Diary of a Song: Toccata and Fugue

This is the second of a series of blog posts entitled “Diary of a Song“, where I share the stories behind each of the songs from my new album “Illumination“.

At the end of each post, I also include a link to buy the sheet music, and the MP3 download.

TOCCATA AND FUGUE

While it is 2012 as of writing this post, I actually composed Toccata and Fugue in 2009.

I would say that this piece is one of the more edgier songs on my album. I had spent all of 2008 and most of 2009 writing lullabies for babies for my 2nd album, “The Lullaby Album”. That album was inspired by becoming a new mother and the joy of singing and playing sweet little songs for my little bundle of joy.  Most of my time was consumed with new motherhood, diapers, binkies, bottles, naptimes, toys, and more.

However, after writing, orchestrating, and recording lullabies straight for a year – I have to say I was growing super tired of them.  I am a composer of fire, and my inner fire was yearning to burst out.  I HAD to do something a bit more complex, a lot more dark, louder, and way more intense.

I NEEDED something that was essentially the complete opposite of a lullaby.

Thus, Toccata and Fugue was born.

This song has really got gritty sound to it, and a beat that is referred to as a “glitch” beat.  You can hear what I mean by a glitch beat by listening here (a sample of the beat track from the recording).

https://jenniferthomasmusic.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/glitch-beat.mp3

It is a similar genre of beats that is popular in Linkin Park’s music, for this particular sample –  from their song “In the End”. Listen below.

THE COMPOSING PROCESS

Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565) by Johann Sebastian Bach is a piece of music that is traditionally performed on a full pipe organ.  I went through the videos on YouTube, and really enjoyed this version:

A traditional Toccata and Fugue is a two-part piece, never having one without the other.  This type of Baroque music is typically an exercise for fingers to showcase great technical ability – most often two voices woven and intertwining together.  Bach was the master of this.  His songs are very mathematical if you ask me.  And because of this, his music also makes for SPECTACULAR crossover versions because they yield to beats so well.

But this particular song is quite lengthy, and I had to figure out how to arrange it so that I could squeeze both the Toccata and the Fugue into one movement, while skipping about 50 other pages of music.  It wasn’t easy, and I can tell you I spent numerous hours trying to figure this out.

The most memorable parts of this piece are without a doubt, the beginning and the ending.  I spent some time trying to figure out how I would start the piece, because to be honest, this piece just really only sounded super impressive on a pipe organ and trying to make it work on a piano sounded very wimpy.  This is where I had the idea that I would have violins start the piece out and do the whole introduction, while the piano would make a grand entrance with an arpeggiated scale before beginning the traditional Fugue.

You can hear this here:

You then hear the actual Fugue – straight as it is from Bach’s music.

As with arranging any piece of classical music, I try to put my own twist on it and own part of it.  So I added trail-off section with a violin part, accompanied by vocals that take the piece away from Bach’s original.  Listen here:

The rest of the song is more of the same story – trying to go through the original music and dissecting it apart to fit into a 4 minute piece of music while adding my own flare to it.  The Fugue portion of the song is not too lengthy, only from timestamps 1:06 – 1:25, which you can hear here:

After the short Fugue, it returns to the Toccata and ends with the traditional ending of the Toccata, with the exception that I made it major, instead of minor.  Listen here:

ORCHESTRATING TOCCATA

I wrote this piece with specific predetermined places in the music where the piano would not play at all, but where the orchestra would take the melody.  And while I am a violinist, I however did not perform the violin in this recording.  At the time of orchestrating this piece, I had just purchased a sound library from Eastwest called “Gypsy”, which I had specifically bought because they had a violin sample on it that was outstanding.  It took a lot of tutorials and playing around with to figure it out, but in the end I think I was able to accomplish a pretty realistic violin recording.

You can hear here, first all by itself, then with the rest of the orchestra:

Once I had most of the orchestra done, I sent the song to my talented colleague Glen Gabriel in Sweden.  He then added the glitch beats, symphonic percussion, and a few more bells and whistles.  Literally. Here is a sample all by itself, then with the rest of the orchestration.

