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Chacony

Choreography Richard Alston
Music Part I Henry Purcell Chacony in G minor (arr. Benjamin Britten 1948)
Part II Benjamin Britten Chacony from 2nd String Quartet Op.36 (1945)
Music by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes
Lighting Karl Oskar Sørdal
Costumes Peter Todd

Britten was an ardent admirer of the 17th century composer Henry Purcell and made many arrangements of Purcell’s music including, in 1948, a version for strings of his Chacony in G minor. The music is rich and full of movement- the Chaconne is after all a dance.

In his extended Chacony and variations (the last movement of the second String Quartet) Britten pays overt tribute to Purcell. Shortly before Britten actually wrote this piece in 1945, he found himself travelling to Germany with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin. This was for a series of concerts in the recently liberated concentration camps, Britten found this “in many ways a terrifying experience”. Later on he confessed that he was marked for the rest of his life. The formal framework of the Chacony thus became for Britten a means to express his deepest feelings about coming face to face with such horror. Britten being Britten, the music does not end in despair but breaks through to finish in a series of major chords that reaffirm hope for the future.

Making a dance to this music I wanted to portray the formal order of the original Chacony and then to show that order being shaken to its very roots before defiantly reasserting the resilience of the human spirit.

Purcell Chacony is for Kenneth Tharp, for the past nine years Chief Executive of The Place and a good friend to me and RADC. R.A.

Britten Chacony is dedicated to Alan Britten, nephew of the composer, who encouraged and supported my temerity in choreographing to his uncle’s music. He once said to me “each time I hear of a Britten piece you want to choreograph I think how on earth is he going to do it? But when I see the dance, it all makes sense.” I will miss his wonderful support and his palpable pleasure in his uncle’s remarkable gifts. R.A.

Purcell Chacony first performed by Richard Alston Dance Company at Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Aldeburgh on 21 October 2016. Britten Chacony first performed at Alexander Kasser Theater, Montclair State University NJ, USA on 2 February 2017

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