The Pachelbel Canon in D
The Johann Pachelbel Canon in D is one of my personal favorites. I am always happy to see it requested by a Bride.
Here is this beautiful piece in its original version as composed by Pachelbel in the 17th century.
Pachelbel and his Canon in D
Johann Pachelbel (1653-1709) lived a long-time ago. He was born 35 years before J.S. Bach (1685-1750) who, for most non-musicians, is about as far back in time as they care to listen.
Like Bach, Pachelbel was a hard working German musician who composed a great deal of music during his life time. As is the case with most of the pre-Bach composers, most of their music has long been forgotten unless you are into “early music.”
Pachelbel is thought to have composed his Canon in D for Johann Cristoph Bach’s wedding in October of 1694. Johann Cristoph (1671-1721) was J.S. Bach’s oldest brother and a pupil of Pachelbel.
Much of the music of the Baroque Period (which is the era that we are dealing with here) was written for a specific occasion, such as a Wedding, and then forgotten.
This is apparently what happened to the Pachelbel Canon in D which was not published until 1919.
The Pachelbel Canon in D becomes a Hit!
Being published doesn’t necessarily mean being played and the Pachelbel Canon in D remained virtually unknown for another half century.
The Canon in D was recorded by Arthur Fiedler in 1940 but again didn’t get much notice.
That was not the case when Jean-François Paillard (1928 –2013) recorded the Canon in D in 1968.
At the time that this recording was released I was just getting into Classical music. I well remember what a sensation Paillard’s recording of the Canon in D caused first among Classical music fans and then the general public. To think that this beautiful piece had been virtually unheard of for 274 years was hard to understand.
Naturally, Brides immediately fell in love with the Pachelbel Canon in D and it soon began to challenge the Wagner “Bridal Chorus” for the title of most-popular Processional or entrance song. It was perfect: a Classical piece that helped the Bride break with tradition. Boomer brides were a rebellious lot!
Of the many recorded versions of the Pachelbel Canon in D the one I like best is by pianist George Winston (b. 1949).
Winston’s Canon in D was recorded in 1982 for his album December. Thanks to Winston, the Pachelbel Canon in D hence became associated with Christmas in addition to weddings and is sometimes even referred to as the Christmas Canon. I like Winston’s version because, while honoring Pachelbel’s original “Canon”, he explores it almost like a Jazz musician would.
What is a “Canon” Anyway?
The term canon can be confusing. In the world of music it has nothing to do with howitzers or other military usages. Canon is a cousin of rounds and fugues where melodies are echoed by one another in different voices or instruments.
In addition to the intertwined polyphonic melodies, Pachelbel achieved the hypnotic effect of his Canon in D by supporting the swirling melodies with a musical technique called a ground bass. The ground bass in the Canon in D can easily be heard in the first eight notes of the piece. These eight notes repeat over and over for the entire Canon in D forming its hypnotic foundation or “ground”.
Patrick Byrne, Piano
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