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The toccata and the history of touch: A pianist's survey of the symbiosis of style and performance practice of selected toccatas from Froberger to Muczynski

Hye Won Lee, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The modern piano repertoire often categorizes toccata as a one-dimensional work of endurance and technical brilliance. Limited to the occasional performance of J. S. Bach, R. Schumann and S. Prokofiev’s toccatas, pianists often consider it as a vehicle to develop technical abilities—a preparatory composition form of minor importance.^ However, upon close examination, toccata as a genre holds much diversity and interest. The rich heritage from the high Renaissance lute and early keyboard toccatas to highly stylized contemporary piano toccatas illustrates many significant transformations in piano literature. Current piano literature, however, tends to focus only on a very small fragment of the genre, concentrating on the aforementioned composers.^ This incomplete understanding and superficial acknowledgement of the genre deprives pianists from exploring stylistic changes in other toccatas, but also leads to performances without contexts. The intention of this paper is to provide contextual exploration through discussion of stylistic changes of toccatas from the high Renaissance to the twentieth century to create a survey of the form from the pianist’s perspective.^ The genealogy of toccata is grouped in two sections, from high Renaissance to the time of Bach, then another section from 1832 with Schumann’s Op. 7, continuing to today. The older forms consisted of many different sections, usually falling under the three categories of improvisatory virtuosic writing, homophonic chordal or fugal writing.^ However, its multifaceted nature led to the disintegration of the form in the classical era, as compositions of limited stylistic range such as fantasias or sonata became popular. The resurrection of toccata in the Romantic era shows a very different style, as it adapted sonata-allegro form, discarding its multi-sectional structure. The only common threads to the past are the moto perpetuo momentum, heavy pulsation and technical brilliance. Since 1832, the piano toccatas feature the common characteristics of rhythmic drive, rapid pulsation, technical brilliance and demand for endurance.^ Closer examination of five chosen toccatas of: J. J. Froberger, J. S. Bach, C. Debussy, S. Prokofiev and R. Muczynski in this study will provide specific illustrations of the transformation of the genre. ^

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Recommended Citation

Lee, Hye Won, "The toccata and the history of touch: A pianist's survey of the symbiosis of style and performance practice of selected toccatas from Froberger to Muczynski" (2008). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3309290.