About the Author
Mass Effect
Final Fantasy X
Batman:Arkham City
Borderlands Series
Weekly Column
Champions Online
World of Warcraft
DM of the Rings
Good Robot
Project Frontier

Toccata and Fugue in D minor

By Shamus
on Saturday Dec 13, 2008
Filed under:


This amused me:

Link (YouTube)

Comments (55)

  1. Rich says:

    The Toccata and Fugue in D minor (as the opening theme to the 1975 version of Rollerball) was the piece that got me truly interested in J. S. Bach and then classical music in general. I watched this with a little frisson of nostalgia. A most interesting video. Thanks

  2. mark says:

    That was cool. Anyone that thinks air guitar is too lower class can use this to take up air conducting!

  3. henebry says:

    What a great way to visualize music. The length of the bars is so much more intuitive than the note shapes they teach in music classes.

  4. Christian Groff says:

    whenever I hear that piece, I dream about some grand vampire playing it in his dark gloomy mansion and creeping the bejeezus out of everyone hearing it. I liked this video! :)

  5. Will says:

    As someone with no ear or talent for music whatsoever, but an intellectual curiosity about it, I’ve always suspected that something like this goes on in the heads of the great composers and songwriters.

  6. Kasper says:

    I like the visualization, although as a bit of a purist I have to say that the timing is a bit awkward at times. The piece loses a lot of its majesty because this version rushes through certain parts that should be very pompous. For example at 0:24 and 1:38 See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1z12_Ps-gk to hear what I mean. It also has a very interesting visualization. For anyone who is interested in music visualization Disney’s Fantasia is a must see (the 1940’s original that is)That minor nitpick aside, nice video.

  7. […] Vote Toccata and Fugue in D minor […]

  8. Matt says:

    I remember using a music editing program the mid and late 80s on I think the commodore64/128 that used that sort of visual representation (not sure about the colors representing different instruments bit), but definitely the blocks of different lengths.

  9. TSED says:

    Hmm, I’m thinking of an old NES game (Battle for Olympus) in which something veeeery similar to this plays whenever you enter Zeus’s temples.

    I’ve finally figured out why it always sounded so familiar. The dude ripped off Bach! It never hit me until I heard Bach’s work synthified.

  10. arnsholt says:

    That was amazing. As others have pointed out, that was a great way to visualise the complexity of the fugue part, as most people are a lot better at recognizing visual patterns than aural patterns. And I’d never realised how often the basic theme of the fugue crops up in there. Thanks for posting that.

  11. Ben says:

    I’ve just come from playing rock band and so all I can think about is that this would be a bloody hard chart to play on that.

  12. Noumenon says:

    For some reason this kept playing in this window when I double-clicked it to play in the new window. So I heard one version slightly after the other, and thought that was why there were two parallel bars. It sounded really bad. So don’t listen to it that way.

  13. Gothmog says:

    T&F in D- is… by a long margin… my most favorite classical piece. I always imagine Bach in an organ loft early in the morning on a cold, cold Sunday in Germany somwhere- Grumbling about the cold, holding one hand close to his chest for warmth as the first part of the piece begins. Then- as the piece builds, Bach decides- ‘OK, now it’s time to wake up those half-asleep bozos down in the pews’, while he starts in on the foot pedals.

    Great stuff.

  14. JB says:

    “Hmm, let’s f… with the organist. Yeah, let’s see how many different combinations of harmonies I can put together in one single composition. This will really freak him out!”

  15. Jay McKinlay says:

    I read music well, and just thought I’d point out that this would be a horrible way to try and read music. Go watch his youtube video of Clair de lune and notice that every time there is a double note it shows up as a single bar. Also, once you learn to read music you can tell at a glance how long to play it, it is not any more difficult than reading a sentence that tells you how long, or a bar that illustrates it.

    That being said I really liked this video. I must be some kind of visual learner because watching the bars just brought me more into the music. It helped me appreciate just how complex some of these songs are. Imagine going to a concert and then displaying this with a projector over the orchestra. I think it would be fun.


    PS – Thanks a lot Shamus for introducing me to yet another youtube time suck, the first being Jula Nunes…

  16. AshyRaccoon says:

    That’s fun. The blocks remind me of Breakout. Now someone needs to just make a Breakout style game where it plays notes when you hit the blocks, and then it could go to the next section of song, leaving you guessing what the song is if you hit the blocks in a bad order.
    Or, the song could be playing like this, and your goal is to hit out blocks so whoever the musician/”antagonist” is cannot play the song properly. Or it could annoyingly loop one section of song, and you must mute it by destroying the blocks. Heh.

