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Chacony in G minor, Z730

composer
c1680

 
Henry Purcell’s Chacony in G minor takes us to the London theatres that reopened after the return of Charles II to England in 1660. Restoration theatre music was ‘incidental’: auxiliary to the actual play, music was performed before the main event began and during the interval. By and large, a suite of theatre music comprised eight pieces—an overture and a sequence of dances—that were very often subsequently used as concert works. As the Purcell scholar Peter Holman explains, much Restoration theatre music only survives in concert versions, and it is therefore often problematic to decide which music was written for which play. This is certainly the case with Purcell’s Chacony in G minor, which was probably composed around 1680—that is, while Purcell was employed by Charles, and nearly a decade before he turned his attention almost exclusively to the theatre, after the accession of William III (who notoriously disliked music) and Queen Mary in 1689.

Despite being in a minor key, the Chacony was probably written as a lively dance. Charles had picked up the French habit of listening to music while standing and tapping his foot, and he emphatically preferred music that gratified his partiality. The piece is based on a descending tetrachord—four consecutive notes of a minor scale, leading from tonic to dominant—which became associated with the lament, a decisive instance being Dido’s lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (1689). As was usual in England, in the case of the Chacony, the chaconne of the title is used indeterminately, and the word might equally suggest a passacaglia or simply a ground.

from notes by Paul Williamson © 2019

Recordings

From the ground up – The chaconne
SIGCD574Download only 7 June 2019 Release
Four and Twenty Fiddlers
CDA66667Archive Service
Purcell: Ayres for the theatre
CDH55010
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