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Classical Music

Johann Pachelbel

Pachelbel's canon is one of the most popular pieces of music from the Baroque period. Like most hit tunes, popularity derives from a simple melodic line and basic harmony. The melody repeats many times

Shields described the canon in his book Reality Hunger which explores how creativity in literature and music depends on copying and adapting existing works. Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon and Gigue in D Major for three Violins and Basso Continuo” was written around 1680 and lost. Rediscovered in the 1920s, it was first recorded by Arthur Fiedler in 1940.

The music repeats a two-bar bass line and harmonic sequence 28 times, using the chord sequence I, V, VI, III, IV, I, IV, V — a sequence Handel used in the second movement of his Organ Concerto No. 11 in G minor and Mozart used in a passage of “Die Zauberflöte” (1791) and his 1786 Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major. Haydn used it in the minuet of his string quartet Opus 50 No. 2. Haydn may have taught the sequence to Mozart. None of the three composers following Pachelbel exactly matches his harmonic structure; they all created slight variations. Pachelbel’s structure is thought to derive from the ancient six-part polyphonic song form called “the round,” in which singers enter the song at different points, as they do in, say, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” The date or origin for the round is estimated at 1260, and the composer is anonymous."

Stephen has arranged and recorded several variations of the canon.l

Pachelbel's Canon Fourth Variation