Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565, is perhaps the single most recognizable piece of pipe organ music in the world—or at least the ominous opening is.
If there is an Ominous Pipe Organ in a Haunted House or Creepy Cathedral, there's about 80% chances of it playing the opening bars of the Toccata in D Minor, or more of the piece.
There has been some debate as to whether Bach actually wrote the piece at all. The only manuscript of the work that has survived to the present day was penned by Johannes Ringk, who attributes the piece to Bach; this copy also lacks a date, but is thought to have been written somewhere between 1730 and 1735. The work itself contains a number of stylistic anachronisms, such as the large lack of counterpoint in the toccata, the fugue utilizing subdominant rather than dominant answers, and wrapping up on a plagal cadence, among others. (Then again, the later styles had to draw their inspiration from somewhere — perhaps they drew their inspiration from this piece, and Bach actually started it all!) Another theory is that it was written down poorly by one of Bach's students. Another school of thought holds that it may have been originally written for solo violin (possibly by Bach but likely by another unknown composer), and then transcribed by Bach for the organ; several attempts to reconstruct the piece in this manner have been produced. Bach's most recent biographer Christoph Wolff believes that it's definitely by Bach, but that its stylistic oddities can be explained by its being an early work.
Note that Bach actually wrote two sets of pieces entitled Toccata and Fugue in D minor, but the second (BWV 538) is set apart by its toccata being in the Dorian mode (using a key signature usually used for A minor, i.e. no sharps or flats) for the majority of its duration, a component which gives BWV 538 the "Dorian" nickname in the music world. The fugue is, however, in the traditional natural minor scale (Aeolian mode). This piece is, of course, nowhere near as well-known as BWV 565.
Examples of works featuring the Toccata:
- In the original Sailor Moon anime, Eudial plays the opening chords after luring Sailors Uranus and Neptune into a church filled with traps.
- The incidental music used in the anime was inspired by this snippet.
- In Initial D, the song "Back on the Rocks" (played during the race with Nakazato's GT-R) starts with the opening chords of the piece. It got reused in Fourth Stage during Keisuke's race against "God Foot" Kozo Hoshino.
- In Naruto, Orochimaru's Leitmotif is based on this snippet.
- Chords of Chaos/Pony of the Opera, the second two-parter story of Doctor Whooves Adventures, featuring a music-themed villain, uses the Toccata as his Leitmotif.
- The cassette tape board game Shrieks & Creeks plays this in the background during the audio instructions.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan works:
- The fanfic Aporia has a scene in chapter 46.3 where Mary (a human transported into Equestria) finds a pipe organ and plays the intro to the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Twilight Sparkle doesn't recognize it at all, and she apparently isn't very impressed with it, her narration describing it as "a short sequence of sharp, loud notes, without any regard for the welfare of the instrument, quick like a tumble off a staircase interrupted by two long, pained yelps." In light of how many other bits of human culture inexplicably exist in Equestria, Mary is surprised at Twilight's unfamiliarity.“Funny, it’s only the most famous organ composition ever,” Mary said. “Literally the first thing anyone would want to play on an organ. Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis 565. I expected this one would be known in your world, I know at least some classic melodies match.” [...]
“I’m not familiar with griffon music,” [Twilight] admitted. The title, at least, sounded like Griffish, which Equestrian griffons haven’t spoken for centuries.
“Griffon music, right,” Mary snorted.
- Scootertrix the Abridged plays the first few notes of the Toccata and Fugue over every Establishing Shot of Canterlot—although it's played on a synth organ and transposed a few notes higher—hinting at Princess Celestia's status as a Villain Protagonist With Good Publicity. The characters even acknowledge this music in-universe: Celestia refers to it as "The Jingle" and gets really upset when the organ player falls ill and is unable to play it. Later in the series, when Princess Luna is put in charge, she replaces The Jingle with "The New Jingle", a piece unrelated to Bach.
- The fanfic Aporia has a scene in chapter 46.3 where Mary (a human transported into Equestria) finds a pipe organ and plays the intro to the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Twilight Sparkle doesn't recognize it at all, and she apparently isn't very impressed with it, her narration describing it as "a short sequence of sharp, loud notes, without any regard for the welfare of the instrument, quick like a tumble off a staircase interrupted by two long, pained yelps." In light of how many other bits of human culture inexplicably exist in Equestria, Mary is surprised at Twilight's unfamiliarity.
- A fully orchestrated, but slightly truncated version serves as the centerpiece of Fantasia's first segment, set to increasingly trippy visuals.
- This is what the Grand Duke of Owls plays in his lair in Rock-A-Doodle in one scene.
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo has a pipe organ onboard the Nautilus, and plays the Toccata along with a good deal of improvisation.
