Voices of Music, Il Giardino Armonico (The Harmonious Garden) and L’Arpeggiata versions of Tarquinio Merula’s Ciaccona, Op.12 No.20 (first published in 1637).

Voices of Music version

Live video from the San Francisco-based Early Music Ensemble Voices of Music Capriccio Stravagante Concert 2008, performed on original instruments:

Fiery twists and turns mark Tarquinio Merula’s vibrant and imaginative version of the Ciaccona dance, yet it has a surprisingly sweet and sonorous conclusion. Live video from the San Francisco Early Music Ensemble Voices of Music Capriccio Stravagante Concert 2008, performed on original instruments.

Il Giardino Armonico version

A beautiful video from “Il Giardino Armonico: Music of the Italian Baroque (2000)”, by Paul Fenkart.

Il Giardino Armonico performing ‘Ciaccona’ by Tarquinio Merula

L’Arpeggiata version

L’Arpeggiata: Ciaccona (Tarquinio Merula)

Tarquinio Merula’s Ciaccona

Ciaccona (French: chaconne, Spanish: chacona; Italian: ciaccona; earlier English: chacony) is a type of musical composition popular in the baroque era when it was much used as a vehicle for a variation on a repeated short harmonic progression, often involving a fairly short repetitive bass-line (ground bass) which offered a compositional outline for variation, decoration, figuration, and melodic invention.

Tarquinio Merula (1595-1665) was an Italian composer, organist, and violinist of the early Baroque era, a period that saw the transition from the Renaissance style of music to that of the Baroque. He was a significant figure in the development of instrumental music, and his work “Ciaccona” (Chaconne), is among his most notable contributions. This piece is often recognized for its innovative and influential role in the history of Baroque music.

The “Ciaccona” by Merula, specifically from his Opus 12, published in 1637, is an early example of the chaconne, a musical form characterized by a repeating bass line or harmonic progression over which variations are composed. The chaconne became one of the fundamental baroque forms, deeply influencing the development of baroque music and beyond.

Merula’s “Ciaccona” stands out for several reasons:

  1. Innovation in Form and Style: It showcases an early use of the chaconne form, which would later be adopted and refined by later composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach. Merula’s approach to the repeating bass line and the variations over it demonstrates a creative exploration of the form’s potential.
  2. Instrumental Virtuosity: This piece exemplifies the virtuosic potential of the violin (and other instruments for which it may be arranged), showcasing technical demands and expressive capabilities that were innovative for the time.
  3. Harmonic Richness: The “Ciaccona” employs a rich harmonic language and imaginative variations that provide insight into the evolving musical tastes and practices of the early Baroque period.
  4. Influence: Although not as widely known today as some of his contemporaries, Merula’s work, including the “Ciaccona”, had a significant impact on the development of instrumental music in the 17th century. It represents a key moment in the history of the chaconne form, influencing its future direction and incorporation into the works of later composers.

In terms of performance, the “Ciaccona” is typically played with a vibrant and expressive style, emphasizing the dramatic contrasts and ornamental detail characteristic of the early Baroque era. It is performed both on period instruments, in historically informed performances, and on modern instruments, each bringing out different aspects of the piece’s character.

Regarding its significance, Merula’s “Ciaccona” is appreciated not just for its historical importance but also for its enduring beauty and the technical and expressive challenges it presents to performers. It serves as a bridge between the Renaissance and Baroque periods, illustrating the transition in musical styles and preferences.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened andantemoderato.com to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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