Although its origins are murky, the chaconne appears to have originated in South America as a swirling dance which was “wild, fast, cheerful and often sung.” (Leila Schayegh) It was characterized by suggestive movements and mocking texts. (Alexander Silbiger) In the sixteenth century, conquistadors brought the chaconne to Spain. Evolving into a stately Baroque dance in triple meter, it spread quickly throughout Europe, and gained popularity with both aristocrats and the general public.
Typically, the chaconne features a series of variations over a short, repeating bass line which descends stepwise from the tonic (I) to the dominant (V). The chaconne soared to monumental heights in the final movement of J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor (BWV 1004) for solo violin. Brahms paid homage to the form in the final movement of his Fourth Symphony. It remains fertile ground for contemporary composers such as John Adams and Jennifer Higdon.
Ciaccona!, a newly released album featuring the Swiss Baroque violinist, Leila Schayegh, and the ensemble, La Centifolia, is a celebration of both famous and tantalizingly obscure early examples of the form. The album includes music by Purcell, Corelli, and Pachelbel. There are selections by anonymous composers and virtual unknowns, such as Bertali, Schmelzer, and Matteis. Also included is the Chaconne, popular in the nineteenth century, which has been attributed to Tomaso Antonio Vitali (1663-1745).
Purcell: Trio Sonata in C Major, Z. 795
This Chaconne from Henry Purcell’s Trio Sonata in C Major, Z. 795 was composed around 1680. It draws us into a vibrant, imitative musical conversation which is passionate, lamenting, and free-flowing. There are moments of mysterious dissonance in which the music veers towards sensuous modal harmony. At times, these harmonic turns may remind you of the twentieth century passacaglia which closes Samuel Barber’s Symphony in One Movement.
Pachelbel: Canon in D Major
The Canon in D by the German Baroque composer, Johann Pachelbel, is a staple of modern wedding music. La Centifolia’s spritely, spirited recording allows us to hear this music with new ears:
- Ciaccona! Leila Schayegh and La Centifolia highresaudio.com
Featured Image: photograph by M. Müller