This article is about the musical form. For the last movement of J. S. Bach's second violin partita, commonly referred to as "the Chaconne", see Partita for Violin No. 2 (Bach). For George Balanchine's 1976 ballet, see Chaconne (ballet).
The "Ciaccona" from Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita for Violin No. 2

A chaconne (/ʃəˈkɒn/; French: [ʃakɔn]; Spanish: chacona; Italian: ciaccona, pronounced [tʃakˈkoːna]; earlier English: chacony[1]) is a type of musical composition popular in the baroque era when it was much used as a vehicle for variation on a repeated short harmonic progression, often involving a fairly short repetitive bass-line (ground bass) which offered a compositional outline for variation, decoration, figuration and melodic invention. In this it closely resembles the passacaglia.

The ground bass, if there is one, may typically descend stepwise from the tonic to the dominant pitch of the scale; the harmonies given to the upper parts may emphasize the circle of fifths or a derivative pattern thereof.


Though it originally emerged during the late sixteenth century in Spanish culture, having reputedly been introduced from the New World, as a quick dance-song characterized by suggestive movements and mocking texts,[2] by the early eighteenth century the chaconne had evolved into a slow triple meter instrumental form.

Alex Ross describes the origins of the chacona as actually having been a sexily swirling dance that appeared in South America at the end of the sixteenth century and quickly spread to Europe. The dance became popular both in the elite courts and in the general population. "Un sarao de la chacona"[3] is one of the earliest known examples of a "chacona", written down by Spanish musician Juan Arañés.[4]

The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica claims the chaconne was "a slow dance, introduced into Spain by the Moors".[5]

Outstanding examples of early baroque chaconnes are Monteverdi's "Zefiro torna" and "Es steh Gott auf" by Heinrich Schütz.[6]

One of the best known and most masterful and expressive examples of the chaconne is the final movement from the Violin Partita in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach. This 256-measure chaconne takes a plaintive four-bar phrase through a continuous kaleidoscope of musical expression in both major and minor modes.

After the Baroque period, the chaconne fell into decline during the 19th century, though the 32 Variations in C minor by Beethoven suggest its continuing influence. However, the form saw a very substantial revival during the 20th century, with more than two dozen composers contributing examples (see below).

Chaconne and passacaglia

The chaconne has been understood by some nineteenth and early twentieth-century theorists—in a rather arbitrary way—to be a set of variations on a harmonic progression, as opposed to a set of variations on a melodic bass pattern (to which is likewise artificially assigned the term passacaglia),[7] while other theorists of the same period make the distinction the other way around.[8] In actual usage in music history, the term "chaconne" has not been so clearly distinguished from passacaglia as regards the way the given piece of music is constructed, and "modern attempts to arrive at a clear distinction are arbitrary and historically unfounded."[9] In fact, the two genres were sometimes combined in a single composition, as in the "Cento partite sopra passacagli," from Toccate d’intavolatura di cimbalo et organo, partite di diverse arie . . . (1637), by Girolamo Frescobaldi, and the first suite of Les Nations (1726) as well as in the Pièces de Violes (1728) by François Couperin.[10]

Frescobaldi, who was probably the first composer to treat the chaconne and passacaglia comparatively, usually (but not always) sets the former in major key, with two compound triple-beat groups per variation, giving his chaconne a more propulsive forward motion than his passacaglia, which usually has four simple triple-beat groups per variation.[11] Both are usually in triple meter, begin on the second beat of the bar, and have a theme of four measures (or a close multiple thereof). (In more recent times the chaconne, like the passacaglia, need not be in 3/4 time; see, for instance, Francesco Tristano Schlimé's Chaconne/Ground Bass, where every section is built on seven-beats patterns)


17th century

18th century

19th century

20th century

21st century


  1. Chaconne,
  2. Alexander Silbiger, "Chaconne," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie and J. Tyrrell (London: Macmillan, 2001).
  3. "Un sarao de la chacona" translates as A chacona soirée and is also known as "Chacona: A la vida bona". Lyrics with English translation here: Juan Arañés, ‘¡A la vida bona!’, chacona a4 from Libro segundo de tonos y villancicos (Rome: Giovanni Battista Robletti, 1624).
  4. Chacona, Lamento,,
  5.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Chaconne". Encyclopædia Britannica. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 786.
  6. Gerald Drebes: "Schütz, Monteverdi und die 'Vollkommenheit der Musik' – 'Es steh Gott auf' aus den Symphoniae sacrae II (1647)". In: Schütz-Jahrbuch, volume 14, 1992, pp. 25–55.
  7. Percy Goetschius, The Larger Forms of Musical Composition: An Exhaustive Explanation of the Variations, Rondos, and Sonata Designs, for the General Student of Musical Analysis, and for the Special Student of Structural Composition ([New York]: G. Schirmer, 1915), 29 and 40.
  8. Lucas, Clarence Lucas, 1908. The Story of Musical Form (The Music Story Series, edited by Frederick J. Crowest. London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd.; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908), 203.
  9. Manfred Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era (New York: Norton, 1947), 42.
  10. Alexander Silbiger, "Passacaglia and Ciaccona: Genre Pairing and Ambiguity from Frescobaldi to Couperin," Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music 2, no. 1 (1996).
  11. Alexander Silbiger, "Chaconne" The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell (London: Macmillan, 2001).
  12. Budd Udell, "Standard Works for Band: Gustav Holst's First Suite in E♭ Major for Military Band." Music Educators Journal 69, no. 4 (1982) page 28. (JSTOR subscription access) – Pam Hurry, Mark Phillips, and Mark Richards, (Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers, 2001. ISBN 0-435-81258-0) p. 238. – Clarence Lucas, The Story of Musical Form (The Music Story Series, edited by Frederick J. Crowest. London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd.; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908) page 203.

External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/26/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.