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Sarabande and Chaconne:

From Latin-America to the

World of J.S.Bach

MUS 611 – Research Project


Dr. Thomas Garcia, advisor
Luciana Caixeta
June, 2007
Introduction

1. Chaconne and sarabande in the New World and Spain

1.1. Latin-American and Spanish references

1.2. Spanish sung dances

1.3. Spanish guitar

2. Chaconne and sarabande in Italy: from guitar music to instrumental forms

3. Chaconne and sarabande in the French court

3.1. The sarabande and the suite

3.2. The French style

3.3. Lully and the chaconne

3.4. Choreography

4. Germany and Bach

4.1. Bach in Lüneberg: 1700-1702

4.2. Bach in Weimar: 1703, 1708-1717

4.3. Bach in Cöthen: 1717-1723

4.3.1. Bach’s works for solo violin

4.3.1.1. Sarabande of the D-minor Partita

4.3.1.2. Chaconne

Conclusion

1
Introduction

The correlations between chaconne and passacaglia have been amply discussed in

many writings. Both were originally dances accompanied by guitar, introduced to Europe

by Spain, and later became instrumental variation forms over a repeated bass line or

harmonic progression. Their close relation—sometimes it is hard to find a line of

definition between them—has also been supported by their similar texture, triple meter,

character and mood. This would have been a perfect marriage if the chaconne had not had

in the past an “affair” with another dance, the sarabande, with whom it shares many

pages of its history. In fact, “over half of all references before 1630 mention both

[sarabande and chaconne] in the same breath.”1

This work will discuss: the origin of sarabande and chaconne in the New World

and Spain at the end of sixteenth century as popular sung dances; their development as

they spread to Italy through five-course guitar music, where they gradually abandoned

the sung part and became instrumental pieces to be played rather than to accompany

dancing; the presence of these dances in the French court and stage dance during the

seventeenth century; and finally in Germany, whose courts, heavily influenced by French

and Italian arts, offered the musical context in which they became part of one of the most

important works for violin, Bach’s D-minor Partita.

1. Chaconne and Sarabande in the New World and Spain

1
Thomas Walker, “Ciaccona and Passacaglia: Remaks on Their Origin and Early History,” Journal of the
American Musicological Society 21/3 (Autumn 1968): 303.

2
1.1. Latin-American and Spanish references

Although the sarabande is considered by some authors to have been an ancient

Spanish dance descendant from the Arabic influence on that country—for example,

Pomey’s dictionary, from 1671, affirms that it “originated with the Moors of Grenada”—
2
the first time it appeared in a written source was in Mexico in 1569 in the Cancionero

general de obras del poeta Pedro de Trejo, a collection of poems which included the

lyrics of a sung sarabande.3 The book Historia de las Indias de Nueva España, published

in 1579 by Diego Duran, a Spanish Catholic priest residing in Mexico, describes a dance

of the local Indians as being “so brisk and saucy that it would seem to have been copied

from that sarabande which our own people dance with such wrigglings and faces (…) that

it could easily be taken for a dance of improper women and shameless men.”4 So the

sarabande, a dance of his “own people”—Spanish immigrants or American-born of

Spanish descent—was very similar to the Indians’ dance. It is not clear who deserves the

merit of inventing the sarabande, whether the local Indians or the Spanish immigrants,

but since the first European mention to the sarabande was only in 1583—in a decree

prohibiting the sarabande from being sung, reflecting the same extravagant character it

had overseas5--it is possible that it was born in the New World, probably to mixed

parents.

Similarly, the first written mention of the chaconne appeared in the New World,

in a poem by Mateo Rosas de Osquedo entitled Satira hecha a las cosas que pasan en

2
Patricia Ranum, “Audible Rhetoric and Mute Rhetoric: The 17th-Century French Sarabande,” Early Music
14 (February 1986): 24.
3
Robert Stevenson, [Letter from Robert Stevenson], Journal of the American Musicological Society 16 /1
(Spring 1963), 110-111.
4
Quoted in Robert Stevenson, “The First Dated Mention of the Sarabande,” Journal of the American
Musicological Society 5 #1 (Spring 1952), 30.
5
Emilio Cotarelo y Mori, Colección de entremeses, loas, bailes, jácaras y mojigangas desde fines del siglo
XVI á mediados del XVIII ordenado. Madrid: Bailly-Bailliére, 1911, CCLXVI.

3
Peru año de 1598. Here, both “zarabanda” and “chacona” are included in a list of

dances.6 The first reference to the chaconne in Spanish sources is Simón Aguado’s

Entremés del Platillo, from 1599; in one of its verses, the author invites people to come

to Tampico, Mexico, to dance the chaconne. Again, if these dances were not born in the

New World, the earliest navigators brought them there. If they were, the same sailors

soon imported them to Spain, where they became a great success.

1.2. Spanish sung dances

In Spain around 1600, both chaconne and sarabande were popular sung dances

whose lyrics expressed an unpretentious, happy, carefree life. One example is a song

from Miguel de Cervantes’s La ilustre fregona”7 that says:

“Join in all you girls


And all young men who just came in
For the dance of the chacona
Is stormier than the sea…
(…)
[with the happy zarabanda,
entering through the gaps of the church,
disturbing the chastity of the holy cells]8
(…)
The chacona keeps everyone well
It brings happiness to all…
(…)

6
Richard Hudson, Passacaglio and Ciaccona: from Guitar Music to Italian Keyboard Variations in the
17th Century (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1981), 4.
7
Quoted in Charles Haywood, “Cervantes and Music,” Hispania 31/2 (May 1948):149.
8
Emilio Cotarelo y Mori, Coléccion, CCXLI (translation by Luciana caixeta). Excerpt of the poem not
included by Haywood but essential in this discussion for including sarabande and chaconne in the same
source.

