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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chicka-what?/ Chaconne

The rhythmic patterns prevalent in Handel's Chaconne in G Major (set of variations) are very important and prominent throughout the piece. As the set progresses, the rhythmic value of each variation gets smaller. This begins with the very first Variation with the introduction of eighth notes in the right had and a quarter half note pattern in the left. Variation 2 takes the quarter half note pattern in the right hand and the eighth notes then shift to the left hand. Variation 3 introduces the rhythmic value of the triplet with the same quarter half note pattern in the left hand. The right hand takes that pattern in variation 4 and the left hand picks up the triplets. Variation 5 introduces the sixteenth notes in the right hand with a quarter note (then two quarter rests) pattern in the left. In variation 6, the right hand picks up what the left hand was doing and the left hand plays sixteenths. The pattern for the rest of the variations is usually the same, meaning that in one variation the left hand will be playing what the right hand is in the next variation and vice versa. Sometimes, both hands are playing sixteenth notes in what would seem to be a frenzy of notes. Variations often group into groups of twos and fours as well. These include:

Pairs: Var. 1 and 2; Var. 3 and 4; Var. 9 and 10;
Threes: Var. 19, 20, and 21
Fours: Var. 5, 6, 7, and 8; Var. 11, 12, 13, and 14; Var. 15, 16, 17, and 18

The fact that patterns are exchanged between hands is the common bond that holds those groupings together as well an apparent feeling of musical "flow" or "connection" between the variations.

The harmonic analysis of the theme is as follows:

m. 1: I
m. 2: V6, V64
m. 3: VI7, ii
m. 4: V
m. 5: I6
m. 6: IV, I6, vii diminished6
m. 7: IV, I64, V7
m. 8: I

The harmonic structure of the following 8 variations is virtually the exact same as the theme. The texture of the variations change, however, especially due to the rhythmic patterns that are used. The theme is much more regal and prelude-like than the rest of the variations. Therefore its texture is more embellished and thick in the opening chords, almost like a fanfare. Some of the variations seem less thick as far as texture is concerned because they contain fast-moving note figures such as triplets and sixteenth notes.

The descending bass line in variations 9, 10, 14, and 16 are all set in a descending pattern of a second. This may include rhythmic variations, but in all cases, the bass line is descending by the interval of a second. In variations 11, 12, 13, and 15, the bass line is set by a series of sequences. In variation 11, for example, there is a falling fifths sequence that sets the bass line. There is chromaticism most notably in variation 16 in the bass line. From measure 129 to 130, the bass line (on the strong beats) descends by a half step until the beginning of measure 132. Examples of the following chords occur in these measures:

Neapolitans: mms. 84 and 102 (variations 10 and 12)
Secondary dominants: mms. 131 and 133, ii half diminished/V (variation 16)
Secondary leading-tone chords: mms. 75 and 83, vi chord (variations 9 and 10)
Minor v: mms. 74 and 82 (variations 9 and 10)

These types of progressions are not evident in the major key progressions because the major keys do not lend themselves to this type of weird mixtury-type things. This piece would be in binary form if it were soley based on harmonic complexity--the A sections are comprised of rather simple, predictable harmonies, and the B section is much more complex, including many of the chords used above.

Examples of continuous as well as sectional variations are abundant in this Chaconne. There are more continuous sections than there are sectional, but I'll go through some of both. Variations 3, 6, 8, and 19 are all sectional and the rest are continuous. Most of the time, the continuous sections are characterized by moving notes such as sixteenth notes that flow into the next variation. The sectional variations usually mark the ending of some kind of rhythmic pattern or character of the piece--for example, the end of variation 8 ends the first major key section of the piece and variation 9 begins the section of variations that are in a minor key. Overall, this piece is a brilliant example of a theme and variations and is quite interesting to examine as well as to listen to.

Now I seriously have to go because I've written way too much. And I really need one of these if I'm going to keep on living:

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