Johann Pachelbel – Chaconne in F minor


A Chaconne and a Passacaille are very similar. Both use an ostinato theme throughout the piece. The Chaconne in F minor by Johann Pachelbel is one of his most famous works. The ostinato is a very simple one and appears as the pedal’s voice almost during the whole piece.

Above this ostinato, the piece consists of 22 variations, which often are repeated. Organ players like to use those to exhibit the various stops of an instrument, e.g. they add and remove stops at each variation.

For the – almost identical – opening and closing variation, many use the Diapason 8′. On french orgues, usually the Bourdon 8 is added. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene do it this way, and so do I. I also follow their approach to alter the manuals during repeating variations.

In contrast to most organ players, I do not alter the registration throughout the piece, though.

It is assumed that it is one of the later works of Pachelbel. It’s kept quite simple. Most parts are written in a simple, monophonic, duophonic or triophonic manner. I keep the initial registration throughout the piece. I just swap the keybeds at times. For some repeating variations I play one with the diapason, the other with a combination of 8′ and 4′ flutes on the other manual. For others, I do not swap the manuals. Sometimes I play the left hand voice on one, the right hand voice on the other manual, depending on my pesonal taste. That’s enough sound alteration, and still lets the listener focus on the actual music instead of the many sounds a pipe organ typically has to offer. Additionally, I play it rather slow compared to recordings I know of. IMO this masterpiece begs for it. Pay attention to each particular 16th. Add ornaments like trills according to your taste. Slow down and accelerate the tempo where applicable. It’s rewarding and will unwrap the beauty of this composition.