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“Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel Essay

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Updated: Apr 21st, 2021

Canon in D is considered the most famous work by German Baroque composer and belongs to chamber music compositions that are now popular during wedding ceremonies. The music work is quite unusual. Despite the fact it was composed in the second half of the seventeenth century, it was forgotten and recovered only at the end of the twentieth century (Hoffer 104).

Since then, more than a hundred versions of this musical piece have been presented. Cannon in D combines two completely different techniques in composing. It is based on a ground bass consisting of eight notes of equal length, there are twenty-seven melodic variations performed over the ground bass. They occur in three sections, one following each beat in precise imitation (Hoffer 104). Originally, the piece is performed for one continuo and three violins. However, the composition is played by continuo and a string orchestra.

Although the piece has many melodic variations, it is based on an 8-measure pattern that repeats throughout the entire composition. This pattern is an ostinato that contributes to the hypnotic feature of the music piece. At the very beginning, the music starts with andante moderate, when three violins play eight beats interchangeably.

Listening map

Timing Form Description Lyric cue (if there are lyrics)
0:09 D Major At the very beginning, the violin performs one note to follow the beat. The second violin goes after eight beats later, and finally, the last violin goes after the second violin.
0:26 A Major The first violin performs two notes to the rhythm.
0:43 A Major For notes are played to the beat.
1:00 B Minor Violin is accompanied by submediant, which slightly differs from the dominant tone, but it is still lower than the median. At this point, two notes are performed to the beat with a higher pitch.
1:16 B Minor The speed of the performance is eight to the beat; the part is accompanied by many notes.
1:32 B Minor One short note to the beat follows off the beat.
1:47 B Minor There are four same notes that are presented on many beats to emphasize the development of the music piece. At this point, the piece turns into several pitches.
2:19 F Minor A line with two short and fast notes are played in each beat;
2:34 F Minor Fast notes are followed by long notes.
2:49 G Major A contrasting melody is performed with the dominant background tone.
3:06 G Major Long tones start in the middle of the beat.
3:23 D Major Notes that make a one-octave change to another
3:54 G Major The Canon ends, and the pattern starts in the reverse order.
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