    That’s what the colored blocks made me think of, at least. Breakout.

    The program Power Chords, which came with and might require an old Gravis card, showed notes like this, though not colored.

  17. illiterate says:

    is this a promo for harmonix’ new “Pipe Organ Hero”??

  18. I took pipe organ lessons from age 13-18. I remember learning to play Toccata & Fugue in D Minor when I was about 16 years old. It was one of my absolute favorite pieces because of the complicated interaction of both of your hands and feet. Plus, I loved playing it as loudly as possibly to wake up the sleepy congregation.

    Unfortunately, pipe organs tend to exist only in churches. And atheists don’t build churches, so alas, my pipe organist career has been retired for many years.


  19. […] Shamus’s most recent post features a youtube video performance of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Whenever I hear this song, I think of two things: […]

  20. chuckp says:

    Who says you can’t acquire or build your own? If I win the lottery, I plan on having an organ in the great hall. No synth either, just honest pipes and blowers. The controls will be automated, though, as I can’t play keyboards beyond “Chopsticks”.

    I still have my old 6 LP set of Bach Organ Favorites, played by E. Power Biggs. May have to play that sucker today.

  21. Cuthalion says:

    The length of bars representing note length is commonly used in midi programs in what they call a “piano roll”. You select an instrument, then place a note at a certain pitch and time, and drag it out to the length you want. It’s more intuitive, but sometimes sheet music is easier or faster to make, as well as being more compact. So I prefer sheet music (with note thingies).

    @LesLee & chuckp:
    I’ve got a friend who’s got a hundred-year-old organ in his apartment. It’s pretty sweet. It’s not a pipe organ, but you have to pump the foot pedals to make sound.

  22. MissusJ says:

    Firstly, @chuckp: oooo, E. Power Biggs… I am suitably impressed… (then again, I have a degree in music and once worked in a music library- that’s right, an entire library devoted to music, books about music, and recordings. It was awesome. So I squee at E. Power Biggs… :)

    @Kasper: I agree, and I think I know the moments without having to go back and listen to them. I wonder if they were trying to get in under 10 minutes (for YouTube posting purposes)?

    @henebry: I agree this is a great way to visualize general things like the recurring patterns of the fugue. It is NOT a good way for a composer to communicate their desires to a performer. The “way taught in music class”, if you’re looking at the dots and the lines, is, in many ways, a language. Languages are hard to learn and don’t make sense at first, but when you get it you can express a lot. Written music is the same way. I had a very surreal moment while playing the piano as a teenager when I realized I could read the markings on the page better than I could read some words.

    That’s also why it’s easier than you’d think to learn several instruments. Once you get the language, the rest is merely learning how each instrument is different. Things like improvisation and harmonizing are much easier after learning the language and structure of things.

    The learning curve is annoying, but music tends to build community and is very rewarding to perform and enjoy. Knowing the language and structure, even if you don’t use it often, is worth the investment of time and effort.

    @Shamus: Thank you for linking this. I hadn’t seen it before, and this is one of my favorite pieces. In fact, there were times I just had to close my eyes and savor the music. :)

  23. MintSkittle says:

    For those that think colored bars are a good way to learn music, may I direct your attention here:



  24. Strangeite says:

    Am the only one that can’t help thinking about The Ghost and Mr. Chicken whenever I hear this piece?

    I guess so.

  25. Wow, that’s a really cool way for those of us who don’t really have an “ear” for music to get a good visual impression of just how complex a given piece is–it’s a lot easier for me to follow than the aural impression, which is somewhat overwhelming.

  26. mrmurphy says:

    Whenever I hear this piece of music, I think of the Cryptonomicon, and how pipe organs are really just the precursor to the computer that I’m using right now. And then I have to go have a lie down for a bit to calm down.

  27. Ethan says:

    It very much reminds me of Canadian experimental animator Norman McLaren’s 1971 film “Synchromy.” He took the optical soundtrack and transferred it to the visual portion of the film to great effect.

  28. neminem says:

    Heh. That brings back memories – we watched a piece of that video a few years ago, in a class I took called “harmony of sound and light”.

