There are many studies, mostly by German scholars, of the development of the toccata in Europe. However, there has been no consistent study of the organ toccata in Italy, where it began, from its origins to its dissolution in the preclassical period. Studies of the toccata in Italy after Frescobaldi are, in particular, lacking. This document undertakes an in-depth study of representative examples of the Italian organ toccata from its precursor, the ricercar of the sixteenth century, until the toccata that existed about 1750, concentrating on significant stylistic parameters of form, melody, rhythm, harmony and tonality, texture, ornamentation, and medium of performance.
The sixteenth-century ricercar, represented in the work of M. A. Cavazzoni, Fogliano, Segni, and G. Cavazzoni, developed from a rambling, dissonant, improvisational piece to an imitative work conforming to strict rules of counterpoint.
In the toccatas of the Venetians ca. 1600, represented in the music of A. Gabrieli, Bertoldo, Padovano, Merulo, G. Gabrieli, and others, form was expanded to a three- or five-part structure, with separate improvisational and imitative sections. Dissonance was used for dramatic purposes and some rhythmic differentiation began to appear.
The toccata of the Neapolitan school and Frescobaldi was characterized by bizarre harmonic progressions and angular, dotted rhythms. Toccatas were in one section composed of a patchwork of motives, each motive imitated briefly before going on to the next. The slow, chromatic durezze e ligature toccata also appeared during this period. For the first time a preference was seen for the cembalo, although toccatas were written for either instrument.
The toccata of the post-Frescobaldi generation was characterized by a variety of styles, but simplifying trends in regard to rhythm and harmony are seen in the work of Storace, Strozzi, Rossi, and Bernardo Pasquini.
In the early eighteenth century the simplifying trends continued, there was an increasing emphasis on tonic and dominant, and the toccata merged with the sonata in the music of Zipoli, Alessandro Scarlatti, Fago, and Leo.
The appendices contain information about the organs in Italy of this time, instructions as to performance and registration from the contemporary sources Il Transilvano (1593), by Diruta, L'Arte Organica (1605), by Antegnati, and Frescobaldi's prefaces to his collections of 1615 and 1635. The appendix also contains tables which summarize the toccatas of those composers whose output was large.
The concluding chapter agaln isolates each musical parameter, and presents a summary of the great stylistic changes that took place in the toccata over this two-hundred-year history.