PURCELL Henry, arr. BRITTEN Chacony in G minor, Z730 

Purcell composed this Chacony in about 1680, probably to be played by the Twenty-Four Violins, the string orchestra established by Charles II (imitating the similar ensemble set up by Louis XIV at Versailles). Its purpose was likely to have been to accompany dancing at court or perhaps as incidental music for a play. Britten was a fervent admirer of Purcell’s music and he began this arrangement for string quartet or string orchestra in late 1947, conducting the first performance in Zurich on 30 January 1948. In 1963, he made some revisions and the score was published in 1965. In the preface to that edition, Britten wrote the following about the work: ‘The theme, first of all in the basses, moves in a stately fashion from a high to a low G. It is repeated many times in the bass with varying textures above. It then starts moving around the orchestra. There is a quaver version with heavy chords above it, which provides the material for several repetitions. There are some free and modulating versions of it, and a connecting passage leads to a forceful and rhythmic statement in G minor. The conclusion of the piece is a pathetic variation, with dropping semi-quavers and repeated “soft” – Purcell’s own instruction.’ 

Nigel Simeone, 2022 


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