    To AshyRaccoon: yep, I was definitely reminded of breakout (and a few other games). Cause… my final project in that class, was a tribute to various old games – a dinky little music video to dj pretzel’s tetris remix, made almost entirely out of tetris graphics. The first 30 seconds or so was intentionally reminiscent of this video. Only, way simpler because I was doing it all by hand, and made out of tetris blocks. That was a fun class.

  29. Steven says:

    Whenever I listen to a classical music piece like this I’m always flabbergasted at how the act of creating something like this would take place.

    With something like a book or a movie it makes complete sense to me, you just tell the story.

    And with more modern music, I have a vague idea of how songs get written, the band gets together, they bounce ideas off one another, you can fit the lyrics to the music or vice versa.

    But with an eight minute long song like this, I couldn’t even begin to create something like this. It’s completely foreign to me. How could one person make this?

  30. WWWebb says:

    All right…which one of you broke the YouTube and didn’t put it back together?

  31. Kasper says:


    I really hope they haven’t mangled the piece just to get it under 10 minutes. I thought it was probably because the program only allows certain intervals, or maybe because they want to keep the tempo up to keep the average joe YouTube interested. If they really did it to get it under 10 minutes, I will have to amend my earlier statement about this being a nice video. It would have to say Bad YouTube in that case for making people do things like that to music like this…

  32. WWWebb says:

    Working now…takes me back to the Spooky Kooky Castle at Sea World. Who knew otters were such great organ players?

    Seriously though, the visualization of the colors reminded me of just how many stops get pulled on this piece. This is why organs have 3+ keyboards and a set of foot pedals.

  33. Dwaggi says:

    I remember hearing this when I was little, on… Fantasia, maybe? The visual accompaniment had lots of stair-like waves that changed color.

    Regardless, this is a great video. Seeing the harmonies also makes it easier to hear them.

  34. elda says:

    that was amusing and oddly mesmerising. thank you shamus.

  35. SolkaTruesilver says:

    As somebody who is almost tone-deaf, I have to thank Shamus for showing me this video, for never before could I catch all the intricacies of T&F in D-. I hope there are more videos of great classicals just as this one, because I know I love the melody in general, but I never could grasp it totaly.

    I’m more of a visual than a musical, when it comes to beauty. Something like this add the visual to the musical beauty of T&F.

  36. Felblood says:

    I absolutely love this.

    I’m the sort of guy who could never keep the traditional symbols strait in his head, so this is a great thing for me.

    I absolutely love how easy it is not just to see what’s coming up, but to see how a particular sound or riff was achieved.

    Is there some site or tool somewhere that makes videos like this out of audio or MIDI files, anyone? That would just be the most awesome toy of the year.

  37. Microphobe says:


    Now I want to make a platformer level based on this.

  38. Sam says:

    If you want to see a really fantastic version of this same piece, check out Karl Richter’s version. Utterly incredible.

    Also, I maintain that the Music Animation Machine’s version of Clair de Lune by Debussy is the best version on the internet. Bar none. Go listen to the other versions on Youtube. They’re all terrible (IMHO, anyway).

  39. DaveMc says:

    This looks like the final level in Pipe Organ Hero. (Or Bach Band, if you prefer.)

  40. Hal says:

    This song always reminds me of the final boss music from Final Fantasy 6. Or should that be the other way around?

  41. Stranger says:

    Whomever cited “Battle For Olympus” on the NES, it wasn’t an exact match. Some of the movements I expected to hear (from having sunk way too much time in that game long ago . . .) weren’t in the sequence I was used to.

    This does make me whistle at the complexity of the piece. And at the same time makes me want to hear more classical music :) I may have to get some as background for tabletop gaming for mood music. I have the perfect spot to use this one.

  42. wildweasel says:

    There is a very good reason why this is the greatest classical piece of all time (in my book), and while this version was certainly more interesting to watch, I honestly preferred this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zd_oIFy1mxM

    And only after having posted this do I realize that Sam a few posts before me already linked to the same video. Great minds think alike? =P

  43. Adam S says:

    How?! How do people find time to do this? This is like that guy who made “Through the Fire and Flames” in Mario Paint! It’s awesome, but how do they do it?

