Archive for January, 2016

Sarah Cahill and the Chaconne

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

Sarah Cahill and the Chaconne

The Chaconne

Like many enduring musical forms, the chaconne (ciaccona, chacony, etc.) started as a Renaissance dance. It most likely made its way from Mexico to Spain as a slow, theatrical dance in 3/4, typically in a minor key, featuring castanets and lascivious overtones that occasionally caused it to be banned. From early written examples, it is clear that the music was based on a short series of guitar chords (with bass notes) repeated over and over (like a loop) as long as the dance required. While vivid repetition is necessary for coordinating dance steps, musicians tend to introduce variation and improvisation to make things more interesting. Abstracted from dance, stylized and subjected to the virtuosity of performer and composer, the chaconne became an art form much like the classical theme and variations except the “theme” is compact, often no more than 4 or 8 measures, and the “theme” is less a melody than a set of chords and the bass line they imply, typically ending in a full cadence (e.g. harmonic closure). This fundamental unit is repeated, without pause, creating a continuous strand of music with variety and dramatic motion created by modifying any number of musical facets: melody, harmony, rhythm, figuration, texture, key signature, voicing, dynamics and so on. In some cases, the variation changes everything but the pulse or the duration of the unit so that timing is the only continuity. (more…)