Composer: Johann Pachelbel
Form/Instrumentation: Canon & Gigue
Year(s) composed/published: (suggested dates range from 1680 to 1706)
Catalog #: None
Pachelbel’s Canon is the common name for 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), sometimes referred to as Canon and Gigue in D major or simply Canon in D. Neither the date nor the circumstances of its composition are known (suggested dates range from 1680 to 1706), and the oldest surviving manuscript copy of the piece dates from the 19th century.
Pachelbel’s Canon, like his other works, although popular during his lifetime, soon went out of style, and remained in obscurity for centuries. A 1968 arrangement and recording of it by the Jean-François Paillard chamber orchestra gained popularity over the next decade, and in the 1970s the piece began to be recorded by many ensembles; by the early 1980s its presence as background music was deemed inescapable. From the 1970s to the early 2000s, elements of the piece, especially its chord progression, were used in a variety of pop songs. Since the 1980s, it has also been used frequently in weddings and funeral ceremonies in the Western world.
The canon was originally scored for three violins and basso continuo and paired with a gigue. Both movements are in the key of D major. Although a true canon at the unison in three parts, it also has elements of a chaconne.
Work Info: Pachelbel’s Canon in D major, a piece of chamber music scored for three violins and basso continuo and originally paired with a gigue in the same key, experienced a tremendous surge in popularity during the 1970s. This is due to a recording by Jean-François Paillard in 1968, which made it a universally recognized cultural item. Its visibility was greatly increased by its choice as the theme music for the popular film Ordinary People (1980) and by its use as the basis for “Rain and Tears” by Aphrodite’s Child which became a million-selling hit single across Europe in 1968. Now one of the most recognized and famous baroque compositions, it has in recent years become extremely popular for use in weddings, rivalling Wagner’s Bridal Chorus. Despite its centuries-old heritage, the Canon’s chord progression has been used widely in pop music in the 20th and 21st centuries it has been called “almost the godfather of pop music”.
1. Canon & Gigue, scrolling score
2. Canon, Original version on period instruments
3. Canon & b.c. used in Choral Medley