  44. KarmaDoor says:

    Hmm; I must admit I was expecting more, but that’s because I’ve seen similar with more impressive results, albeit for video games.
    Simply look up MIDI Animation in YouTube or nearly web search engine.
    I particularly like this rendition of Kirby themes:

  45. Jay Allman says:

    There are some other Bach fugues online that get the same treatment. I posting from Korea, and I hope the urls work. Anyway …

    The “Little” Fugue in G minor:


    A third movement from one of Bach’s trio sonatas for organ:


    The fugue-like third movement to his fourth Brandenburg Concerto:


    There is also this very striking video piece of the Well-Tempered Clavier’s 14th fugue that takes the above kind of visual representation and marries it with the actual keyboard action:


    Note that it opens with a quasi-tutorial where the performer separates out and identifies the theme (and something else that I don’t figure out); it illustrates where and how Bach takes the theme and turns it upside down and does some other stuff with it. These bits are then labeled with As and Bs, and when the fugue proper starts (at the 0:48 mark in the video), the labels are attached so that you can both follow the multi-voice action and spot where the theme and its treatments appear. It’s pretty head-spinning, and even with all the labeling it’s so complex it’s almost impossible to follow. But it’s amazing.

    Our esteemed host might be interested in the video poster’s comments about the quasi-fractal nature of the theme in that fugue. :)

  46. beno says:

    This isn’t as hard to do (the visualisation that is) as it looks. You’re looking at a “piano roll” that any software sequencer could produce, and you’re about one plug-in away from being able to make this sort of colour pattern out of any song. I write using a sequencer so I’m used to seeing music like this…

    …and even then this is such a good candidate piece of music that I was still mesmerised until the end!

    BTW, if the timing was out (and it was a little in places), that would be a YouTube delay. The piano roll was pretty much identical to the music, if a little time-shifted – trust me I’m used to watching these. The guy has played the piece into his sequencer (possibly in multiple takes and/or with edits, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he really can play the whole thing properly) and then run his plug-in to make the graphics look like that, and then just recorded his screen and sound for 8 minutes. (It’s still very cool.)

  47. UtopiaV1 says:

    This first time i ever heard this was by the prog rock band Sky. They did a rock cover of it, and my dad played it almost constantly when he was doing housework (he works from home, so has time to help out my mum). Weird connection to the song, i know, but i gotta admit, i love both the rock version and the original.

  48. MuonDecay says:

    The timing of the notes in this is a little akward and even a bit clumsy at times. It really breaks the flow of the music in several key places. I’d have to say that’s a pretty lackluster performance of this piece of music.

    The visualization is really cool, though.

    “Hmm, let's f… with the organist. Yeah, let's see how many different combinations of harmonies I can put together in one single composition. This will really freak him out!”

    … but J.S. Bach himself was the organist who’d be the first to play this o.O

  49. Felblood asked Is there some site or tool somewhere that makes videos like this out of audio or MIDI files, anyone? Yes, there’s a freeware windows program that does it, Music Animation Machine MIDI File Player, made by the same person who did the T&F video on YouTube (me).

    Sam maintains that the Music Animation Machine's version of Clair de Lune by Debussy is the best version on the internet. Thanks, Sam; I’m pretty pleased with that rendition, myself.

  50. Talrogsmash says:

    the original form of sheet music is designed so that a piece can be played four different ways, because back in the day paper was rare and ink was expensive. And you get some really wierd but nice pieces by playing stuff “upside down” or “sideways” that you wouldn’t even be able to attempt if you just used big bars to show notes.

  51. roxysteve says:

    Wow. That did something I never thought possible – got me to sit all the way through that otherwise interminable piece. Impressive any way you look at it.

    Did anyone else get the distinct illusion that the window was drifting to the right after the movie finished?


  52. Dennis Brennan says:

    Thanks for the nostalgia.

    The biggest fully functional pipe organ on the planet
    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanamaker_Organ )
    is a block from my office. Sometimes I go listen to them play it at lunchtime.

    The biggest pipe organ on the planet
    is only about an hour and a half away from me– and it’s also the largest and loudest musical instrument in history.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By d | Digg hot tags on Saturday Dec 13, 2008 at 9:01 am

    […] Vote Toccata and Fugue in D minor […]

  2. By Half-Masked » Archive » “Final Fantasia” on Saturday Dec 13, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    […] Shamus’s most recent post features a youtube video performance of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Whenever I hear this song, I think of two things: […]

  3. […] http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=1971 […]

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *


Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>