The word Toccata comes from the Italian 'toccare' meaning "to touch." The toccata is written for keyboard to offer keyboardists the opportunity to 'show off' their musical abilities. Originally, the form was written for organists. As the form increased in 16th century use and popularity among the Italian composers, they wrote toccatas for piano as well.
The first known composer was Francesco de Milano whose 1536 piece was simply called 'Toccata.' Milano is followed by several other 16th century Italian composers including Cavazzoni and Monteverdi. The acclaimed best toccata composer was a brilliant Italian organist and composer named Girolamo Frescobaldi. In the early 17th century, he published a set of twelve toccatas whereby making his mark on the form's interpretation.
Italian composers then carried the toccata into other lands such as Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands where composers like Buxtehude, Pachelbel, and Sweelinck took the form into more advancements. Then composer J.S. Bach who, inspired by fellow German composer Buxtehude, composed for organ the most known and popular toccata to date, 'Toccata and Fugue in D minor' in early 1708.
The toccata's use gradually fell off through the next century but was later revived in the early 20th by French composers Claude Debussy and Joseph Ravel. Under their influence, Russian Sergei Prokofiev composed his masterpiece 'Toccata from 'Le tombeau de Couperin'' in 1912.
'Toccata from Pour le Piano' c. 1901
Composed by Archille-Claude Debussy