That is a clip of J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 from Disney’s famous 1940 Fantasia. Many people know this work, either from this movie, from a variety of other movies, television shows, or video games, or maybe you’ve even heard in on our Tunes from the Crypt each Halloween. While this work may be familiar, I would bet most people do not know that it was originally composed for organ by Bach! Today let’s look at what exactly it means to be a toccata and fugue and then have some fun watching this famous work’s appearance in a variety of places!
A toccata is a keyboard composition that developed during the sixteenth century as a work containing elaborate and rapid passages, sometimes even containing imitative counterpoint (a melody appearing in different voice parts). Bach often paired toccatas with his fugues. How does the fugue work? A musical subject begins the piece. After stating its opening theme, a second line of music enters, answering the subject by imitating the same theme at a different pitch level. The fugue can contain any number of independent lines of music, imitating the main subject and all working together musically. Between entries of the subject in the composition, you may hear musical “episodes” that elaborate the main theme and add interest for the listener.
Now let’s have some fun. Do you hear Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor in these clips?
Wonder Years: Begin at 10:41
Spongebob: Begin at 2:45
Donkey Kong Jr.: Begin at 0:01
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Begin at 0:12
The above examples are just a few of many occurrences of this work in pop culture. Have you heard it in The Office? Or what about Malcolm in the Middle, The Tree of Life, Dr. Who or 7 Faces of Dr. Lao?