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Chacona is part of a happy life.”

Similarly, the text of the following sarabande is about gladness, being in love, hugging,

kissing and drinking:9

Ex. 1: Luis de Briçeño, Metodo muy facillimo para aprender a tañer la guitarra, 1626. Printed in Richard
Hudson, The Folia, The Saraband, the Passacaglia, and the Chaconne. Vol. II, “Saraband”. Musicological
Studies and Documents. Armen Carapetyan, ed. Hänssler-Verlag: America Institute of Musicology, 1982,
5.

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1st verse (a): “The sarabande is enamored of a lawyer, the sly enamored embraces and kisses her a
thousand times.”
1st verse (b): “Take him, my life, with promptness and happiness, that he has the best kiss Rome has ever
seen.” Refrain: “drink the liquor, girl, take a drink from my bottle.” (Translation by Luciana Caixeta).

5
Both sarabande and chaconne were considered bailes: dances performed by

common people in casual settings or even on the streets, characterized by unrestrained

and spontaneous movements, free use of the entire body and vivid facial expressions.

Fray Juan de la Cerda in his Vida política de todos los estados de mujeres (1599) said:

What sanity could there be in a woman who in these diabolic exercises abandons
the posture and moderation of her honesty, uncovering with these jumps the
breasts and the feet and those things that the nature or the art ordered that should
be covered? Even more the turns with the eyes; the revolve of the hips, the
walking fishtailing the hair, the turning around and the visages as it happens in
the Zarabanda, Polvillo, Chacona and other dances.10

All these gestures made them look very wild and provocative, especially to the nobility,

whose danzas were of a much more serious, elegant, sophisticated character and

restricted the movements to the feet.11 The aristocracy considered sarabande and

chaconne inadequate for a civilized society; this led to the prohibition of the sarabande in

1583 (mentioned above) and the chaconne in 1615 by the Council of Castile.12

But these prohibitions did not stop the dances from being performed. Both

sarabande and chaconne (among other dances) were used as incidental music in theatrical

works such as zarzuelas, pieces on mythological themes that included spoken dialogs,

choruses, songs and popular dances. These theatrical plays were presented both in

corrales (popular stage, to common people) and in the salon (palace of the court).13 There

was constant exchange between them: courtiers would sometimes go to the corrales and

common people would, for a certain price, be admitted to court performances. Besides,

10
Quoted in Emilio Cotarelo y Mori, Colección, CCLXVIII (translation by Luciana Caixeta).
11
Hudson, Passacaglio and Ciaccona, 3.
12
Mary N. Hamilton, Music in Eighteenth Century Spain, (Urbana, IL: The University of Illinois, 1937), 67.
13
Emilio Cotarelo y Mori states that in October 16, 1618, a sarabande was played in the court of Philip III,
at the end of a play by Earl of Lemos called La casa confusa (The Confused House). Colección, CCLXXI.

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actors who were trained in the corrales frequently performed at the court. Through this

exchange, the court somehow absorbed bailes—like sarabande and chaconne—

transforming them in more sophisticated and refined danzas.14

1.3. Spanish guitar

As sung dances, sarabande and chaconne were usually accompanied by the five-

course Spanish guitar and percussion instruments, such as tambourines and castanets. The

five-course guitar emerged in Spain in the beginning of the seventeenth century when the

vihuela, which had been until then the most popular string instrument in that country,

started to loose popularity. The vihuela was a six-course (double strung in unison)

instrument which had a long neck with (usually) ten frets; it had a flat back, differently

from the round lute; the sound hole was up on the soundboard, close to the neck. The

five-course guitar emerged with a deeper, bigger body and with the sound hole closer to

the waist, all that contributing for a bigger sound.

The increasing popularity of the guitar occasioned the production of pedagogical

methods and simple repertoire for the instrument. Luis de Briçeño’s Metodo muy

facillimo para aprender a tañer la guitarra (1626) includes “not only specific

instructions on the technique of strumming chords (rasgueado) but also the basic chord

progressions for an extensive series of songs and dances adapted to the instrument: (…)

zarabandas, gallardas, chaconas (…)”15

14
Jack Sage, “Seventeenth-Century Spanish Music Drama and Theatre,” Report of the Twelfth Congress,
Berkeley, 1977. Daniel Heartz and Bonnie Wade, eds. (Basel and London: The American Musicological
Society, 1981), 702-3.
15
George Buelow, A History of Baroque Music, (Bollmington and Indianapolis,IN: Indiana University
Press, 2004), 382. Ex.1 was originally extracted from Briçeño’s method.

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In the same way, Gaspar Sanz’s Instrucción de música sobre la guitarra española

(Saragossa, 1674)—one of the most influential treatises on the guitar—also includes,

besides precious technique advices, dances such as sarabandes and chaconnes.16

Ex.2: Sarabande from Gaspar Sanz, Instrucción de música sobre la guitarra española (1674). Printed in
Richard Hudson, The Folia, The Saraband, the Passacaglia, and the Chaconne. Vol. II, “Saraband”.
Musicological Studies and Documents. Armen Carapetyan, ed. Hänssler-Verlag: America Institute of
Musicology, 1982, 105.

