I noticed as I listen to Bach's Chaconne in D minor, that not only do I hear a lament bass when Bach is in D minor but also when he is in D major. But why? It isn't like the lament bass is normally used in major. I know that Bach's chord progression isn't quite a lament bass by itself, but it is certainly based upon it. Here is where the chaconne starts being in a major key for a while before it goes back to being in D minor(which is about 11 minutes into the video):

Here is my hypothesis as to why I hear a major key lament bass:

Minor key preparation

To put it simply, the fact that Bach is using a progression based on the lament bass when he is in D minor and the nature of the chaconne being variations upon a chord progression means, that even when Bach goes to D major for a while, all those variations upon the lament bass in the first D minor section prepare us to hear the descending bass in the D major section as also being a lament bass, even though the lament bass is usually only heard in minor and Bach is sticking with harmonies native to D major.

A harmonized descending scale in major uses a passing dominant chord in the same place as the passing chord in the lament bass, with the only difference between the passing chords being that in the lament bass, it is minor, and in the harmonized major scale, it is, well, major. But I think the reason Bach is able to get this lament bass sound in D major is because he used it a bunch of times in D minor, so the minor key acts as a preparation for the parallel major key harmonically speaking.

But is that why I hear the descending bass in D major as a lament bass? Does it have anything to do with the minor key variations that came before?

3 Answers 3


What does Bach have to do with the bass? The Ciaconna is from the Partita 2 for solo violin. While the Ciaconna exercises the polyphonic capabilities of a violin to an insolent degree, Busoni's piano arrangement is something utterly different.

Bach does not compose as much in harmonic progressions as in separate voices embedded in a loose harmonic framework, and the voicing and harmonic framework for a solo violin piece are very much constrained by the technical capabilities of the instrument. It would not be wholly surprising that the framework chosen for an intermediate part in major would be strongly related to that of the minor part.

Which makes it somewhat understandable that Bosoni's attempt of romanticising this into a piano piece would lean towards using a similar technique for either.

If you want to understand how this is conceptualized in Bach, you need to look at Bach's original violin partita 2. I am not sure whether he also created a lute variant like with the partita 3. If he did, the considerably relaxed technical constraints due to the availability of more and fretted strings might reflect his musical concepts even better.

But the piano version by Busoni just gives a message about Busoni.


To put it simply, the fact that Bach is using a progression based on the lament bass when he is in D minor and the nature of the chaconne being variations upon a chord progression means, ...

The chaconne is not built on a lament bass if you by "lament bass" mean a ground bass, built from a descending perfect fourth from tonic to dominant, descending step by step. Here is an image of the start of the chaconne, it is an image from the urtext edition on IMSLP which you can find on this link Violin Partita No.2 in D minor

Chaconne, the start

The chord progression is presented in the first 4 bars and then repeated in the next 4 bars, so that the first 8 bars builds up to a climax in bar 8 resolving on tonic at the first beat in bar 9. A wonderful start. But the bass line is not a lament bass that goes down step by step. Well, I guess you could argue that the bass line could be regarded as inspired from a lament bass line in that the bass line does move from tonic and down around the dominant and then back. Maybe that is what you mean?

Here is an image from the section where the key signature changes into D-major so you can see what is going on there and make your own evaluations: Chaconne changing to D major


Nobody else can tell you why you hear something that isn't there.

This is Bach's bass line. Not much like the "lament bass" at all, really.

enter image description here

Aside from the fact that the rhythm is completely different, even the minor key version doesn't have the C natural from the "lament bass".

Personally, the main thing I hear in the Busoni is the performer saying "hey, look at how many notes I can play all at once."

  • 1
    It is based very loosely around a sort of descending tetrachord (D-C#-Bb-(G)-A). Lament basses do not necessarily have to have the complete chromatic line, and they sometimes do a little turn around the dominant note (Bb-G-A here instead of Bb-A). I wouldn't call this a stereotypical lament bass, and I'd prefer to call it simply related to a "descending tetrachord" progression rather than a real "lament bass," but it's inaccurate to say it isn't like one at all.
    – Athanasius
    Oct 19, 2019 at 0:40

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