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Bach's Toccata & Fugue in D minor for piano and timpani

In 2001, I was looking for some music to play on a recital where I was to perform my arrangements of Schumann, Six Pieces for Pedal Piano, op 56 & 58, arranged for Timpani and Piano (published by Bachovich). In the Schumann arrangements, the timpani play the bass lines written for the pedal notes of the ‘Pedal Piano’. I started looking for organ music, to find more pieces with pedal lines that I could arrange for timpani. I quickly came across the Toccata and Fugue of Bach and knew right away that it would make a great timpani part.

As I perform the Schumann arrangements on a set-up of 7 drums, I arranged Toccata and Fugue for the same set-up. There is one moment in the Bach where the timpani part goes up to high C#. Since the 20-inch piccolo timpani only goes comfortably up to C, I use an 8 inch Roto-Tom for this one C#.

In my arrangement, the timpani play Bach’s famous opening bars, which on the timpani are played as an articulated glissando. After the introduction, the timpani play the part written for the pedals of the organ. As there is a long passage in the fugue where the pedals do not play, I gave the timpani some scales and arpeggios to play in this section as well. This middle passage in the fugue definitely raises the level of difficulty of the timpani part by a few notches!

Although it is certainly possible to play this part on Dresden or Berlin style pedals with clutches and ratchets, I have been performing this on balanced action pedals (Adams Revolution timpani in this video). When pedaling this much it is a very free feeling not to have the clutches to contend with.

Toccata and Fugue is a fun and challenging part to play, especially in the fugue where there are so many notes to play and the pedaling just keeps coming at you. I have practiced this part often during the past 15 years, mostly very slowly. A part like this really stretches your pedaling technique to the max!

The video is from a performance on February 7, 2016 during the Day of Percussion at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. During this session I also performed the aforementioned arrangements of Schumann, Six Pieces for Pedal Piano, plus my arrangements for timpani and piano of My Way and Puccini, Nessun Dorma; and Witchcraft for timpani and drums.

Be sure to use headphones — timpani never sound very good over computer speakers. I hope you enjoy my performance!

Randy Max

Randy Max received his undergraduate degree at the St. Louis Conservatory, studying with Rick Holmes and John Kasica, and earned a masters degree at The Juilliard School, studying with Roland Kohloff, Buster Bailey, and Walter Rosenberger. He has been the principal timpanist with the Rotterdam Philharmonic since 1988, and is the former timpanist/percussionist with the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra and The Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York City.

Randy is Visiting Professor of Timpani at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music in London, and has given masterclasses in the United States, Europe, and South America. He is the author of Orchestral Excerpts for Timpani with audio CD, published by Theodore Presser Company. His arrangements of Schumann, Six Pieces for Pedal Piano, arranged for timpani and piano, are published by Bachovich Music Publications.