- 1962's The Phantom of the Opera was the first adaptation of the Gaston Leroux novel to add the music piece.
- The Great Race: Professor Fate has a pipe organ in his mansion, complete with the requisite rendition of the Toccata. Played with in that it's a player pipe organ — all he does is pump the pedals.
- Got remixed in the soundtrack of Ocean's 8, although without the opening bars.
- In 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, Dr. Lao presents "The Fall of the City" at his circus. The Toccata portion plays as the city is being destroyed by lava.
- Sunset Boulevard: Norma Desmond has a pipe organ in her mansion. On the morning when Joe Gillis first gets an inkling of how manipulative Norma will be note , he finds the butler Max at the organ, playing the Toccata.
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life: This music plays during the "Boys Vs. Masters" rugby match.
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: The famous snippet is played during Stephen and Sinister Strange's fight in which they turn music notes into magical runes.
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from 1931: this may be one reason people mistakenly associate the piece with the better remembered 1931 film version of Dracula (1931).
- It is also heard in Fantasia (1940), along with other classic pieces that impacts how people remember them.
- Rollerball (1975) uses this as a great mood setting piece for the film.
- Adventures in Wonderland: The final episode, "A Wonderland Howl-oween", features a spoof of the classic horror movie The Phantom of the Opera. One night, the Queen and the White Rabbit explore a catacomb to find out where strange, spooky, unearthly noises are coming from. They find a masked figure (the Mad Hatter) playing this piece on a pipe organ.
- Antics (1984): Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is the game's full soundtrack.
- The Battle of Olympus: The snippet plays in the gods' temples.
- Boogie Wings: An energetic and experimental variant of the Toccata is played by the main villain on the giant organ disguised as a fake haunted house that is an actual haunted house. This occurs during the boss battle on Konyi Island when the player is up against a huge frankenmonster, several ghosts, and bride and groom zombies that float up from their graves.
- Castle Of Deceit: The snippet is used for boss battles.
- Dark Castle: The snippet plays on the intro screen of each version and in some versions the Toccata plays in full during gameplay.
- Donkey Kong Junior: The snippet plays during the opening.
- Final Fantasy VI: Of the final boss theme "Dancing Mad", the third movement lifts entire sections of the melody directly from Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. And by "heavy inspiration" we mean "entire sections of the melody lifted directly from Bach."
- Friday the 13th (1985): Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is the game's full soundtrack.
- Galaxy Fight: Bits of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor are worked into the theme of Rozalis, a planet invaded and brought to desolation and ruin long ago. Its prince has since been practicing magic in the hopes of one day fighting back.
- Ghoul School: The game uses a condensed version in the Basement, the game's final area.
- Gyruss: A variant of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor plays as you shoot at the alien ships and satellites.
- Monster Bash: The song "Bach Bash" starts off with a few second of Toccata and Fugue In D Minor before going on as an original creation.
- Mutant League Hockey: Randomized snippets of the first few bars play during face-offs.
- Peggle: The first three notes play when you obtain the Spooky Ball powerup. The next six notes play when the powerup takes effect. You get the third and fourth measures if you trigger both available powerups in the same shot.
- Saints Row IV: The Toccata can be heard on the radio. The Big Bad Zinyak hates it when people call it "the Dracula song," to the point of executing anybody who does.
- Dōkyūsei uses the intro of the song in the case the Player Character's attempt at a Love Confession fails, signalling that the current game has more or less been locked into the Bad Ending.
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All: The Toccata plays in Phoenix's nightmare sequence at the beginning (as well as its Dark Reprise near the end of the game, where he learns the truth about Matt Engarde). When he wakes up, he realizes it is the ringtone of a cell phone that was left with him for some reason and which ends up being a key piece of evidence in the first case: the phone in question belonged to the culprit, who took Phoenix's identical-looking phone by mistake when he beaned him upside the head and gave him amnesia with the intent of making him lose the case.
- In the American Dad! episode "Phantom of the Telethon", as part of Roger's Phantom of the Opera-style persona that he took on to sabotage Stan's telethon, he orders a pipe organ but ends up with just an electric keyboard that plays the Toccata in a ska style.
- In the Francophone world, it's known for being the theme song for the edutainment show Il était une fois... l'Homme (Once Upon a Time... Man), rendered by a MOOG synthesizer. Notwithstanding the educational purpose of the show, the intro fully embraces the tune's horror associations. The intro starts with a sequence of evolutions that come to create mankind and then it shows various cultures and eras mankind has experienced, giving the whole a chaotic and dramatic feel but nothing "bad" so far. In the final seconds, the intro makes a prediction that soon mankind will fall to chaos, will turn on each other, and will have to leave Earth as its destruction rapidly approaches. Only a few will survive.