Ecstasy of the Chaconne
Sacramento Baroque Soloists
May 13 & 14, 2022
featuring Robin Fisher, Soprano
Dancers Heidi McLean & Zilan Chen appear courtesy of Dancing with Heidi
Lisa Marie Lawson, violin and Music Director
Naomi Rogers-Hefley, violin
Ariana Leggett, viola (intern)
Michael Lawson, cello, guitar, and lute
Kristin Zoernig, bass
Faythe Vollrath, harpsichord and organ
“Vida Bona!!” was the cry in the street that began the most seductive of dances, which traveled from the New World by Spanish conquistadors in the late 1500s through Spain as the chacona, then spread throughout Europe as the ciaccona and chaconne.
In its earliest form, the chacona of the 1600s was a wild street dance with mocking, indecent lyrics. Its short repeating bass line and off-beat rhythms provoked irresistible liberation, including whole body undulations and exaggerated hip movements.
The advent of music printing spread the chacona like wildfire through Europe. The dance’s simple chords, easily accessible to amateur guitarists, made it possible for any musician to learn to play from printed self-help manuals and strum all night. The chacona’s wicked reputation attracted people of all social classes, especially after the Roman Catholic Church banned the dance in 1615 for its “irredeemably infectious lasciviousness.” In fact, a person could get up to 200 lashes for dancing the chaconne.
The first chacona on our program tonight, Arañés’ Un sarao de la chacona, or “A Chaconne Soiree,” describes with bawdy lyrics the goings-on at Almadan’s wedding, which activities include an African heathen dancing with a Gypsy and a blind man poking at girls with a stick. Juan Arañés was born in Catalonia and published a collection of pieces for 1, 2, and 3 voices, Libro Segundo de tonos y villancicos, which included this chacona, the first for voices by a Spanish composer to appear in print.
One evening in the month of roses a dancing party was held,
it afforded a thousand pleasures, as was famed both far and wide.
Here’s to the good, sweet life,
my sweet, let’s dance the chaconne.
When Almadan was wed
a grand old party was thrown,
the daughters of Aneus danced with the grandsons of Milan.
The father-in-law of Bertran
and Orpheus’s sister-in-law
began a Guinea dance
which was finished by an Amazon, as was famed both far and wide.
As the chacona made its way through Italy as the ciaccona, it became a provocation and a musical background for dancing as well as a common base for musical variations. We see this tonight in our second selection, Tarquinio Merula’s Ciaccona. You will hear the rhythmic off-beat chacona rhythms still in the basso, with the two violins providing a brilliant imitative conversation above. Even the cello enters the action with a running 16th-note section in the middle of the piece.
Italy at the time of Claudio Monteverdi was riveted on opera, exploring through music the torment of the inner self and interiority. For the Italians, the ciaccona mimicked the carefree, seductive rhythms of nature and the body, articulating in music the mind-body split. The dance was seen as a distraction and a guilty pleasure, and was often used within an opera to provide a pleasurable static moment.
“Sí dolce è’l tormento,” published in a book of madrigals in 1624, is an entrancing illustration of the musical lament, in which the descending line of the minor scale imitates the sigh of weeping, and even of spiritual descent. Monteverdi here combines the figure of lament with the steady, hypnotic repeating bass line of the chacona, creating a pleasurable sensuous sadness.
So sweet is the torment
in my breast
that happily do I live
for cruel beauty.
In the heaven of beauty
let cruelty grow
and mercy be lacking:
for my faith will always
be as a rock,
in the face of pride.
Let deceitful hope
turn away from me,
let neither joy nor peace
descend on me.
And let the wicked girl
whom I adore
deny me the solace
of sweet mercy:
amid infinite pain,
amid hope betrayed,
my faith will survive.
The hard heart
that stole mine away
has never felt love’s flame.
The cruel beauty
that charmed my soul
so let it suffer,
repentant and languishing,
and let it sigh one day for me.
Arcangelo Corelli's Trio Sonata Op. 2 No. 12 in tonight’s performance is a striking example of how composers in the 17th century began to use ground bass patterns for complex variations. It is unusual in this set of Sonatas in that the Ciacona is the complete Sonata, rather than a movement in a set of dances.
When Corelli’s trio sonatas were published in 1681, they established his reputation as a great violinist and composer, laying the foundation for chamber music for the next 100 years. He remains important today, both as a violinist who laid a firm foundation for all future development of violin technique and as a composer who advanced the progress of composition. His compositions were characterized by a conciseness and clarity of thought and form, and by a dignity of style. If you listen carefully you will hear that the bass line is decorated throughout, acting as a third voice to interact with the two upper lines.
The chacona made its way to France as the chaconne in 1650, when Cardinal Mazarin brought the Italian virtuoso Francesco Corbetta to the French court to teach Spanish guitar to Louis XIV. In this expression, the chaconne lost its rhythmic compulsion to indecency and became a refined and stately dance with emphasis on the second beat.
