Johann Pachelbel Canon in D Major
Pachelbel’s Canon, also known as Canon in D major (PWC 37, T. 337, PC 358), is the most famous piece of music by German Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel. 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, and today 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 by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Pachelbel – Canon in D: the facts
It’s as simple as three violins, one cello, and eight bars of music repeated 28 times. Johann Pachelbel’s Canon has risen in popularity to become one of the best-known pieces of classical music ever written.
It’s hard to imagine a time when this piece wasn’t a firm favourite at weddings, but in reality, not very much is known about Pachelbel’s most famous piece. We don’t even know exactly when it was composed, although it’s thought it was around 1680. There are a few unsubstantiated claims that the music was written for the wedding ofBach’s brother, Johann Christoph, on 23 October 1694, but this is pretty unlikely.
The Canon’s popularity snowballed in the 1970s, after French conductor Jean-François Paillard made a recording. Since then, the music has been recorded hundreds of times, and the iconic harmony has made its way into pop songs, films, and adverts. But even before the public got hold of the piece, classical composers knew Pachelbelwas on to a good thing – Handel, Haydn, and Mozart all used the iconic bass line in some of their compositions in the following years.
It’s easy to be distracted by the tight harmonies and the three prettyviolin tunes, but Pachelbel’s approach to writing the music was almost mathematical. He uses an ostinato (the same bass line repeated over and over again) and a canon (the same music repeated by the violin parts, in a round) to construct his piece. Listen out for the same music being passed between the violins.
No wonder he had such good compositional technique: Pachelbel wrote more than 500 pieces over his lifetime. He was a prolific organist in his hometown of Nuremburg, and even taught the man who became Bach’s teacher. Despite the sheer volume of his output, there’s still no system to number all of his works.