2. Chaconne and sarabande in Italy: from guitar music to instrumental forms

The five-course guitar, as it developed in Spain, became quite popular in Italy as

well. Several Italian territories such as Sicily, Milan and Naples were ruled by Spain;

because of that, the Theater of Naples, for instance, brought to stage various Spanish

productions, whose incidental music, as it was said before, included dances such as

sarabandes and chaconnes accompanied by guitar. This instrument soon awaked the

interest of Italians and as early as 1606 Girolamo Montesardo published his Nuova

inventione d’intavolatura, per sonare li balletti sopra la chitarra spagniuola, senza

numeri. This method appears to have introduced to Italy a new, easier tablature system

that used strumming chords (rasgueado, which in Italy was known as batento) only and

16
George Buelow, A History of Baroque Music, 383.

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not the plucking (punteado technique used in the lute), which was more difficult. It

associated an alphabetic letter with each chord and notated the letter over or under the

line, depending if the strumming should be upward or downward. This notation allowed

people, especially amateurs, without formal musical knowledge to play the instrument,

raising tremendously its popularity.17 Montesardo’s and many other pedagogical books

for the guitar included dances, among others chaconnes and sarabandes, adapted to the

instrument, spreading the passion for those dances among Italians.

Ex.3: Girolamo Montesardo, Nuova inventione d’intavolatura, per sonare li balletti sopra la chitarra
spagniuola, senza numeri, 1606. Printed in Richard Hudson, The Folia, The Sarabande, the Passacaglia,
and the Chaconne. Vol. IV, “Chaconne”. Musicological Studies and Documents. Armen Carapetyan, ed.
Hänssler-Verlag: America Institute of Musicology, 1982,1 (conventional notation).

Both ex.1 and 3 shown above are illustrations of how sarabandes and chaconnes

could be represented by simple four-chord progressions. One chord per bar delineated the

four-bar phrases very clearly. These small formulas were repeated along with each verse

17
Thomas Walker, “Ciaccona and Passacaglia,” 305-6.

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of the lyrics, probably being ornamented and varied. Gradually, the chaconne started to

develop as an instrumental variation form, as in the Ciaccona in Partite Variate for guitar

from 1623 by Alessandro Piccinini (see Ex.5). Around 1650 sarabandes and chaconnes

began to be also written for instrumental ensembles such as two violins, viola and basso

(see Ex.4 below). Little by little they were transformed in compositional forms and left

their condition of pure dance music. The chaconne became a variation form over a

determined harmonic progression and could turn out in very long pieces, while the

sarabande kept its simpler, shorter binary form.

Ex.4: Biagio Marini, Zarabanda Prima, 1655. Printed in Richard Hudson, The Folia, The Sarabande, the
Passacaglia, and the Chaconne. Vol. II, “Saraband”. Musicological Studies and Documents. Armen
Carapetyan, ed. Hänssler-Verlag: America Institute of Musicology, 1982, 29.

10
Ex.5: Alessandro Piccinini, Ciaccona in Partite Variate, 1623. Printed in Richard Hudson, The Folia, The
Sarabande, the Passacaglia, and the Chaconne. Vol. IV, “Chaconne”. Musicological Studies and
Documents. Armen Carapetyan, ed. Hänssler-Verlag: America Institute of Musicology, 1982,13.

11
3. Chaconne and sarabande in the French Court

3.1. The sarabande and the suite

If in Italy the development of sarabande and chaconne was associated with the

guitar, in France it was related to the lute. French collections of lute music consistently

grouped dances in the Allemande-Courante-Sarabande [A-C-S] order, the embryo of the

suite. One of the firsts to use such grouping was François de Chancy in Tablature de

mandore de la composition du Sieur Chancy (Paris, 1629). In this collection, he includes

six “suites”—the term was yet to be defined—in which the A-C-S order, preceded by a

recherche, is present. The same scheme was used by Robert Ballard’s anthology from

1631, containing works by Chancy, Chevalier and Dufaut and by Pierre Gaultier

(1638).18 Since there were several possible tunings for the lute, the dances were probably

combined according to their use of determined tuning, so the lutenist would not need to

retune between the movements—with the establishment of the tonality, later the unifying

element in the suite became the key.19

During the seventeenth century, two different types of sarabande coexisted in

France: the French and Spanish sarabandes.20 The Spanish was more common until 1670

and by then the French style prevailed.21 The Spanish sarabande was characterized by a

regular, balanced phrasing in which the musical phrases coincided with the text lines and

a clear rhythmic formula was repeated almost as an ostinato. This rhythmic contour and a

18
David J. Buch, “The Influence of the ‘Ballet de cour’ in the Genesis of the French Baroque Suite,” Acta
Musicologica 57/1 (January-June 1985): 95, where there is a definition of mandore as being a small lute.
19
David Fuller, “Suite” Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed 2 June 2007),
<http://www.grovemusic.com.proxy.lib.muohio.edu>.
20
The two types of sarabande also coexisted in Spain. The Spanish Antonio Martin y Coll wrote examples
of both Spanish and French sarabandes in his Flores de Musica, 1706. See Stevenson, 1962.
21
Patricia Ranum, “Audible Rhetoric and Mute Rhetoric: The 17th-Century French Sarabande.” Early
Music 14 (February 1986): 28.

