? asked in Entertainment & MusicMusicClassical · 1 decade ago

Question for classical music fans?

Any resources that give some of the stories behind different works? I have a book about composition and genres, and another one about the spiritual lives of the composers. Referring to individual works --

For instance there is a work that I've always thought of as "haunted house music", have heard it in old horror movies, and recently found out it's Bach! Would love to find out more about the historical context and his intentions when he composed it.

5 Answers

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    The reasons for writing particular compositions changed as the role of the composer and the role of music changed over time. In Bach’s time (the Baroque period: 1600-1750), the composer was at the mercy of his employer (such as a church or school) or his patron (note that I say ’his’ because there were no women composers in that period), and was required to write a piece for church services or commissioned to write a particular piece. According to Grout’s "History of Western Music," Bach "regarded himself as a conscientious craftsman doing a job to the best of his ability for the satisfaction of his superiors, for the pleasure and edification of his fellowmen, and to the glory of God." Classical music of the Baroque period was written for church services, dances, and performance for aristocratic audiences. The "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" was originally written for organ. (FYI, it has been beautifully transcribed for orchestra by Stowkovsky, former conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and can be heard in the Disney film, "Fantasia.") Again, according to Grout, "The toccata was...a style of music which aimed to suggest the effect of improvised performance." Grout goes on further to state that, "Toccatas best exhibit the outthrusting, fantastic, dramatic aspects of the Baroque spirit in music." The fugue, which is paired with the toccata, "Has a clearer melodic outline and well-marked rhythm, fully developed in counterpoint." Bach composed most of his "Toccata and Fugue" works when he was the concert master in the chapel of the Duke of Weimar (1708-1717).

    There is no definitive work on composers and their reasons for writing particular compositions. (There are hundreds of thousands of classical compositions, it would be a monumental work and would require years and years of research and hundreds of volumes). Grout’s "History of Western Music," is probably the closest you will get, although, as any student of music history will tell you, is as dry as powder and full of excruciating compositional trivia. You might do well to read the works of a composer's ’catalouger;’ a person who has taken the time to catalog all the compositions of a particular composer (one example is Ludwig Von Kochel-with an ’umlaut’ over the "O" of the last name that I can’t type on my computer- a Viennese botanist, minerologist, and educator whose name is now forever attached to Mozart’s works, e.g. "Mozart’s "Symphony #1 K. listing 01, or something like that). You should also read autobiographies or biographies of composers, there should be lots of interesting tidbits on compositions (such as Beethoven dedicating his "3rd Symphony" to Napoleon Bonaparte, only to scratch it out in disgust when Napoleon declared himself emperor). There are also a wealth of riches on the web, there is a whole series on Beethoven from BBC Radio 3 at www.bbc.co.uk/radio3.

    Happy hunting!

    Source(s): www.arts.cornell.edu www.bbc.co.uk/radio3
  • 1 decade ago

    You're most likely referring to Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor." It's a widely popular and heavily utilized piece of work, you can easily google it and find out the background!

    The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is always a great resource. The text "A History of Western Music" by Grout, Palisca, and Burkholder is a good resource, though the text encompasses a large period of time, so don't expect intense detail .

    The resources to study Bach are abundant, so no matter where you look, you'll probably find something - even Wikipedia has an article about the piece itself.

    Here's a link to a page of nothing but musicology (music history) journals and resources:


    Enjoy your journey of research! Though challenging, it is always rewarding. That's why I've chosen the profession :)

    Source(s): -music teacher, bass clarinetist, musicologist
  • 1 decade ago

    There is some question about where Bach DID compose that piece.

    At that time, it was common for little-known composers to forge names of better-known composers in hopes that their work will receive greater recognition.

    The toccata is written in a recitative form, which would be unusual for Bach.

    n the fugue, the subject is answered in the fourth, whereas in most of Bach's fugues, the subject is answered in the fifth.

    I believe that the piece gained its spooky connotations when it was used in a movie about Dracula.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago


    Book of Musical Anecdotes (1985)

    by Norman Lebrecht

    ISBN: 0029187109

    Amazon customer review: "Lebrecht gives life to these composers/musicians much in the same spirit that they gave of themselves in their own works. In many ways, these stories are as informative as some music history texts. From Bach to Stravinsky, these stories will make you laugh and cry. If you've grown weary of Lebrecht's more recent dark outlooks on the future of classical music, this book looks back on the sunnier days. Full of humorous, informative and touching stories, you won't regret you bought this!"


    Slonimsky's Book of Musical Anecdotes (2002; reprint)

    by Nicho Slonimsky

    Quirky anecdotes and observations abound in this volume now published by Routledge. Enter a surreal and humorous world of medicinal music, musical schizophrenia, conductorless orchestras, suing seals, cat operas, musical beds and more. Let Slonimsky regale you with tales of Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini and the other expected Classical Music figures, the ugly ducking of Russian music, the Kafka of modern music and other sublime misfits. First published in 1948, this book has earned well-deserved acclaim for being insightful, witty and enthralling. Charming illustrations by Robert Bonotto complete this superb collection of musical vignettes.


    The origin of "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" is highly controversial. It's one of the great music-history mysteries!



    A haunting tune, but is it really Bach's?

    By Andrew Druckenbrod

    Like the children who mask their identities while trick or treating, Halloween's most famous music is in disguise.

    For at least a century, Johann Sebastian Bach's memorable organ work, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, has embodied the eerie and the supernatural.

    Turns out Halloween's soundtrack also has been cloaking its true form: The Toccata and Fugue probably was not written by Bach and almost certainly wasn't written for the organ.

    In music circles, that assertion is as scary as it gets.

    It's not every day such a famous work gets shaken to its foundations. However, scholarly consensus is building that the baroque master did not write his most well-known organ work.... [see full story at link above]

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  • 1 decade ago

    I would definely try Wikipedia. org and try the Ask.com search window I know for sure it brought up some history on Johann Sebastian Bach then it has some resources on some of his music Hopw that Helps :)!

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