Toccata and Tango in D Minor

Last year, the San José Chamber Orchestra put up a large grand staff on the wall; audience members pasted round stickers on it to compose a new work. Barbara asked me if I’d write a new piece based on this “Crowd Sourced” music. I’m always ready for fun and a challenge. We decided to perform the new piece on the Bach inspired “Tricks and Treats” Halloween concert. After thinking about how to approach the piece for a few days, I came up with an idea.

Most people are familiar with Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 565). It often appears in horror movies or other scary productions. I decided to use it as a starting point for “Crowd Source”. I also decided to write an accompanying tango, because I like them, tangos are usually in minor keys, and Toccata and Tango in D Minor is a cool title.

The first task: Figure out how to get the huge piece of music into something I could read. My husband and I hung the big staff on our neighbor’s house and took a panorama photo. I printed the photo and drew circles and lines to create beats and chords.

I wrote the notes and chords in my music sketchpad and entered them into the music software. BWV 565 is in D minor, with 4/4 time signature, and so is our new orchestra piece. I changed notes to ensure sensible harmony. Creating the harmony was surprisingly difficult, our ears expect chords in a certain order. When I compose, I already have ideas for melody, harmony, and rhythm; “Crowd Source” had none of these elements. I had to back-engineer them. Once I had the harmony and melody, I began improvising tango sketches with “Crowd Source” motifs.

I listened to Astor Piazzolla compositions and studied tango scores. I used several quotes from JS Bach and one short one from Piazzolla in the piece. Listen carefully! Here they are: The toccata starts with quotes from BWV 565 and “Crowd Source” harmony the “Crowd Source” theme appears at measure 11. The quote from Piazzolla begins at the end of the Baroque-inspired toccata, measure 41-46. I found this passage while listening to Piazzolla improvise.

I wrote 15 versions before I was satisfied. The orchestra played the three versions that are most important in the creation of Toccata and Tango in D Minor. As soon as I get permission, you can listen to the results right here.

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