12
simple harmonic structure (one chord per bar, delineating the four-bar phrases) would

give a firm, assertive character to the dance.22

Ex.6: Rhythmic figure associated with the Spanish sarabande.

The French version of the sarabande tended to soften the contours of the dance

through more irregular rhythm and phrasing: the text phrases ended anywhere in the

measure and the rhythmic figures were more varied23 (non-ostinato).24 Although the four-

measure phrase was strongly maintained, the dance became subtler, more diluted. Losing

its assertiveness made the sarabande tender, well behaved and proper enough to be

admitted as a core dance in the suite.

3.2. The French style

While the sarabande became part of both stage and court dance, the chaconne was

present almost exclusively on theater dances such as ballets and operas. In any case, the

dance movements were similar: frequently, choreographies were performed by

professionals in the theater and then brought to the ballroom, showing that the social

dance was as complex as a ballet choreography. It was not spontaneous. Each court had a

22
See Patricia Ranum, “The Audible Rhetoric,” ex.2, and Robert Stevenson, “The Sarabande: A Dance of
American Descent,” Inter-American Music Bulletin 30 (July 1962):4, where it is printed a musical example
from Mersenne’s Harmonie universelle, (Paris 1635, p.165)—both examples have this same rhythmic
formula shown in ex.4 and similar voice-leading moving basically stepwise.
23
See Patricia Ranum, “The Audible Rhetoric,” exx.3 and 4. Note the slashes in the lyrics in the middle of
bars, not coinciding with the bar lines.
24
Richard Husdon, The Folia, The Sarabande, the Passacaglia, and the Chaconne, (in four volumes).
(Armen Carapetyan, ed., Hänssler-Verlag: America Institute of Musicology, 1982), vol II, “Saraband,” xvi.
Not one but several rhythmic patterns were associated with the French sarabande (see Meredith Little,
Dance and the Music of J.S.Bach, 97).

13
dance master who was responsible for teaching the steps to the courtiers, who memorized

the choreography and performed it in the ball. One couple danced at a time, usually

following a hierarchical order, while others watched.

At that time, the French nobility dedicated themselves to the ideal of perfection,

devoting much of their time to learn rules of etiquette and how to walk, behave and

dance—nothing was natural or primitive, every element of their lives was complex and

governed by many rules. Their model was the ancient Greece, with which was associated

the concepts of lightness, serenity, harmony, tenderness, free of exaggerated passion and

drama. The ethereal beings of Greek mythology stimulated the sense of an ethereal life,

lifted from this earth, as if it did not belong to the reality. Therefore, the French style of

dance tried to recreate this majestic, lighthearted, sophisticated, and elegant atmosphere,

rather than the visceral expressiveness, primitiveness, sentimentalism and drama that the

sarabande and chaconne brought from their homeland. So Bonnet25 in 1724 referred to

the Spanish sarabande as a unique dance, that was because it was the only one that

included expressive gestures, as opposed as the originally French dances such as the

courante, for example, which sustained the French straightness.

French court dance was part of most of European courts, where French dancing

masters, who frequently also played the violin and composed dance music, were

commonly employed. This way, the French court style was exported to and reproduced in

many parts of Europe, where French ballets and operas were also presented. The

grandiosity of the spectacles exalted the splendor of France and its governors, the most

acclaimed of all being Louis XIV (1638-1715). An enthusiastic dancer himself who

played important roles in many ballets, he contributed to bring the French dance and
25
Quoted in Patricia Ranum, “The Audible Rhetoric,” 22.

14
music to an incredible level and thus promote the glorious image of his country around

all Europe.

3.3. Lully and the chaconne

The most important name associated with the great French productions of the time

was Jean-Baptiste Lully [Giovanni Battista Lulli] (1632-1687). He was born in Florence

and was brought to France to be a room servant and Italian teacher of Mlle. De

Montpensier (a cousin of the king). He was also a good violinist and dancer, so he

quickly found his way up in the musical career and brought the French spectacles to the

highest level. In 1654 his first ballet was presented with his own orchestra—the king’s

orchestra, Vingt-Quatro Violons du Roy (The Kings Strings), played out of

improvisations and excessive ornamentations; such lack of discipline made Lully request

his own group, Le Petit Violons du Roy. When in 1661 Moliere presented his first

comédie-ballet, Les Facheux, the success of the play prompted the king Louis XIV to

offer him “the services of Lully. They collaborated in eight comédie-ballets”.26

Lully included sarabandes and chaconnes in many of his operas and ballets—the

latter being more often than the first. The ballet Alcidiane, from 1658, includes two

chaconnes. Besides being unusual in the beginning of a piece—chaconnes were usually

the concluding movement—the overture of the comédie-ballet L’amour Medecin, 1665,

is a chaconne and this particular movement dominated by rhythmic figures frequently

associated with the sarabande:

26
Wendy Hilton, Dance of Court and Theater: the French Noble Style/1690-1725, (Princeton: Princeton
Book Company, 1981), 27.

