Ciacona & Passacaglia

Andrej Harinek

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The most beautiful ostinato organ works by Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Pachelbel and Johann Sebastian Bach.

The Chaconne (Italian: Ciacona or Ciaccona) is a musical variation form or a dance in triple meter. Typical for the Chaconne is an ostinato bass with a repetitive harmony pattern lasting for four or eight bars. Chaconne is very closely related to the Passacaglia. Until today, a sure distinction between the two genres, at least among the compositions of the masters of the Baroque, is not known. These genres developed in Spain at the beginning of the 17th century and soon thereafter appeared in a wide range of Italian instrumental and vocal music. Both were taken over into organ music and are then no longer to be understood as a dance but as a pure variation work. To the most beautiful belong the ostinato organ works by Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Pachelbel and Johann Sebastian Bach. Dieterich Buxtehude was most likely born around 1637 in Helsingborg, now in Sweden. From 1668 until his death in 1707 he worked as an organist of St. Mary´s Church in Lübeck. With him, the development of North German organ music reached its highlight. His three large independent ostinato works, Ciacona in C minor (BuxWV 159), Ciacona in E minor (BuxWV 160) and Passacaglia in D minor (BuxWV 161), represent the few exceptions in the North German organ music. All three compositions are preserved in a single manuscript, the so-called Andreas Bach Book, which was compiled by Johann Sebastian Bach's older brother Johann Christoph Bach (1671-1721). They are based on a four-bar theme, which occurs in the Passacaglia, compared to the Ciaconas, always and unchanged only in the pedal. The Passacaglia is also characterized by its very clear shape and tonal structure. It consists of four equally long sections (in D minor, F major, A minor and D minor) in which the theme occurs seven times in each one. Particularly remarkable is the beginning of the third section, because it illustrates a "dramatic-declamatory pausing style", which Johann Sebastian Bach later used for the beginning of his Passacaglia. The two Ciaconas are designed to be much freer, where restrained, introverted and melancholic sections alternate with exuberant virtuoso passages and the ostinato appears dispensed multiple times. Johann Pachelbel was born in 1653 in Nuremberg. From 1677 to 1690 he worked as an organist in Thuringia where he was friendly with the Bach family and taught Johann Christoph Bach, who later became the first organ teacher of his famous brother Johann Sebastian. From 1695 until his death in 1706, Pachelbel worked as an organist at St. Sebaldus Church in his native city of Nuremberg. Pachelbel composed mainly works for keyboard instruments, including ostinato compositions such as the Ciacona in D minor and Ciacona in F minor. Most of the pieces were only obtained in the transcripts of his students. For example, the Ciacona in D minor was only preserved, thanks to the already mentioned Andreas Bach Book. Similarly, the Ciacona in F minor, which is one of the most wonderful works by Pachelbel, appears only in a single manuscript. Both compositions are based on a four-bar bass theme, which occurs in the Ciacona in D minor throughout but only in the pedal. In the variations there are always new formulations that could perhaps serve as models for Johann Sebastian Bach in his famous Passacaglia. Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685 in Eisenach. After the death of his parents, he came as a 10 -year-old to his older brother Johann Christoph to Ohrdruf, who was organist there. Johann Christoph was his first organ teacher and through him he got to know the organ music of the Pachelbel. The most famous anecdote is that Johann Sebastian copied a book of Johann Christoph secretly in the night (by moonlight), full of works of masters like Froberger, Kerll and Pachelbel. During his studies in Lüneburg, Georg Böhm and Johann Adam Reinken also had an influence on the young Bach. In 1703 he began his first organist position in Arnstadt. During his vacation in 1705, he undertook a trip to Lübeck to hear Dieterich Buxtehude. Bach was so fascinated by Buxtehude and his music that he extended his holiday to almost four months without permission, which subsequently caused great annoyance in Arnstadt. During this time, and at the latest in 1713, he had composed his monumental Passacaglia in C minor (BWV 582), because the earliest source of transmission, the Andreas Bach book was written between 1706 - 1713. It is interesting to see his Passacaglia so close to the ostinato works of Buxtehude and Pachelbel, which may have served as a model for him. It is more fascinating to see how the young Bach surpasses his models in the mastery of compositional principles, musical form, harmonic strategies, figurative material and the fugue technique. The Passacaglia consists of twenty variations on an eight-bar theme and subsequent fugue. The theme shows many similarities with Christe: Trio en passacaillé from Messe du deuxieme ton of the Premier livre d'orgue by André Raison from 1688. In the fugue the theme of the Passacaglia appears split in two halves. The first half remains unchanged, the second half is reformulated into a pulsating countersubject. After the combination of both themes, a second countersubject appears in sixteenth notes. Subsequently there appears all three themes but only in combination. Thus, Bach created a perfect permutation fugue in the style of Reinken and yet goes beyond his other role model.

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