Before we listen to a performance of the Chaconne, let’s get better acquainted with it.
In the first four bars of the Chaconne, Bach presents the theme that will serve to inspire his
improvisatory imagination. The next four bars suggest the way in which he will pair phrases,
and they also help clarify the theme’s chord progression and bass line, which provide both a
frame of reference and a point of departure.
Let’s get “under the hood” and take a close look at the first nine bars of the score, sounding as
piano, with harmonic analysis provided:
Notice the three-note and four-note chords that have to be played by the violinist. While these
can be described as “triple stops” and “quadruple stops,” the notes cannot all be played at the
same time because of the curve in the violin’s bridge. The performer instead adjusts the angle of
the bow to play a rapid arpeggio, effectively “rolling” the chord, from low note to high.
Observe the meter—and the fact that measure
is incomplete, beginning on beat
emphasis on beat
makes this chaconne like a sarabande, and it allows Bach some flexibility
concerning the ends of his phrases.
Notice, for instance that both of these phrases conclude with an
the downbeats of m.
Another malleable aspect of phrase structure is the often-encountered phenomenon of
, whereby the same musical moment can serve as both the conclusion of one phrase and
the beginning of the next phrase. That is the case on the downbeat of m.
, where we hear the
second phrase concluding on tonic harmony (i), even as the third phrase is beginning at precisely
the same moment (as we’ll hear more fully in performance).