15
Ex.7.a. Ex. 7.b

Comparing La Chaconne des Magiciens from the ballet Pastorale Comique, 1667,

Chaconne des Scaramouches, Trivelins et Arlequins from the Ballet des Nations, 1673,

and the chaconne present in the very end of his late opera Amadis, 1684, Lully

progressively enlarged his chaconnes—in the Oeuvres Completes printing, they range

from three to fifteen pages. These works represent one step in the development of the

chaconne as a long variation form that it would become. All these examples start with a

descending tetrachord in the bass line, moving stepwise with one note per bar. Then, the

bass line is varied—different rhythms, added notes—but is always recognizable. There is

a middle section in which the bass is the main voice, with more moving notes, until the

upper voices take the melody over again, as in the beginning.

Many of Lully’s dance music had an instrumental and a guitar version:

16
Ex.8: Jean Baptiste Lully, Chaconne from Acis et Galathée, and Chaconne de Galatée. Printed in Richard
Hudson, The Folia, The Sarabande, the Passacaglia, and the Chaconne. Vol. IV, “Chaconne”.
Musicological Studies and Documents. Armen Carapetyan, ed. Hänssler-Verlag: America Institute of
Musicology, 1982, p.107 and 109.

3.4. Choreography

When Lully became the director of the Academia Royale de Musique in 1672,

Pierre Beauchamp was in charge of the dance in that institution. He was a talented dancer

and also served as dancing master in the court of Louis XIV. His notation system, in use

since the 1680s, was used by Feuillet in his Choreography ou l’art de decrire la dance

(Paris, 1700) and made it possible for future generations to have access to an enormous

quantity of material about dance in the French court during the seventeenth century, more

than in any other country.27 Feuillet’s Choreography includes “28 bourées, 26 rigaudons,

24 sarabandes, 22 menuets, 17 passepieds, 17 chaconnes or passacailles, 15 loures, 12

gavottes, 12 forlanes, 13 canaries, 5 gaillards, 5 courants, 4 hornpipes, 2 pavanes, and

many various entrées.”28

Another collection of dances published by Louis Pécour, Recueil de dances

composées par M. Pécour, pensionnaire des menus plaisirs du roy e compositeur des

ballets de l’Academie Royale de Musique de Paris in that same year of 1700, included the

27
Meredith Little, “French Court Dance in Germany at the Time of Johann Sabastian Bach: La Bourgogne
in Paris and Leipzig,” in Report of the Twelfth Congress, Berkeley, 1977, (Internatinoal Musicological
Society, 1981): 730.
28
Meredith Little, “Dance Under Louis XIV and XV: Some Implications for the Musician,” Early Music
4/3 (October 1975): 337.

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choreography of La Bourgogne, a short suite of four dances: courante, bourée, sarabande

and passepied. Meredith Little combined the choreography steps and music in a very

accessible way, notating symbols of the steps under their respective notes in the staff.

Élevés (rise of the knees) were indicated by ∧ and jettés (jumps) by η—these two

corresponded to accented beats—and pliés (bend the knees) were indicated by ∨ and

corresponded to upbeats (see Ex.6). This way in the choreography the accented beats are

the first of each bar, since they repeatedly correspond to elevé, and not the second beat—

thus it is not always that a sarabande has the second beat accented. Little’s conclusion of

the analysis of the steps and music are valuable: “courante and sarabande have similar

moods of gravity and dignity, the sarabande being less dignified and a lighter.”29 This

vision confirms Buch’s argument that the Allemande-Courante-Sarabande order in the

beginning of the suite history corresponded to the hierarchical order in which the dancers

performed in a ball, going from the most noble (sometimes the king) to the less.30 So the

dances were progressively less noble and “dignified” and probably more animated—so in

this context in which the sarabande as at the end of a set it was still a fast dance.

Nevertheless, it is wise to remember that “[t]he sarabande, for example, was sometimes

fast and sometimes slow, and it is by no means always possible to tell from appearances

what the speed is supposed to be.”31

29
Meredith Little, “The Contribuition of Dance Steps to Musical Analysis and Performance: ‘La
Bourgogne’”, Journal of the American Musicological Society 28/1 (spring 1975): 116.
30
David J. Buch, “The Influence of the ‘Ballet de cour’ in the Genesis of the French Baroque Suite.” Acta
Musicologica 57/1 (January-June 1985): 94-109.
31
David Fuller, “Suite,” Grove Music Online, L. Macy, ed. (Accessed 2 June 2007),
<http://www.grovemusic.com.proxy.lib.muohio.edu>.

18
Ex.9: Recueil de dances composées par M. Pécour, pensionnaire des menus plaisirs du roy e compositeur
des ballets de l’Academie Royale de Musique de Paris (1700), printed in Meredith Little, “The
Contribution of Dance Steps to Musical Analysis and Performance: ‘La Bourgogne,’” Journal of the
American Musicological Society 28/1 (spring 1975): 115. (L=left foot; R= right foot; T= both feet
together).

4. Germany and Bach

The collection of dances Maitre de Danse, Oder Tantz-Meister, published by

Johannes Pasch in 1705 in Leipzig also includes the choreography of La Bourgogne, first

published by Louis Pécour in Paris in 1700, which was discussed above. Besides the

difference in notation, the German publication actually does not loose anything to the

French, showing the accuracy with which French dance was presented in German

courts.32

As early as 1610 the violinist French Pierre Francisque Caroubel came to Duke of

Brunswick’s court in Wolfenbüttel, where Michael Praetorius was employed since 1595.

