As we approach the historic event of the Coronation of King Charles III next month, some of this term’s music takes us back to the time of an earlier monarch,
Charles II, and his court musician Henry Purcell!
The court orchestra
From 1677, at the age of only 18, Purcell was employed as a composer for the court orchestra known as the ‘Twenty-Four Violins’, and it is thought that the Chacony Z730 of circa 1678, which we will be playing this term, was written for this ensemble.
The original manuscript is catalogued as a separate item at the British Library, but it is likely to have formed part of a suite of incidental music for a play.
A kaleidoscope of colours
The Chacony (or Chaconne) is a dance that is written over a repeating bass line or 'Ground'. With each repetition of the eight-bar phrase, the piece grows in grandeur, with the variations differing in both orchestration and style. Sometimes the bass line theme appears in other voices and Purcell even disguises the starts and
ends of some of the variations, creating an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colours and musical narrative.
Charles II was said to like listening to music whilst standing and tapping his foot. As Purcell composed this beautiful Chacony for him, it’s easy to imagine him enjoying it in this way!