Disclaimer: I know Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 565) is a classic, and a very good piece for many musicians. It's just that it's not right for me, for the reasons below.

So I really like a lot of Toccata and Fugue, but there's a few problems for me if I want to play it. For one thing, I have a piano instead of an organ, so it'll obviously not be the original. But theres a few other things I'd like to change about it. I'm also fairly new, so this piece is about twice as long as I can learn. And I know this bit is subjective but I'd like to have the theme at the beginning show up again in the song like a chorus.

So how can I change a classical piece like this to be easier to play for me? I thought of just cutting and pasting bits of it, but I doubt it would turn out well.

Is there a procedure for changing lengthy pieces?


3 Answers 3


There is no "one fits all" procedure. What you want to do is arranging: cutting out parts, changing where notes are to fit the instrument or your hand. Arranging was and is very commonly done by many composers and interprets, especially with orchestra scores. Busoni arranged many Bach pieces from organ or orchestra to piano, and added many things that where not written, though gracefully. You have a full range of piece modification from arranging, transcript, to write a fantasia. What you are looking for is the simplest of them: arranging.

Bach and his peers were arranging and improvising, rearranging a lot, so "he" would encourage you to do so.

A good start is to analyse the piece and spot themes (melodic, harmony, rythmic, etc), variations, harmony progression, and remove parts that are dispensable in your opinion, while avoiding cutting in the middle of a sentence, and make sure that the new harmonic progression is acceptable. Analysis is also very good and can help you understand better the piece and remember it formally.

If you're refering to BWV565, the piece is a lot simpler than other Bach pieces such as BWV1080 or BWV1079, so it's rather a good one to start arranging.

You may start arranging without too much analysis: just jump from the end of one part to another, and evaluate if you like the result, and if it makes sense.

As for the "organ to piano" arranging, just play what you can and skip or change the octava of what you can't play easily; if it's already doubled, just drop the note. Busoni published many organ to piano arrangings, you may be inspired by those texts.

At last, if you want to add new elements and improvise from the piece, just do it, you may want to try to do something like Bach would do, but it's not an obligation. Understanding and analyzing how an author is writing can take some time, but it's useful to know that in order to write à la manière de.

A trick: you mentionned the desire to repeat the theme like a chorus; you might want to consider also harmonic marchs, which J.S.Bach used a lot: you take a small sentence and you just play it again transposed say one tone below or above, as many times you may find it fitting both what you want or like and the mindset or aesthetics of the piece.


Given the popularity of that piece, there should already exist numerous simplifications as score. I recommend to search for one of those, e. g. this at SheetMusicPlus.

Note, that the fugue is far less well-known, so you may restrict to the toccata in the first step.

Simplifying and condensing an existing piece is an advanced topic, where I see only small chances of a satisfying result for a non-experienced amateur.


And I know this bit is subjective but I'd like to have the theme at the beginning show up again in the song like a chorus.

Well, one thing to keep in mind is that is not classical music but baroque, and a toccata and particularly a fugue are musical forms with a certain structure that progressively addresses a theme and works towards a conclusion. "I'd like to have the theme at the beginning show up again in the song like a chorus" is something that happens in a rondo, and it implies a musical progression both from the repeated theme as well as the previous continuation.

So "rearranging" this comparatively well-known work is not likely to lead to convincing results. Instead think more in terms of parodying it. I actually remember hearing this at one time used for a Samba (I had to leave the dance floor because that made it impossible for me to focus on dancing). That would have been the kind of "structurally simplified parody with thematic repetition" general approach that would work for amusing an audience.

However, losing the original thematic progression and continuum would mean that you should add structure and elements of your own tying this together into a coherent whole.

That's fairly non-trivial. Here is one example that does some simplistic arrangement (including theme repeats) on diatonic accordion, stealing fragments of both toccata and fugue to make up a coherent whole. It does not have the baroque tenacity of thematic work but has, well, something.

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