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January 20, 2020

What is a toccata? And what does it have to do with our Flights of Fancy concert?


According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the term comes from the Italian toccare: ‘to touch’. It is a piece intended primarily as a display of manual dexterity, often free in form and almost always for a solo keyboard instrument. 


It's the "free in form" part that interests us the most for the purposes of this concert. That means the piece, unlike so much other music of its time, is not strictly linked to a dance form or vocal melody. While it is written music, and may feature some more formally composed sections (ie fugues), for the most part the Baroque toccata is intended to sound almost improvised, as if the composer/performer is inventing it on the spot.


This program features two toccatas by Girolamo Frescobaldi. One is a more typical keyboard solo, while the other is for violin and keyboard. The latter piece is unusual in that it features the violin and keyboard passing musical ideas back and forth in a florid dialogue.


To get a clearer idea of what we're describing, please enjoy this gorgeous performance by Rachel Podger, Marcin Świątkiewicz, and Daniele Caminiti:


 And you can see hear both pieces live on February 9, 2020:





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