue in a different guise. The rhythm is that of a sarabande. Bach’s embellishments seem only to be a start, and the performer can certainly add more here according to his taste. The first of the fugues is marked ‘Presto e staccato’ and its pointed subject no more than a descending scale with a short cadential trill attached. The semiquavers around it add brilliance. There is some rhythmic interest in a hemiola passage which suddenly sounds as though the time signature has switched from four to three beats in the bar. Following that, we have a rather startling section in which the same arpeggiando figure is stated 21 times in a strange series of harmonic progressions, a procedure we also find in the D minor toccata. This leads us to the final fugue in 6/8 time, where the chromatic theme of the adagio is livened up, but made to be no less expressive. Wanda Landowska writes of the toccatas as being ‘incoherent and disparate’ at first sight, mentioning this toccata as an example of that. The difficulty is in finding their shape. She goes on to say: ‘What strikes us above all is the unrelenting insistence with which Bach holds on to a motive, repeating it indefatigably on every step of the scale.’ That is certainly true, though the writing, as shown in this toccata, is nevertheless impassioned.
from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2002