9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


On Frescobaldi's Recreation of the Ciaccona and the Passacaglia

Alexander Silbiger

Frescobaldi appears to have been the creator of the passacaglia as a fully notated compositional genre (as opposed to an improvisational practice) and also the first to join this genre with that of the ciaccona. He presented both for the first time in his Secondo libro di toccate (Rome, 1627) and during the next ten years continued to write numerous additional ciacconas and passacaglias. In these he evolved and refined his conception of the genres, treating them as a kind of laboratory for the creation of large instrumental structures.

In order properly to assess Frescobaldi's role in the recreation of these genres, I shall begin by surveying the ciacconas and passacaglias dating from the period preceding their appearance in his 1627 publication. I will speculate on why the organist of St. Peter's appropriated exotic dance forms that not long before had been associated with street musicians and that in some circles were considered to be of questionable moral character. I then review the examples and revisions preserved in printed and manuscript materials from 1627 to 1637, which provide an unusually detailed glimpse of how his ideas on the ciaccona and passacaglia continued to develop. Especially interesting is the increasingly sophisticated use of shifting modes, tempos, rhythmic patterns, and genres as structure-generating forces, revealed most strikingly by the multi-phase compositional history of the Cento partite sopra passacaglie. Frescobaldi's predominantly additive technique for the creation of large forms found relatively little resonance, as later generations increasingly turned for this purpose toward the essentially divisive form-building technique of common-practice tonality.

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Last updated on 22 March 2000 by Yo Tomita