What is a toccata?

Discover the meaning of the musical term toccata.

Pianist playing a toccata
Published: July 25, 2022 at 4:19 pm
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Put simply, ‘toccata’ is the musical term for an instrumental composition that gives the musician chance to show off their range of skills.

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A term typically used in relation to pieces performed on keyboard instruments (organs, pianos, harpsichords, etc), toccatas might include lots of fast runs, embellishments, and full chords, to demonstrate the player’s dexterity to its full extent. Because of this, toccatas can often sound as though they have been improvised on the spot.

Examples of a toccata

Perhaps one of the most famous examples is Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Composed as a piece for the organ, it features dramatic chords and rapid arpeggios, and has become synonymous with horror films due to its eerie intro.

Why is it called a toccata?

The term stems from the Italian word for ‘touch’ – as this type of composition is used to highlight just how well a musician can play, it demonstrates their ‘touch’ (or technique/ability).

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