Rinse and Repeat

Chaconne W. Zeitler  [ORGAN]

"Now the Green Blade Riseth"


The 'chaconne' (sha-KONE) is a musical form consisting of a repeating bass pattern, or alternatively a repeating chord sequence, with variations carrying on all the while. Some scholars have argued that a 'chaconne' is a repeating chord sequence while a 'passacaglia' has a repeating bass line, but it's too easy to find contrary examples (composers being a contrary bunch, after all). The form was rather popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, and dropped out of use for a while (although Beethoven's 32 "Diabelli variations" are arguably an example). Meanwhile I'm thinking the form is reincarnating in modern times in genres as varied as Taizé (sacred music built on a repeating choral phrase) and rap. Some may argue that humanity's history is an ever rising line from the swamps to the stars (I'm frequently not so sure), but I think the history of music is definitely more circular — ideas come into vogue, fall out of fashion, and then return from the underworld in new garb for another go. As the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes, "There is no new thing under heaven."

In my piece this morning I thought I'd try a little new wine in an old wine skin by repeating the bass line a certain number of times, then go do something else, then come back to the chaconne idea — rinse and repeat. Something like my chaconne starts rolling along, then goes off the track, and has to be corralled back on course. Hmm, maybe the structure of this piece is less an 'inventive idea' and more like dementia!