restricted access 6—The Ostinato Movements
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

46 The term ostinato, which translates literally as “stubborn,” is associated mainly with ground basses, but may be applied also to the persistent repetition of a rhythmic figure or a harmonic pattern, or even, as in the case of Ravel’s Bolero, to an entire sixteen-measure unit. Two of the most familiar ostinato forms, the Chaconne and the Passacaglia, were interchangeable and even combined or alternated in one composition , which is what Bach chose to do in his monumental Ciaccona. The Chaconne1 had its origins in the New World in the late sixteenth century as a song and dance of the lower classes whose irreverent lyrics and vulgar gestures caused it to be condemned by the clergy as the work of the devil. However, soon after its importation into Spain, it became established as a familiar form whose repetitious character and long-winded texts invited its evolution into a vehicle for instrumental variation that seventeenth-century Italian composers were also quick to adopt. Instrumental works such as Frescobaldi’s Partite sopra Ciaccona (1627) and his Cento partite sopra passacaglie (1637), and vocal compositions by others such as Monteverdi and Storace, attest to the recognition of the ostinato as a standard musical form. A century later, when Bach composed his Chaconne, the form had evolved from its popular dance-like beginnings into a sophisticated art form whose development had been subject to various national influences. It is interesting to note that Bach composed only two ground-bass works, the C-minor Passacaglia for organ (BWV 582) and the Ciaccona, both of them monumental in scope. Whereas the latter is unique in Bach’s oeuvre and unquestionably a magnificent piece of music, it owes much of its extensive compositional style to French models, notably those of François Couperin , and its tripartite form is similar to that of Heinrich von Biber’s Passacaglia for solo violin, which predated Bach’s composition by approximately forty years. 1. I recommend the exhaustive article on Chaconne by Alexander Silbiger in Grove Music Online. chapter six The Ostinato Movements 47 The Ostinato Movements Partita II: Ciaccona It is of paramount importance when performing the extended movements in these works—the three fugues and the Chaconne—to be fully aware of their architecture. Without benefit of careful study of the form and structure of such pieces, they are likely to come across as unshapely and illogical. The analysis that follows is offered as an example of the kind of preparation that can lead to a coherent interpretation. As frequently happens in works of this kind, both forms—Chaconne and Passacaglia —occur in the Ciaccona. They differ from each other in one key respect: the placement of the downbeat accent. The traditional Romantic-style interpretation fails to take into account the fact that the Chaconne starts with a pickup, whereas the Passacaglia, whose bass line is a descending tetrachord, has none. Thus, the tonic triad, which serves as an upbeat in the Chaconne, becomes the downbeat of the Passacaglia:2 It is normal to “overdot” in Baroque music, an unnotated rhythmic convention, and the opening statement needs this treatment in order to connect seamlessly to the first variation. Not observing this custom results in the dotted quarter-eighth figure being stiff and heavy-sounding instead of naturally flowing. Hence, the following is the desirable effect and the recommended bowing: In chapter 11 I devote some time to discussing certain undesirable ways of playing chords in Baroque music. Suffice it here merely to say that one must never begin a chord before the beat or roll it downward: all chords in “unaccompanied” music start on the beat and from the lowest note, for the bass is the beat. One often hears the cadential chord on the downbeat of m. 8 rolled (or, rather, snapped) downward, presumably because the player feels that the final note of the soprano line needs to be placed precisely on the beat, and yet wants to get down as quickly as possible. Each of the succeeding four-note chords is then usually rolled 2. It is interesting to note that of the 270 measures that comprise the Ciaccona, 121 are Chaconne, and 149 are Passacaglia. 3 4 &b Õ À Õ À # ∑ ∑ ∑ &b À Õ À Õ À Õ À &b z ≤ ≥ z ≤ ≤ ≥ z ≤ ≤ ≥ ≤ ≤ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ œ™ ˙ ˙ œ j œ œ œ œ œ™ ˙˙ ˙ # œj œ œ œ œ œ™ ˙ ˙ b œ n j œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œœœœ œœœœ œ J œ œ œ œ œ # œ œ # œ œ œ n œ # œ œ n œ œ œ n œ œ b œ œœœ œ # œ œ œ œ™œœ™œœœ™œ œ™œœ™œœ™œ œ™ œœ™ œœ™œ œ™œœ™œœ™œ œ™ j ≈Œ Œ 3 4 3 4 3 4 &b Õ À Õ À # ∑ ∑ ∑ &b À Õ À Õ À Õ &b Õ ≤ À ≤ ≥ Õ ≤ À ≤ ≥ ≤ ≤ ≥ ≤ # ≥ ≤ ≥ ≤ ≤ ≤ # &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ≤ ≥ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ œ™ ˙ ˙ œ j œ œ œ œ œ™ ˙˙ ˙ # œj œ œ œ œ œ™ ˙ ˙ b œ n j œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œœœœ œœœœ œ J œœ œ œ œ # œ œ # œ œ œ n œ # œ œ n œœ œ n œ œ b œ œœœ œ # œœ œ œ̇ ˙ œ™œ œ œ œ œ œ̇˙ ˙ # œ™œ œ œ œ œ œ̇ ˙ b œ™ œ n œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œœœœ œœœœ œ̇ œ J ˙ b œ™ œ n œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œœœœ œœœœ œ J 48 The Accompaniment in “Unaccompanied” Bach rapidly up and down, the melodic...