The dance song, “Sans frayeur dans ce bois,” by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, written over a chaconne bass, was found in the March 1680 issue of the French gazette Mercure galant.
Without fear I came to these woods alone.
There I saw Tircis without being moved.
Ah! Is there nothing I can do?
How a young callous heart is to be pitied!
I seek no danger,
But at least I would like to fear it.
Despite its roots in dance improvisations on the guitar, by the end of the 17th Century the Chaconne had developed into a diverse musical form, with its tempo and character depending on when, where, and for what purpose it was composed.
In tonight's Ciacone by the Dutch composer Johannes Schenck (1660-c. 1710), we hear a strong repetitive bass line creating the foundation for a complex set of variations in the solo cello. This Ciacone is the second movement of a sonata composed in the suite style, which means it is a set of dance movements. It is written in stile brise, or broken style, in which pieces of many lines are played by the same instrument to create the outline of a complex composition, in which the listener's ear fills in suggested lines.
Johannes Schenck was a Dutch composer whose career took place mainly in Germany. He was the first published composer of Singspiel in Holland, but his fame as a musician came from his virtuosic viol playing and from his extensive compositions for the viola da gamba. Tyd en Konst-Oeffeningen Op. 2 was Schenck's second published work, published by Estienne Roger in 1688.
We depart from our immersion in the chaconne briefly to enjoy two pieces from the new world, by Ignacio de Jerusalem (1707-1769), "Es aurora presurosa", and "Paraninfos celestes...Rompa de la battala".
"Es aurora presurosa," Ignacio Jerusalem (1707-1769, Durango)
It is the brisk dawn, the light and day
that gives joy to the earth and sea.
It is the constant watchman,
the sentry and sole longing for our singular good.
"Paraninfos Celestes - Rompa de la Batalla" (Cantada for Christmas)
Celestial beings of the skies,
come celebrate at the entrance to the Nativity,
as we worship the humility of a loving child,
who, being omnipotent God,
wanted his greatness to be admired
by being born as a babe lying among the straw.
His name smashes the enemy,
The valiant infant faces the fierce dragon.
Oh, my master, loving father
that even a flash of Your light
must be rendered later.
La Follia, by Antonio Vivaldi, is not a chaconne, but so closely fits with the genre that we have included it in tonight’s program. Like the chaconne, it is built on a ground bass with an emphasis on the second beat, and has its heritage in 16th century Portuguese dance. Unlike the chaconne, Follia is a specific melody. Since the 17th century, more than 150 composers have used the theme in their works, making Follia Variations almost a calling card for composers. This set of Sonatas, published in 1705, are most certainly a tribute to Corelli, whom we heard earlier in the program and whose works defined the Sonata form. Of special note is the importance of the role of the cello, which carries as important and virtuosic a role as the violins.
From Italy and France, the chaconne travelled to England, where in 1692, three years before his death, Henry Purcell wrote his semi-opera The Fairy Queen.
Henry Purcell's The Fairy-Queen premiered May 2nd, 1692 at the Queen's Theatre, Dorset Garden, London, just before the public celebrations of the fifteenth wedding anniversary of William III and Mary II. It was a Restoration "entertainment" or "spectacular" which, at the time, meant it was a series of spoken scenes enacted by the main characters, and musical scenes, introduced by supernatural beings, full of song and dance (masques). The masques featuring exotic gardens (William III's hobby) and the final masque's Chinese Man and Chinese Woman Chaconne (Queen Mary had a famous collection of china) were a tribute to the royal couple's long marriage.
The changes wrought in the chacona in its travels illustrated each country’s culture and ideology. In France, court rituals were shaped around a neoplatonic philosophy that perceived the arts as both reflecting and participating in universal harmony centering around the King. The ballet-operas of the time were a recreational distraction and a ritualistic expression of this oneness.
Jean-Baptiste Lully, court composer to Louis XIV, often used a chaconne as the last piece of music in his ballets and operas. At the plot's denoument, spectators joined the professional performers in dancing around the body of the king, thereby simulating the orbit of planets around the sun. Lully’s and Moliere’s comédie-ballet Le Bourgeois Gentillhome was first performed in 1670.
The French took advantage of the mantra-like repetitive quality of the music to create group identification and unity. Mysteriously, the nature of the music and dance induce a state of bliss and erasure of self-awareness, neurologically changing our brains so we experience a merger with timelessness.
Although the chaconne faded away during the Romantic nineteenth century as repetitive music fell out of favor in academic circles, it gained new popularity in the twentieth century. Many composers have used the form, including John Adams, Béla Bartók, Benjamin Britten, John Corigliano, and Phillip Glass. The chaconne has much in common with forms of rock, blues, and even jazz, which in our time we recognize reach us at some deeper level than is accessible to our analytical minds.
-Notes by Lisa Marie Lawson, Robin Fisher, and Heidi McLean