George Frideric Handel (1685-1759): Chaconne in G Major, from Trois Leçons (Three Lessons)
Roman Numeral Analysis: Variation 1, m. 1-8 I: G Major
m. 1-4: I: I, V6, vi7, V7/V, V
m. 5-8: I: I6, IV, I6, viidiminished6, I, ii6, V864-753, I4-3
In regard to the prevalent durations the workbook presents, the durations of the patterns of the variations tend to go in pairs of twos. Variations 17 and 18, for example, are paired together due to their sixteenth note motives. Variation 17 has the sixteenth note figure in the right hand, keeping one sixteenth note per eighth beat the same while the other note moves mostly in stepwise motion to other tones, usually below the note that stays the same. The same type of behavior is observed in Variation 18’s right hand part, except that the jumping pattern of the moving sixteenth notes is arpeggiating rather than moving in stepwise motion. Also, the movement of the sixteenth notes mostly remains above the stagnant sixteenth note.
Variations 19, 20, and 21 are paired as threes because they all contain an ascending arpeggiating figure. For variation 19, the figure is in the left hand. Variation 20 has the figure in the right hand. Variation 21 has the figure in both hands.
One could argue that variations 5, 6, 7, and 8 are paired together since they have a similar sense of motion created by their sixteenth note patterns despite variations 5 and 6 have a different sixteenth note pattern from variations 7 and 8. Furthermore, these variations have nearly identical rhythms in the part that plays supporting chords (the right hand part in variation 5, the left hand part of variation 7, etc.).
Often, roles of hands between variations switch, with each hand taking the role of what the opposite hand played in the previous variation. For example, the triplet eight notes in the right hand and half note-quarter note chords in the left hand that provide harmonic and rhythmic support in variations 3 match exactly what is done in variation 4, except the hands roles are switched; the triplet eight notes that were played in the right hand in variation 3 are played in the left hand for variation 4, and the right hand of variation 4 takes on the quarter note-half note chords of variation’s 3 left hand. Other variations in Handel’s piece that switch hand parts include variations 5 and 6 and variations 7 and 8.
Locations of Neapolitans, Secondary Dominants, Secondary Leading-tone Chords, and Minor v’s
m. 102 – N6
m. 110 – N6
m. 74 – v6
m. 82 – v6
m. 130 – v6
m. 85 – secondary leading tone (viifulldiminshed7/iv)
m. 131 – secondary leading tone (viidiminished6/V)
m. 132 – secondary dominant (V7/iv)
m. 133 – secondary dominant (V7/VII, V7/III)
The first four measures of the bass of variations 9, 10, 14, and 16 are in a Lamenti style, descending in a stepwise motion of G to F to E flat to D, or do, te, le, sol. Variations 11, 12, 13, and 15 do a different pattern. Rather than do, te, le, sol, the bass goes in pairs (except sol) of (do, le) (te, sol) (le, fa) sol. The basic do, te, le, sol pattern is there with the first note of each beat for these variations, however.
Roman Numeral Analysis: Harmonic Progression for Variations 9, 10, 14, and 16
i, v6, iv6, V
Roman Numeral Analysis: Harmonic Progression for Variations 11, 12, 13, and 15
i, iv6, VII, III6, VI, ii6 (could imply inclusion of E flat in chord, making it a iidiminished6), V
The Phrygian cadences (iv6, V) create nice chromaticism with (le, sol) to lead into V (m 75, for example). The N6 making flat II is also chromatic movement (m. 102 and m. 110). viidimished triads, or leading tone chords, create a (ti-do) motion (such as m. m. 78). Secondary leading tone chords create chromaticism in a similar manner, except it is tonicizing a scale degree other than one (m. 85 with viifulldimished7/ivand m. 131 with viidimished6/V). The chromatic movement of secondary dominants is similar to secondary leading tone chords in that it tonicizes a scale degree other than one with its (ti-do) motion to a temporary tonic (as described above, examples include m. 132 with V7/iv and V7/VII in m. 133).
These harmonic progressions prevalent in the minor section of the piece are not present in the major key sections due somewhat to their lack of diatonic presence in the key of G Major. Strictly from a harmonic viewpoint, the form would be A (PAC with G Major triad), B (PAC with G Minor triad), A (PAC with G Major triad), or rounded, sectional binary.
Indeed, Handel’s Chaconne in G Major possesses traits of both continuous and sectional variations. Characteristic of a chaconne, a continuous variation form, variations 1 through 8 maintain the same repeating harmonic structure as the original theme. Occasionally, different inversions are used (such as m. 29, with I used in fist beat rather than I6 in m. 5) some smaller passing harmonies of the original theme are altered or omitted (m. 43 with vi7 left out which was used in m. m. 3), but the harmonic structure of variations 1 through 8 still manages to maintain the harmonic feel of the original theme. Variations 17 through 21 also maintain the similar harmonic progressions as the original theme and the chaconne qualities variations 1 through 8 possess. Furthermore, small links are used when going from one major variation to another major variation (or from one minor variation to another minor one) to keep the piece in a constant motion with seamless transitions (last beats of m. 64 and m.96, for example). In contrast to the continuous form and more like a sectional form, the piece is divided into sections with the break between the major and minor sections of the piece (between variations 8 and 9, m. 71-73), therefore giving the piece a binary feel as previously described. Additionally, each variation is separated by a double bar line, which is typical of sectional variation form.
Despite being a chaconne based creating multiple variations of one theme, the piece manages to be enjoyable to listen to. The piece displays several different moods, such as majesty (the slower, more grand original theme) playfulness with quick passages full of scales and rhythmic liveliness (variations 5 and 6, for example), melancholy (the Lamenti bass of Variation 9, for example), and virtuosity and showmanship (the flashy double arpeggiation of variation 21 and left hand octaves of variation 15). A performer of such music must be aware of dynamic shifts in mood and adjust his or her playing and mood/presence on stage to depict the emotion. For example, to show calmness and tranquility in a piece, one must not only play quietly and smoothly but also appear at peace on stage. Music is also a performing art when one plays at or attends a recital, so it is vital in creating a top rate performance of a piece.
As always, special chord qualities such as Neapolitans and minor v’s must be treated with care, especially in the context of the minor, melancholic area of the piece that these chords occur in. The keyboardist is permitted to take time to enjoy and feel the sorrow of the chords that decorates the sad quality of G minor (this applies to adagio section starting from variation 9. Please refer to above section of locations of Neapolitans, minor v’s, etc. for examples).