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Pachelbel’s Canon is the name commonly given to a canon by the German Baroque composer, Johann Pachelbel, in his Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo (German: Kanon und Gigue für 3 Violinen mit Generalbaß) (PWC 37, T. 337, PC 358). It is his most famous composition. It was originally scored for three violins and basso continuo and paired with a gigue in the same key.
Like most other works by Pachelbel and other pre-1700 composers, the Canon remained forgotten for centuries and was rediscovered only in the 20th century. Several decades after it was first published in 1919 the piece became extremely popular. The piece was particularly prevalent in the pop charts of the 1990s, being sampled and appropriated in numerous commercial hits such as Coolio's "C U When U Get There" and Green Day's "Basket Case". It is frequently played at weddings and included on classical music compilations, along with other famous Baroque pieces such as 'Air on the G String'.
Although a true canon at the unison in three parts, it also has elements of a chaconne. It has been frequently arranged and transcribed for many different media.
In his lifetime, Pachelbel was renowned for his chamber works, but most of them were lost. Only Musikalische Ergötzung—a collection of partitas published during Pachelbel's lifetime—is known, apart from a few isolated pieces in manuscripts. The 'Canon and Gigue in D major' is two such pieces. A single, 19th-century manuscript copy of them survives, Mus.MS 16481/8 in the Berlin State Library. It contains two more chamber suites. Another copy, previously in Hochschule der Künste in Berlin, is now lost. The circumstances of the piece's composition are wholly unknown. One writer hypothesized that the Canon may have been composed for Johann Christoph Bach's wedding, on 23 October 1694, which Pachelbel attended. Johann Ambrosius Bach, Pachelbel, and other friends and family provided music for the occasion. Johann Christoph Bach, the oldest brother of Johann Sebastian Bach, was a former pupil of Pachelbel.
The Canon (without the accompanying gigue) was first published in 1919 by scholar Gustav Beckmann, who included the score in his article on Pachelbel's chamber music. His research was inspired and supported by renowned early music scholar and editor Max Seiffert, who in 1929 published his arrangement of 'Canon and Gigue' in his Organum series. However, that edition contained numerous articulation marks and dynamics not in the original score. Furthermore, Seiffert provided tempi he considered right for the piece, but that were not supported by later research. The Canon was first recorded in 1940 by Arthur Fiedler, and a recording of the piece was made by the Jean-François Paillard chamber orchestra.
Pachelbel's Canon combines the techniques of canon and ground bass. Canon is a polyphonic device in which several voices play the same music, entering in sequence. In Pachelbel's piece, there are three voices engaged in canon (see Example 1), but there is also a fourth voice, the basso continuo, which plays an independent part.
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Similar sequences appear elsewhere in classical music. Handel used it for the main theme and all variations thereof throughout the second movement of his Organ Concerto Op. 7 No. 5 in G minor, HWV 310.[not in citation given] Mozart employed it both for a passage in Die Zauberflöte (1791), at the moment where the three boys first appear, and in the last movement of his Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488 (1786). He may have learned the sequence from Haydn, who had used it in the minuet of his string quartet Opus 50 No. 2, composed in 1785. Neither Handel's, nor Haydn's, nor Mozart's passage is an exact harmonic match to Pachelbel's, the latter two both deviating in the last bar, and may in fact have arisen more prosaically from one of the more obvious harmonizations of a descending major scale. This sequence is known as a plagal sequence.
In Germany, Italy, and France of the 17th century, some pieces built on ground bass were called chaconnes or passacaglias; such ground-bass works sometimes incorporate some form of variation in the upper voices. While some writers consider each of the 28 statements of the ground bass a separate variation, one scholar finds that Pachelbel's canon is constructed of just 12 variations, each four bars long, and describes them as follows:
- quarter notes
- eighth notes
- sixteenth notes
- leaping quarter notes, rest
- 32nd-note pattern on scalar melody
- staccato, eighth notes and rests
- sixteenth note extensions of melody with upper neighbor notes
- repetitive sixteenth note patterns
- dotted rhythms
- dotted rhythms and 16th-note patterns on upper neighbor notes
- syncopated quarter and eighth notes rhythm
- eighth-note octave leaps
Pachelbel's Canon thus merges a strict polyphonic form (the canon) and a variation form (the chaconne, which itself is a mixture of ground bass composition and variations). Pachelbel skillfully constructs the variations to make them both pleasing and subtly undetectable.
Baroque pop versions 
During the years of Baroque Pop in the second half of 1960's two bands incorporated the melody of Pachelbel's Canon in D in any of their songs adding vocals and pop/rock arrangements. The first one was The Pop Tops in Spain with their international (mostly European) minor hit Oh Lord! Why Lord? (1968), and the second one was the Paris based band Aphrodite's Child (formed by later very popular Greek members like Demis Roussos or Vangelis) with their European hit Rain & Tears (1969).
See also 
- Chamings, Andrew Wallace. 2013. Canon in the 1990s: From Spiritualized to Coolio, Regurgitating Pachelbel's Canon 
- Welter, Kathryn J. 1998. Johann Pachelbel: Organist, Teacher, Composer, A Critical Reexamination of His Life, Works, and Historical Significance, p. 363. Diss., Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- Schulze, Hans-Joachim. Johann Christoph Bach (1671–1721) Organist and Schul Collega in Ohrdruf, Johann Sebastian Bachs erster Lehrer, in Bach Jahrbuch 71 (1985): 70 and footnote 79.
- Gustav Beckmann, Johann Pachelbel als Kammerkomponist, Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 1 (1918–19): 267–74. The Canon is found on p. 271.
- Perreault, Jean M. 2004. The Thematic Catalogue of the Musical Works of Johann Pachelbel, p. 32. Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Md. ISBN 0-8108-4970-4.
- Dohr, Christoph (2006), "Preface", Canon und Gigue für drei Violinen und Basso continuo (Urtext). Partitur und Stimmen (in German), Dohr Verlag, ISMN M-2020-1230-7.
- Daniel Guss, CD booklet to Pachelbel's Greatest Hit: The Ultimate Canon, BMG Classics (RCA Red Seal)
- Paillard's recording, Medieval Music & Arts Foundation.
- Handel, Organ Concerto No. 11 in G minor, HWV 310 (PDF), IMSLP, pp. 4–6.
- Ewald V. Nolte and John Butt, "Pachelbel: (1) Johann Pachelbel", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001). ISBN 1-56159-239-0.
- Welter, Kathryn J (1998), Johann Pachelbel: Organist, Teacher, Composer, A Critical Reexamination of His Life, Works, and Historical Significance, Diss., Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard University, pp. 207–8.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Pachelbel's Canon|
- Pachelbel's Canon: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Free typeset arrangements of Canon in D, from Cantorion.
- Midi-files, videos, sheet resources, a discussion board and a collection of modern songs inspired by Pachelbel's Canon, from Johann Pachelbel's Canon.
- Video of Pachelbel's Canon in D-major with sheet music, by TheGreatRepertoire.
- Video of a historical performance of the Canon on original instruments by the ensemble Voices of Music using baroque instruments, bows, and playing techniques.
- Video of Canon in D as played by the Apollo Symphony Orchestra.
- Harmony and voice leading of the ›Pachelbelsequenz‹. (German tutorial) www.musiktheorie-aktuell.de.
- Rock/neo-classical arrangement video of Pachelbel's Canon in D-major by Taiwanese musician and composer JerryC.