In music a passacaglia (French: passacaille, Spanish: passacalle or pasacalle) is a musical form and the corresponding court dance. Its name derives from the Spanish pasear (to walk) and calle (street), supposedly to denote the music played by wandering musicians.

Originally a slow Italian or Spanish dance in 3/4 time, the passacaglia later came to be an instrumental work in 3/4 based on a ground (that is, a melody which repeats unchangingly throughout while other lines are freely varied). The passacaglia is very closely related to the chaconne, except that in the chaconne, the repeating melody is always in the bass (that is, it is a ground bass).

A number of passacaglia themes became well known enough to merit their own names. Many Baroque composers wrote variations on La Follia, also known as la folia and la folie d'Espagne (the folly of Spain) a chord progression apparently based on a Spanish folk melody. Composers from Jean-Baptiste Lully and Arcangelo Corelli to Sergei Rachmaninoff and Vangelis (in his film score to the motion picture 1492: Conquest of Paradise) have used the La Follia theme, although not always composing a passacaglia based on it.

One of the best known examples of a passacaglia in western classical music is the one in C minor for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach, BWV 582. Another Baroque example is Dido's lament, "When I am Laid in Earth," in Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas; and a 19th century example is the finale of Josef Rheinberger's 8th organ sonata. Perhaps the most frequently heard passacaglia, however, is the finale of Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 4 (although Brahms did not explicitly call it a passacaglia, it follows the rules of one and the repeated figure is based on one found in Bach's Cantata No. 150, Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich). Halvorsen also composed a passacaglia that is based on a Handel theme and written for a duet of violin and viola, considered among the most popular pieces for both instruments due to its simplicity and depth.

The passacaglia proved an enduring form throughout the 20th century. Other examples of uses of the passacaglia form include the following.

External link

fr:Passacaille it:Passacaglia


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