MASTERING THE SONG

Not sure how many of you know very much about mastering, but it is a very important part of the finalization process of a recording.  “Mastering” is the process for which a song goes through to equalize sound levels, polish things out, tone down anything that tweaks ears, etc.  The piano is particularly a fussy instrument to master because it has very high notes and very low notes.  Usually an instrument or voice has a particular range of a few octaves, but the piano has 7.5 octaves to be exact.  So it’s not easy.  Mix an orchestra in with it, and there is just a LOT going on that an audio engineer needs to attend to.

I actually had this song mixed and mastered by three different engineers.  The reason for this is, when I originally completed the song in 2009, I did a lot of the work at Zak Dewey’s studio – he was the sound engineer for Key of Sea, and I still use him all the time for whenever I need to go and record live audio.  We did a very quick mastering session on the song because (I don’t remember why), we were limited on time and I needed the song done to submit to some competition or something.  Even Zak wasn’t completely happy with it, but for what I needed it for – it was good enough at the time.

Then, the next year, I had Paul Speer remix and remaster the song (He did The Lullaby Album mixing/mastering for me).  And THEN, in 2011, as I was getting more serious about completing Illumination and was on the look out for a sound engineer for it, I gave the song to Rob Beaton to mix and master as a trial to see if I wanted to use him for Illumination.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my other sound engineer’s work and will give them the highest praise.  But for Illumination I was really trying to go for a certain sound – a big cinematic sound to be exact. And so I was looking at sound engineers who typically mastered music for movie trailers and feature length films.  Rob Beaton ended up mixing and mastering my entire album for Illumination, and it is important that all songs on an album are done by the same engineer to get a fluid sound (which is why he remastered Toccata for me).

All three versions of the masters sound really great, but I thought it would be fun to let you compare how different a song can sound when mixed/mastered by three different people. Each clip is the first 30 seconds of the song.

Mix #1 – Zak

Mix #2 – Paul

Mix #3 – Rob’s mix (the one on my Illumination album)

Anyway, in 2011 Toccata and Fugue was nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media Award, for “Best Classical Song”.  This was exciting – as it was my first awards show.  Will (my husband) and I made the trip to Hollywood and attended the event, and had a really fun time. My song did not end up winning, but it was a really great experience.

And then in 2012, I decided to include the song on Illumination.  It is track #9 on the album.  Some people have told me that it is their favorite piece on the entire album!  This of course makes me very happy.

SHEET MUSIC

With that said, people have also been asking me for a long, long, LONG time when I am going to publish the sheet music for this song.  I had actually never wrote the piece down!  But last year I did a small house concert in October, where I thought it would be only fitting to perform that song since it was so close to Halloween.  The song does have a total Halloween vibe to it, and the traditional version is often used this time of year for Halloween events and concerts. It’s a bit of a scary song, what can I say.  Even still, I hadn’t put the music into sheet music though.

However, this past week I worked really hard and FINALLY sat down at the piano and wrote it all out.  Now remember a lot of the recording has orchestrated parts with no piano, and so what I did was just transcribe those parts into a condensed piano score. I think it actually sounds really killer and I think a lot of pianists out there who play it will be really excited about it.


So for those of you wanting to get the sheet music, you can do so HERE:  http://jenniferthomasmusic.com/store/productdetail.php?product=175

If you would like to purchase the single MP3, you can find it HERE on Amazon, or HERE in my store.

UP NEXT:  After the Storm, Track #2 from Illumination.

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2 responses to “Diary of a Song: Toccata and Fugue

  1. I am trying to get to the link for your arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, but this link (and every link to anything on your website), comes up with a “Error 403: Forbidden”, from your hosting company HostGator.com. Is there some way to still get this piece of music, or access any of your other available arrangements?

    Thank you – Cindy Jackson

    • I apologize – Just today I changed my site over to a new webhost, and the store is “in transit” to the new host. I wasn’t aware it would still be down. If you wouldn’t mind emailing me directly I will help you. suitedreamer@gmail.com Thank you. – Jennifer

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