Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Pachelbel’s Canon

I was lucky way back in high school, when my German teacher introduced me to Pachelbel’s Canon, before it was well known. In my high school, all the teachers had masters degrees, but oddly enough, both our German teachers had Ph.D.’s in music!

When it came time to write little bios in German class about different artists, musicians, architects, and writers, I chose Pachelbel–out of the blue, really. My teacher, who played harpsichord, came in one day with a copy for me of Pachelbel’s Canon and Gigue for 3 Violins and Continuo. I found it a beautiful piece, and fun to play, and because I came to appreciate it on my own, I suppose, it never affected me that the Canon has become so commonplace and subject to overuse in weddings and on elevator sound tracks, etc.

Johan Pachelbel was born in 1653 in Nuremburg, Germany, and died when he was 52, also in Nuremburg, though in the mean time he had lived in Vienna, and for some years lived in a house owned by the Bach family. Pachelbel was best known as an organ composer, and was important in the development of the fugue, of which he wrote about 100.

He taught music to Johann Christoph Bach, who in turn taught his younger brother J.S. Bach. Pachelbel probably met J.S. Bach once, when Bach was 9 years old, at the wedding of Johann Christoph, for which Pachelbel and some others were asked to write music.

One of Pachelbel’s two sons, Charles Theodore, was one of the first European composers to move to the American colonies, in 1734. He first lived in Boston, worked as organist at Trinity Church in Newport, Rhode Island, and performed some concerts in New York, before moving to Charleston, South Carolina to do music there for the remainder of his life.

In baroque times, Pachelbel’s Canon was probably played at a somewhat lively pace, maybe around 65-70bpm, whereas many performers play it very slowly these days, much the way Handel’s Messiah has been turned into something far more somber and slow than when it was written. You can hear samples of a livelier version of the Canon at this link (and samples of a livelier version of Messiah at this link if you’re interested).

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]

2 Comments

  1. Ronnie Currey

    Ed
    Thanks for such a good article about Pachelbel’s Canon, which still remains one of my favorite pieces. All of my piano students learn the canon. Now I can share with the students the history behind the song.

  2. Michelle Payne

    I will always remain loyal to this beautiful piece. I had the latin band at my wedding play it as I walked down the aisle, and I didn’t care if anyone thought of it as cliche. I thought I made it a little unique by having a Cuban group play it. It was beautiful : )

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