Definition of passacaglia in US English:



  • A composition similar to a chaconne, typically in slow triple time with variations over a ground bass.

    • ‘However, his is one of the few passacaglias I've heard not in triple meter.’
    • ‘Some traces remain of the earlier technique - for example, both symphonies feature passacaglia, but where no.1 uses it subtly and sparingly, allowing it to hover latent in the background, no.3 does it to death.’
    • ‘The turbulent second movement is almost raunchy while the third, a passacaglia, is essentially a set of nine variations on the opening theme, demarked by the pianist's left hand in the very basement of his instrument.’
    • ‘Fugal procedures also permeate the fine passacaglia of the twelfth prelude, in G minor.’
    • ‘In the 17th century the development of the basso continuo led to a proliferation of fixed-bass variation types, especially ostinato dances like the passacaglia and chaconne.’
    • ‘The passacaglia, strictly speaking, pits variations over a ground bass, although most composers from Brahms on, shift the bass material around to all the voices, which Lees does as well.’
    • ‘Despite the title and the assertion of the liner notes (arguing for a modern passacaglia), this really isn't a passacaglia, but a variation set, with a finale that runs through the highpoints of the rest of the piece.’
    • ‘It opens with a prelude for car-horns and concludes with a relentless passacaglia; a concert performance of the piece by the BBC Symphony Orchestra is the finale of the Barbican's festival.’
    • ‘The 4th Movement, marked ‘Largo’, is a passacaglia having a series of diverse variations over a ground bass.’
    • ‘In spite of that, and unconventional passacaglias, he is receiving a fair amount of attention.’
    • ‘It may dawn on you (if you don't cheat and read the liner notes first) that it's also a passacaglia, a series of variations over a ground bass.’
    • ‘The first two orchestral works (preceded only by juvenilia and a graduation passacaglia for piano) are remarkable for their assurance.’
    • ‘Even beyond this the music remains singleminded in character, seamless rather than sectional, unlike the symphony's passacaglia, and pointedly in the final bars, returning to the opening theme, now treated in imitation.’
    • ‘Bach's contrapuntal mastery finds voice in Brahms's repeated use of fugue and passacaglia forms.’
    • ‘The more boring details drop away into a passacaglia's inevitable ground bass, whilst the exciting become magnified beneath a glass destructive of proportion and accuracy.’
    • ‘The work consists of 12 movements evolving around a theme with 44 variations and a passacaglia with 81 variations.’
    • ‘To a great extent, he hides the ‘academic’ use of counterpoint in his chamber and symphonic music, although he trots it out for special occasions in places like the passacaglia peroration of the Haydn Variations.’
    • ‘A sardonic Scherzo follows, then a funereal passacaglia set in motion by ‘wrong-note’ chords on piano.’
    • ‘The clue lies, perhaps, in the ground's first four bars, for this passacaglia looks not forward, but back fully thirty years to the infamous march theme from the Seventh Symphony.’
    • ‘The work is performed here with its original fourth movement, rather than with the passacaglia and fugue that he was persuaded to substitute after its premiere.’


Italian, from Spanish pasacalle, from pasar ‘to pass’ + calle ‘street’ (because originally it was a dance often played in the streets).