Chaconne vs. Passacaglia: What’s the Difference?

If you enjoy delving into history and are a music enthusiast, you’ll love learning about chaconne vs. passacaglia.

Like most words and conventions in the musical world, these terms go back a few centuries. Quite interestingly, many musicians who have made a name for themselves in the industry remain unaware of the accurate definition of these music forms.

Let’s dive in to acquire a comprehensive understanding of chaconne vs. passacaglia.

Chaconne vs. Passacaglia

We’ll discuss what each of these terms means in detail, one by one.

What is Chaconne?

A chaconne is a musical term that refers to a type of Baroque dance. This dance is a series of variations throughout a short, repetitive theme.

The chaconne became popular during the Baroque era in the 17th century. The name was later given to a musical form that evolved from this dance.

Some people say that the chaconne is a Spanish dance tune introduced in Latin America. Others believe it was created by Johann Sebastian Bach as a solo instrumental composition with a moderate triple time.

This music piece is in Partita No. 2’s fifth and final movement in a super challenging and one of the most extended solo violin pieces.

That being said, the chaconne melody is typically built from four scales:

  • Major
  • Natural minor
  • Harmonic minor
  • Melodic minor

It has been used in a variety of different contexts over the years. It was originally conceived as an instrumental dance piece, but it has also been used in early operas and ballets. After the frequent appearance of this dance in Jean-Baptiste Lully’s ballets in the 17th century, it was picked up by the courts of France. Dancers would give chaconne performances with a triple meter in a major key.

The chaconne has been used by many composers over the years and is considered one of the most important forms in classical music. The dance-like melody features an intricate rhythm and dark modality.

Some historical records say that the chaconne is a female dance, highlighting that two women perform it with castanets.

As years passed, several changes were made to the chaconne dance, and it became more civilized. While its tempo slowed, its popularity continued to grow across Europe. People started adding it to many Italian violin ‘ciaconne.’ It even made to the concluding dance performance of French Baroque operas’ ballet sequences.

What is Passacaglia?

The term “Passacaglia” has a rich history dating back to the 1700s. While it has Italian connotations, it originates from the Spanish word “passacalle, meaning “street song”.

History tells that Spanish guitarists would go from house to house dancing and doing short bass lines and chord patterns on the way to their destination. Eventually, these vamp improvisations took a distinct musical form.

The passacaglia is an instrumental piece featuring a 3/4 time-signature and a recurring ground bass line or basso ostinato with a moderately slow triple time over which soloists improvise. It consists of a succession of steps, which can be either melodic or harmonic. These steps are typically repeated throughout the piece.

Passacaglia is often considered a solemn and introspective form of music and is often used to depict passion and fieriness. It differs from chaconne because of its short, repetitive bass lines. It usually involves four notes played in a descending and minor-mode style.

Like Chaconne, passacaglia developed during the Baroque era. It was later adopted by the French Theatres during the 17th and 18th centuries and remains popular to this day.

Overall, the passacaglia is a very versatile form of composition and can be adapted to a variety of styles and genres. It has always been associated with men rather than women.

Although passacaglia and chaconne have similar guitar roots, they’re quite different in terms of form, tempo, and character. Depending on where, when, how, and for what purpose they are composed, each would paint an utterly unique picture of its own.

“Walk Don’t Run” by the Ventures and “Runaway” by Del Shannon are two popular songs with passacaglia style.

How Are Chaconne and Passacaglia Different?

Below are the factors that distinguish the two.

Bassline Appearance

While the passacaglia follows the same series of bassline variations, its bassline can appear in any voice or instrument, not just the bass one. Moreover, you’re allowed to alter the musical chords in the passacaglia, given that you follow the existing bass’s implied harmonics.


The chaconne is less strict than the passacaglia. For example, if you compare Johann Sebastian Bach’s passacaglia and chaconne, you’ll notice that the C minor organ of the former is closely tied to the bassline, while the D minor violin of the latter is a little looser.

This belief is based on the theory that the chaconne has a simple descending bassline of D-C-Bb-A.

Bass Line Variation

Like the passacaglia, the chaconne is a series of variations in line with a repetitive bassline. If it’s not the bassline itself, there’ll be a chord progression in the sequence complementing the bassline.

What’s important is that the bassline or chord progression doesn’t change during the chaconne composition.


The passacaglia is a more serious type of music with a ground bass and triple meter. Its expressions are more pronounced than that of the chaconne.

On the contrary, the chaconne is a majestic baroque dance form characterized by a slower, milder, and more melancholic theme.

Final Words for Chaconne vs. Passacaglia

Passacaglia and Chaconne are two beautiful music and dance forms that have been around for centuries. These often get confused with each other.

While both music forms originated in the late 16th century and share some similarities, there are also key differences between them.

The passacaglia is a serious and seemingly haunting form that usually features a bassline repeated throughout the piece. On the other hand, the chaconne is a slower form that features lots of variations and improvisations. It was originally developed for the violin but has been adapted for other instruments as well.

Both of these forms are sure to delight your ears and your feet!