Sights and sounds: Watching something difficult, done well, is so satisfying

Earphones/earbuds/EarPods required.

Ugh, Apple just autocorrected and capitalized EarPods. I didn’t write it that way, promise. Big Tech in your face! And let me just say, I think people wearing EarPods look ridiculous. There.

The video below is Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, long a favorite piece of mine. Written in the early 1700s (the date is disputed, as is its attribution to Bach), it was first popularized by Mendelssohn in the 19th Century, and was made famous in the Disney movie Fantasia in 1940. It is classified as abstract classical music. In other words, it isn’t sacred… it doesn’t mean anything, so to speak. So although it doesn’t have the same effect on the listener as might some of the more beautiful Mass settings, it’s still pretty cool.

Sidebar, there is a Philly connection here. Disney (warts and all) was a casual friend of Leopold Stokowski, long time Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The two had been planning a project where the music would be as important as the visuals. Originally planned as a short, it evolved into a full-length string of pieces, with music quality never-before heard on a recording. You see, Fantasia was the first movie ever released in stereo. This meant theaters had to install additional speakers and equipment to be eligible to show the movie; the surround sound experience of today traces directly back to this. The soundtrack was recorded at the Philadelphia Academy of Music, by the Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Stokowski in April-May 1939. Stokowski worked with Disney’s engineers to place 33 microphones in the orchestra, feeding into eight distinct audio channels. Nothing like this had ever been done before. They marketed the end product as “moving sound,” latching on to the common term of the day, “moving picture.”

In terms of sound quality, the acoustical mathematics of a venue make all the difference in the world. I can personally attest to the Stendahl-inducing capabilities of the Academy of Music. Sadly, the Orchestra abandoned this venue for the wretched Kimmel Center twenty years ago. But if you ever get the chance to hear a professional orchestra in a top notch venue, you absolutely should go, even if you know nothing of classical music. God built you for the experience.

Okay, back to the video. I like this version because the audio is excellent, of course, but also the visuals show the organist at work the entire time. Check out the coordination, concentration, effortless movement between the manuals while never taking his eyes off the sheet. It pains me that I’m not coordinated enough to juggle three tennis balls, let alone what this cat is up to.

The Toccata portion lasts for 2:30 and ends with a pedal solo and a D minor cord with a shot of the pipes. Then comes the Fugue, which builds into a four voice romp at 5:00 with footwork on point.

Some organists have said of this piece, “it’s not as hard as it looks.” Okay, whatever you say. Enjoy.

4 thoughts on “Sights and sounds: Watching something difficult, done well, is so satisfying”

  1. The Toccata and Fugue in D minor are very difficult! I know. It was one of the pieces I had to learn many, many years ago when I was an organ student in college.

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