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Learn about "Canon and Gigue in D" by the Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel

“Canon in D” is the name commonly accompanied by Johann Pachelbel, the German composer from the Baroque era. It is also commonly referred to as the “Canon and Gigue in D.” The canon was originally crafted for basso continuo and 3 violins, and subsequently paired up with a gigue. Both movements are scored in “D major.” The fun fact is – unlike a traditional canon, it also contains elements of a “chaconne.”

Canon in D: Oldest surviving copy

Canon in D: The oldest surviving copy

Origin

The circumstances or the exact date of its creation is relatively unknown. The suggested time range of creation spans between 1680 to 1706 and its oldest surviving manuscript is dated back to the 19th century. Canon in D, along with other creations by Pachelbel suffered from a common indisposition – they went into obscurity despite being immensely popular during the composer’s lifetime.

There is a widespread belief that the piece was crafted for the wedding of Johann Christoph Bach. Pachelbel had attended the wedding on 23rd October 1694, where he accompanied Johann Ambrosius Bach to play music for the auspicious occasion. Also, Johann Christoph Bach, the oldest of the Bach brothers, was Pachelbel’s student.

Overview

Johann Pachelbel has always been renowned for his work on the keyboard instruments. However, under current circumstances, he is also considered as a pioneer of chamber and church music. Also, very little of his chamber compositions survive – some isolated manuscripts and Musikalische Ergötzung, a collection of partitas.

The Canon in D counts as such a piece. Only a single manuscript of it survives from the 19th century, currently placed in the Berlin State Library. This paper also contains two additional chamber suites. In 1919, Gustav Beckmann first published the Canon in D, while researching on the chamber music by Pachelbel. His work inspired Max Seiffert, a music editor, and scholar to subsequently include Canon and Gigue in D in his Organum series. In 1940, Arthur Fiedler first recorded the piece.

The Canon in D first rose to prominence in 1968, when an arrangement and subsequent recording of it was performed by Jean-François Paillard’s chamber orchestra. The rendition infused a prominent romantic hue, also implementing a significantly slower tempo. It also comprised of obligato parts and was released by “Erato Records” under the chamber orchestra. The piece also became widely distributed by the “Musical Heritage Society,” a mail-order label. The 1970s saw frequent records by various ensembles, and by 1980, it was deemed as a crucial piece of background music.

Usage in Popular Culture

  • In 1977, two music groups crafted singles incorporated with a backing track that was based on Canon in D. The Spanish band Pop-Tops used it in their song “Oh Lord, Why Lord,” while the Greek band Aphrodite's Child utilized it in their song “Rain and Tears.”
  • In 1982, the renowned pianist George Winston included variations of Canon in D
  • On his solo piano album. It subsequently went on to sell over 3 million copies.
  • In 1988, Kylie Minogue's popular single “I Should Be So Lucky,” was inspired by Canon and Gigue in D. Pete Waterman, the famous pop music producer, described the composition as “godfather of pop music,” for the sheer number of instances it has been utilized throughout the popular culture.    
  • In 1990, The Farm's single “All Together Now” copied its chord sequence directly from Canon in D.
  • In 1993, the Pet Shop Boys’ cover “Go West” was also directly inspired from Canon in D.
  • In 1997, Coolio was inspired by a sample of Pachelbel’s Canon to craft “C U When U Get There.”
  • Canon in D’s chord progression has been used by various songs – “Graduation” (Vitamin C), “Don't Look Back in Anger” (Oasis), “Basket Case” (Green Day), “Streets of London” (Ralph McTell).
  • In 1998, “Christmas Canon” was set to Canon in D’s tune by The Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
  • In 2012, Canon in D came second in the chart of the most renowned religious and contemporary classical music among 30000 funerals.
  • In 2017, Procol Harum was inspired by Pachelbel’s Canon while crafting the song “Sunday Morning.”

Analysis

In “Canon and Gigue in D” Johann Pachelbel combined the techniques of both ground bass and canon. Canon, a polyphonic device can utilize several voices to play the same music, albeit in a sequence. Pachelbel engaged three voices in his canon, along with “basso continuo,” a fourth voice that plays independently. A “Two-bar” line is repeated throughout the piece by the bass. This setup is commonly termed as “ground bass,” or “ostinato” in musical terms.

The first eight chords progress in a sequence termed as “Romanesca.” This type of progression was prevalent in the 17th and 18th centuries, mostly in Robert Gjerdingen’s schema. Also, some pieces are known, and “passacaglias” and “chaconnes” were crafted on a ground bass. These works were common across France, Italy, and Germany in the 17th century and incorporated a unique variation in their upper voices. However, Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” comprises of only 12 variations when compared to the 28 variations commonly found back then. 

The musical form used in “Canon in D” is similar to “Frère Jacques,” a French folk song. This song also repeats its melody through various instrumental parts and registers, typically performed via a harpsichord or cello. Pachelbel’s canon is intricate in its own sense, and goes through a gradual evolution of basic melody, becoming even more elaborate with progression. The “gigue” accompanying the work is a lively Baroque dance form, which was intended to follow the canon and also crafted in the same key.     

Conclusion

Johann Pachelbel was pretty much extinct until the modern editions of his sheet music got published in the 20th century. This period of a rediscovery of the Baroque era led to the unearthing of early music, with subsequent transcription and performance. In the 21st century, “Canon in D” and other Pachelbel works have been fully transcribed for a vast array of instruments, both electronic and acoustic, and truly deserves the far-reaching and enthusiastic applause they have been vested with.

 

 

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