Our Music Our Selves


The Chaconne

Posted in Miscellaneous Essays by Lester Knibbs on the November 25th, 2014

In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

Chaconne” is the name I am using to refer to a musical format which, in symphonic music, has three aspects – rhythm, melody, and harmony.

The rhythm of the chaconne is an ancient rhythm – at least thousands of years old, perhaps tens of thousands. It seems to have originated in Africa. For ourselves, as African American Muslims, it is particularly significant that this rhythm occurs in the first several aayats of at least five soorahs – soorahs ##37, 51, 77, 79, and 100 – of the Qur’an.

The rhythm and melody of the chaconne was introduced to medieval Europe by the Moors – Black African Muslims — who conquered and ruled in most of what is now Spain for several centuries. It is from the influence of the Moors that symphonic music evolved in Europe.

(See my “Outline for ‘The Music of the Moors: The African Roots of European Classical Music’” – http://doctorhakeem.com/blog/2013/08/03/outline-for-the-music-of-the-moors-the-african-roots-of-european-classical-music/)

In the current Age of European Domination, the chaconne was again introduced to Europeans by the enslaved African captives in Cuba. It is from this point in history – Europe’s 16th century in particular – that the rhythm, melody and harmony of the chaconne can be heard to join the diverse musical expressions of Africa, Europe and the Americas. It becomes evident in the following century that the harmonic aspect of the chaconne is the catalyst for the development of modern tonality – which I refer to as “cadential structure” – which is the foundation of symphonic music.

The chaconne is strongly present in the music of Spain and in Afro-Latin music, and can be heard in the Rhythm-and-Blues forms of African American music in the United States. It is heard in symphonic music that openly incorporates Spanish and Latin American influences, as well as in chaconnes and sarabandes, in certain types of themes and fugue subjects, and in the form of phrase or section ending traditionally called the “Phrygian Cadence” – but which I prefer to call the “Moorish Cadence”. The chaconne is also present, as an organizing principle, in many passages of extended development in symphonic movements.

The chaconne was our overall theme for the year 1435 A.H. on American Muslim 360 Blogtalk Radio. Several of the featured works of that year are based partly or entirely on the chaconne. If you are interested, you can examine the schedule for 1435 A.H. and find those works performed on YouTube.


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