Violinists used to learn ballet (court music) music from memory, so through Caroubel,

who had served the king Henry III and the Duke of Anjou, Praetorius had first-hand

32
Meredith Little, “French Court Dance in Germany,” 730-31.

19
access to French court dance. 33 “Together they arranged somewhat complex

harmonizations of 82 dances, which were later published in Terpsichore (1612).”34

These are examples of how intensively French culture was reproduced in

Germany, a region that was still divided in small courts which imported culture from the

great and pompous France. Each court had a dance master who taught the courtiers the

etiquette rules, bows and rituals of dancing. Only who knew all of that could participate

in the court events. German courts would hire French masters to train their courtiers in all

French manners, so they could participate in the ball dance—in French style, of course.

Since Bach frequented the court of Lüneberg while studying there between 1700 and

1702; worked at Weimar in 1703 as a court musician; returned there in 1708 as organist

and chamber musician and was responsible for the music in the court of Cöthen from

1717 to 1723, he became familiar with the French style and court dance.

4.1. Bach in Lüneberg: 1700-1702

In 1700, Bach started attending the Michaelisschule in Lüneberg. As a singer in

the choir of St. Michael’s church he received free tuition and board. Adjacent to his

school was the Ritteracademie, designated for the education of sons of nobles. There,

French was spoken and French art and dancing was taught and cultivated. Thomas de la

Selle was the dance teacher at that school, and he also served as dancing master at the

33
David J. Buch, “The Sources of Dance Music for the Ballet de cour Before Lully,” Revue de Musicologie
82/2 (1996): 320. In this article, Buch compares music from Philidor’s sources and from the Terpsichore.
The similarities between these fonts are an example of the constant exchange between courts: they danced
to the same tunes although they were hundreds of miles apart.
34
Walter Blankenburg and Clytus Gottwald, “Praetorius, Michael”, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy
(Accessed [28 May, 2007]), <http://www.grovemusic.com.proxy.lib.muohio.edu>.

20
French-modeled court of Celle, in which the majority of the musicians were French. So,

in his journeys to Celle, Bach got acquainted with French music, dance and stage works.

Another way of becoming acquainted with French music was through

transcription. Bach transcribed music by Lully, Marais, Marchand and others while

studying in Lüneberg and brought these to his older brother Christoph who included them

in his anthologies, the Möller Manuscript and the Andreas Bach Book. 35 In this period,

Bach also copied music by Reinken, Böhm and Buxtehude, all organists that he went to

hear many times and who certainly influenced his work. The complex contrapuntal

texture used by those composers (even in dance-titled movements) and Bach’s close

relation with the organ throughout his life would also make him leave the marks of his

polyphonic style even when writing works such as the sonatas and partitas for solo violin.

4.2. Bach in Weimar: 1703, 1708-1717

After graduating from the Michaelisschule, Bach got his first job as a court

musician in Weimar in the beginning of 1703. This would only last for a couple of

months: in July he accepted the position as organist and left to Arnstadt. This short period

in Weimar in 1703 would not be significant if this were not the occasion in which Bach

met Johann Paul von Westhoff (1656-1705). He was a talented violinist at that court and

in 1696 he had published six partitas for unaccompanied violin, music that probably

influenced Bach in his later works for the instrument. Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber

(1644-1704), Johann Jakob Walther (?1650-1717) and Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-

1755), whom Bach met, are other examples of Austro-German composers of that same

35
Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. (London and New York: W.W.Norton
& Company, 2000), 170.

21
period who wrote pieces for solo violin—Bach’s compositions were definitely not the

first of this genre, he had various sources of inspiration.36

In July of 1703 Bach assumed a position in Arnstadt, where he stayed for five

years. During this period, Bach was dedicated to the organ as a player and composer.

Back to Weimar in 1708, Bach assumed the position of court organist and chamber

musician. In the Weimar court, Italian and French music was constantly performed. It is

evident that Bach was involved in chamber music (secular), composing and playing.

Unfortunately not much of his music from this period survives. A fugue movement for

violin and harpsichord (BWV 1026) from that period indicates that he possibly began to

write the sonatas and partitas for violin in Weimar.37 In this period, Bach also transcribed

about twenty concertos for violin by Vivaldi to harpsichord and organ. This would give

him a new conception of the concerto genre and would certainly influence his

magnificent Italian and Brandenburg Concertos.

4.3. Bach in Cöthen: 1717-1723

Since Cöthen was predominantly Calvinist, playing or composing for religious

ceremonies was not Bach’s main obligations. The court capelle was almost exclusively

instrumental—whereas Weimar’s was mainly vocal—so during his stay in Cöthen he

devoted himself mainly to instrumental music. Many of the musicians available for Bach

there were very talented—the Prince Leopold was a very good violinist—what permitted

more virtuosity in his compositions. From this period belong the three sonatas for viola

da gamba, the six suites for solo cello, the six sonatas and partitas for solo violin—all

36
Jon F. Eiche, ed., The Bach Chaconne for Solo Violin: a Collection of Views, (American String Teachers
Association, 1985), 19.
37
Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach,133.

22
dated from 1720, also the year of his first wife’s death—, the Brandenburg Concerto, the

first volume of the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Six French Suites, the Six English Suites

and the fifteen Inventions.

“Each collection comprehensively explores the possibilities of its genre”38 and

prove once more the geniality and inventiveness of the composer. The Well-Tempered

Clavier explores the keyboard in all twenty-four possible keys and textures: fugues,

chorals, and melodic trades in sequences, imitations and inversions. Each one of the

Brandenburg Concertos offers a completely different instrumentation and treatment

between soloists and accompaniment. They embrace the solo piccolo violin (n.1) and the

massive sound of strings (n.3), the chamber-music sonority of n.5 and the orchestral n.2.

