Honouring the good life. Four chaconnes

Posted on: 2 April 2020, by :

In these weeks while witnessing the growing alarm and loss of life in Italy, Spain, France, the UK and our other neighbours, it is hard to know how to deal with and express our mixed feelings — of grief, solidarity with the suffering families and communities, and gratitude for those who are managing healthcare and solving problems. This crisis that knows no state borders or political allegiance reminds us of how interconnected our European society and culture is today — and has been since the Renaissance. Music provides countless examples of art that relates directly to sadness or despair or mourning for lives lost (for a famous case, see the next post). But for today we choose instead some interconnected dance music as another way to remember and honour our European neighbours. Music-making has never been as widely shared internationally as it is today (at least before social distancing suspended the giving of live concerts): in these four examples alone we have Spanish music performed by a Croatian ensemble, French music by Germans, Italian music by Spaniards, and English music by Italians.

The chaconne (chacona in Spanish, ciacona in Italian) is a lively dance-song in triple metre that originated in Spain or the New World in the sixteenth century. It became particularly popular in the seventeenth century, across Europe, in purely instrumental form: its common characteristic is a repetitive phrase structure that is the basis for harmonic and melodic variations.

Join the discussion (registered users only)

Chacona, ‘A la vida, vidita bona’, by Juan Arañés (c1580?-c1649), published in Rome in 1626. The performance, from 2013, is by the Ansambl Minstrel based in Zagred, Croatia.

This famous song describes a party thown after a wedding that grows wild and out of control. It has the refrain ‘And the word got out: To the good life! Let’s go to the chacona!’ (Y la fama lo pregona: A la vida, vidita bona, Vida, vámonos a chacona). In 2011 it was used for the scene of Lucrezia’s wedding in the drama series The Borgias, but where the actual dancing does not fit well (see here).

The lyrics and a partial translation into English may be found here.

‘Chaconne des Scaramouches, Trivelins et Arlequins’ from Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, a comédie-ballet by Molière with music by Jean-Baptiste Lully, first staged in 1670 for the court of Louis XIV gathered at the chateau of Chambord.

Performed by the Bremer Barockorchester in March 2019.

Arcangelo Corelli, Ciacona (sonata op. 2 no. 12), first published Bologna, 1685. The scrolling score is the version published in London in c1728 and c1740, edited by John Christopher Pepusch and engraved by Thomas Cross.

Live performance recorded in Utrecht in 2013 by Los Músicos de Su Alteza, an ensemble based in Saragossa, Spain.

Henry Purcell, chaconne in Act V of The Fairy Queen (London, 1692).

A performance by the Accademia degli Astrusi in the Teatro Comunale, Bologna, in December 2010.