Sergei Prokofiev: Toccata


Sergei Prokofiev’s Toccata in D minor (Op.11) was composed in 1912. Prokofiev himself premiered the work some years later in December 1916. Similar to some of his contemporaries like Ravel and Khachaturian, Prokofiev’s Toccata is a development to the toccata form made famous by the likes of J.S Bach. This toccata is fiendishly difficult, making it a favourite amongst virtuoso pianists. Although Prokofiev premiered the piece, even he struggled to get all the way through the piece, because even though his technique was good, it takes a real master to accomplish this work. 


The Music

Toccata is built on motor rhythms in a perpetuum mobile structure that is constant throughout. The opening sees persistent repetition of the note D, which is interchanged between the right and left hand. The octave jumps here are then subtly changed as harsh dissonant chords break the perfect octaves. There is a sense of anxiety and tension in this piece, and the opening motor rhythms employ this atmosphere. 

Chromatic leaps and syncopated rhythms begin to overlay, with Prokofiev quickly changing the hands to catch the pianist out. The development of the theme consists of descending chromatic figures and lots of contrary motion movement. The hands begin to musically argue as the dissonances become more aggressive. The constant hammering of the repeated rhythms slows down until a short pause is heard. The scalic movement begins to ascend before a huge glissando sweeps up the piano to end on a top D. 


Final Thoughts

Sergei Prokofiev’s Toccata is a fiendish work for piano that shows the composer’s creativity as a composer and pianist. The sheer speed of the work adds to the frenzied feel of it, making it a truly thrilling piece of music.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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