4.3.1. Bach’s works for solo violin

Likewise, the set of works for solo violin are examples of the geniality of the

composer. Although there are three partitas, none is an exactly parallel to another. The

Partita I, in B minor, has the usual order Allemande, Courante and Sarabande, but is

surprisingly ended with a Tempo di Borea instead of a Gigue. In addition, doubles were

added to all movements, making the transforming a simple set of dances in a much more

complex work. The Partita II (D-minor) presents all four standard movements of the suite

without doubles and is the one, including the keyboard partitas, with fewer movements,

but still the longest because of the unexpected and magnificently enormous Chaconne.

The Partita III, in E major, opens with a Prelude instead of an Allemande, which is

38
Joel Lester, Bach’s Works for Solo Violin: Style, Structure, Performance, (Oxford and New York:
Oxford University Press, 1999), 7.

23
followed by a Loure instead of a Courante and includes two Minuets, a Bourée and a

Gavotte en Rondeau.

Due to their technical difficulty, these works were considered to have been etudes

rather than musical pieces. The title cover of the first published complete edition, from

1802, says “Studies, or Three Sonatas for Violin Solo by Mr. Seb. Bach.”39 It was not

until 1844 when the great violinist Joseph Joachim started performing Bach’s solo works

without accompaniment that they became part of the traditional repertoire of professional

violinists, certainly among the most loved pieces for the instrument.

4.3.1.1. Sarabande of the D-minor Partita

Sarabande and Chaconne are the two slow movements of the D-minor partita. The

Sarabande is short, written in the typical structure of a Baroque sarabande, with one

section with eight bars and another with sixteenth (8+8), to which Bach added a four-

measure coda; the Chaconne and its variations extend for 257 bars of much more intricate

music and violin technique.

Comparing the sarabande movements from the partitas I and II one can see two

completely different treatments of the dance. While the first two bars of D-minor

movement the sarabande-rhythm puts the longest sound on the second beat, emphasizing

that beat and delaying the harmonic change until the next measure, the B-minor

Sarabande begins with a straight quarter-note pattern, bringing a new harmony every beat

and leading the tension to the next downbeat. The D-minor sarabande is characterized by

39
Joel Lester, Bach’s Works for Solo Violin, 20.

24
the sarabande-rhythm (see ex. 7b) whereas in the B minor the following rhythmic figure

predominates: .

In the B minor movement the harmonic texture is maintained all the way through the end,

whereas in the D minor Sarabande the harmony is diluted in melodic figures, especially

towards the end.

Ex.10: J.S.Bach, Partita I in B minor, Sarabande, Urtext edition.

25
Ex.11: J.S.Bach, Partita II in D minor, Sarabande, Urtext edition.

26
According to Ranum’s article,40 in the seventeenth century dance and oration

were organized in a similar structure that could be outlined in four parts: introduction,

which refers to a specific audience and calls its attention to what is to come; narration,

which presents the subject of the speech, using different rhythms from those of the

introduction; confirmation, which is longer than the narration and has increasing drama

and intense emotions, when the performer exaggerates his expressions to make his point

clear; and conclusion, when there is a sudden shift of mood to end the piece. This scheme

is very clear in the Sarabande of the D-minor partita. The two introductory bars are the

only ones in this movement that purely contains the characteristic sarabande rhythm,

differently from the rest of the piece. The “narration”, starting on the third bar and going

until the first repeat, sets the mood of the piece. In the second part (after the first repeat),

the always-increasing tension and drama culminates in the dominant-chord in the

downbeat of bar 21. From there on the mood gets calmer until the four-measure coda

(conclusion), whose tenderness contrasts with the previous dramatic and intense section.

4.3.1.2. Chaconne

The Chaconne of the D-minor partita is the only movement that carries this title

among Bach’s work. Nevertheless, as a variation form, it can be compared to the

Passacaglia in C minor for organ, even though the latter is much shorter—it contains only

20 variations, while the Chaconne has 64 (considering it four- and not eight-measure

phrased).41 While the Chaconne variations happen mostly in pairs, the Passacaglia

40
Patricia Ranum, “The Audible Rhetoric,” 24-25.
41
Marta Felicitas Curti, “J.S.Bach’s Chaconne in D minor: A Study in Coherence and Contrast,” The Bach
Chaconne for Solo Violin., Jon F. Eiche, ed., (American String Teachers Association, 1985): 75-93. This
article presents a complete and detailed analysis of the piece.

27
follows a more irregular 2+1 pattern in which pairs of very similar variations are

intercalated with single ones. For example, variations 1 and 2 follow the same rhythmic

pattern (but have little harmonic and voice-leading differences); variation 3 has walking

eight-notes that does not find a parallel with neither the previous nor the following

variations (var. 4 and 5 also follow similar rhythmic pattern).

Var.1

Var.2

Var.3

Var.4 Var.5

Ex.12: J.S.Bach, Passacaglia for Organ in C minor. Printed in Keyboard Music from the Andreas Bach
Book and the Möller Manuscript. Havard Publications in Music, vol.16. Robert Hill, ed. Cambridge, MA:
Havard University Press, 1991, 14.

28
In the Chaconne, Bach juxtaposes the French harmonic texture with sarabande-

rhythm syncopations and the Italian virtuosity of the fast variations, derived from the

guitar idiom developed in that country,42 specially arpeggiation and bariolage (alternation

open and held strings in the same pitch). The first is very clear in the opening (m.1-8), in

the middle section in major-mode (m.133-148; 177-200) and in the recapitulation

(m.249-257); the latter is obvious in the arpeggio section right before the modulation to

major (m.89-125) and before the recapitulation (m.229-248.)

Ex.13a: Opening measures of the Chaconne. Note the descending tetrachord in the bass line and its
similarity with Lully’s chaconne from ex.8. Another similarity is that both examples start on the second
beat and consistently present the sarabande-rhythm.

Ex.13b: m.189-193.

Indeed, the piece includes most of the violin technique: double-stops, long

melodic sustained lines, fast detached notes, bariolage, etc, showing the composer’s

knowledge of the instrument—Bach began his musical studies on the violin and had

violinist duties while in Weimar between 1708 and 1717. It is especially interesting when

the Chaconne is played on the guitar. It is as if the old man was looking back to his

childhood and smiling to the little happy boy that did not know how adventurous his life

was going to be.


42
Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne. Dance and the Music of J.S. Bach, expanded edition (Bloomington,
IN: Indiana University Press, 2001), 203.

29
Ex.13c: m.230-end.

Mendelssohn contributed to the revival of Bach’s work in the nineteenth not only

through his famous performance as a conductor of St. Matthew’s Passion in 1829, but

30
also through a historical concert in February 14, 1840.43 In that occasion, Mendelssohn

played the piano-accompaniment part he had written for Bach’s Chaconne, so his friend

and violinist Ferdinand David would agree to play the piece in public—David insistently

refused to perform it on the violin alone.44 That is understandable: the piece is really

challenging and its depth and transparency exposes the performer’s soul like few other

works would do.

Conclusion

The origin of sarabande and chaconne in the New World can be compared to a

child of Chinese parents born in the middle of Chinatown of any big American city.

Although the birth certificate is American, this child is going to speak Chinese and is

going to look a lot like his/her cousin from Beijing. In the same way, sarabande and

chaconne might have been born in Latin America, but children of European parents.

Besides, the input of various different cultures made them not to be characteristic of one

specific country, but general musical concepts that could be used in different contexts.

The so-called sarabande-rhythm (quarter note—dotted-quarter—eight note) is

sometimes more evident in chaconnes than in sarabandes. Notice that the sarabande by

Gaspar Sanz printed in ex.2, p.7 of this work does not present the rhythmic pattern

described above while the chaconne by Montesardo, printed in ex.3, p.8, does. In fact, in

the latter the characteristic sarabande-rhythm is even more emphasized by the harmonic

43
An account by Rober Schumann is quoted in Gerog Feder “History of the Arrangements of Bach’s
Chaconne,” The Bach Chaconne for Solo Violin, Jon F. Eich, ed., (American String Teachers Association,
1985), 41. A concert review attributed to Gottfried Wilhelm Fink is included in this same essay collection:
62-63.
44
Joel Lester, Bach’s Work for Solo Violin, 23.

31
changes that happen on the prolonged second beat. The discussion about the

choreography of the sarabande movement of the suite La Bourgogne (p.17-18) shows that

in such case the accent was in the first beat of each bar and not in the second. This may

bring some light to the simplistic idea that sarabande is a dance in triple meter in which

the second beat is accented. Also, the two different rhythmic patterns used by Bach in his

sarabandes for violin indicates that perhaps there are different kinds of sarabandes and

different rhythms associated with it.45

The monumentality and complexity of Bach’s Chaconne makes it the Everest that

every ambitious violinist wants to climb successfully. Its technical difficulty has made

many performances of the Chaconne sound as if it were a very long etude or a violinistic

test of resistance. Adding to that, many violinists have been influenced by the

interpretation model set by icons such as Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987) and Nathan Milstein

(1903-1992), who performed this piece with the same Romantic intensity with which

they played Brahms and Tchaikovsky violin concertos, making every effort to connect all

the notes through a sustained, powerful sound. Studying the history and the development

of the chaconne makes one aware of the fact that being a dance is not only part of its past

but also part of its definition. More than a demonstration of hard work, Bach’s Chaconne

should present the lightness and joy of dancing. From to top of the mountain, the violinist

should be able to capture more than the icy process that took him there and also

contemplate and enjoy the beauty of the view that few have been able to see.

Recently, period performance groups have emerged bringing to evidence Baroque

concepts and ideas. One of them is that the Baroque bow did not produce a continuously

sustained sound. The end of each note/chord faded away, so there was more space
45
Meredith Little, Dance in the Music of J.S.Bach, 97.

32
between the notes/chords. Using the modern instrument, one can imitate this effect by

moving the bow arm in curves, lifting weight from the bow in the end of each stroke,

bringing the lightness of the dance back to stage. Another feature is the improvisation,

which has appeared in passages such as the arpeggiated chords in the Chaconne for which

Bach did not inform the realization. Nowadays, violinists have been taking the liberty to

decide how to play such passages in ways that have not been done before. So hopefully a

more conscious musicality will bring a new balance between expressiveness and

virtuosity and make the performance of the Chaconne more enjoyable for both player and

listener.

33
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36