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Classical Sprouts: Pachelbel's Canon

Johann Pachelbel was a German composer and organist who lived in the 1600s.

While he was the organist for an important church in Erfurt, Germany, he wrote a piece called “Canon in D Major”.

A canon is a piece of music that has a main melody that is repeated, or played over itself to create fun new harmonies!

A great example of a canon is Row, Row, Row Your Boat!

Pachelbel’s Canon is similar. It has 8 main notes that represent 8 chords of notes that are played over and over (a total of 27 times!).

See if you can follow along with the score and the music!

We start out with a melody in one of the upper voices.

Then the melody repeats in a middle voice and then melody comes in a lower voice!

Over those 8 main notes the upper voices play the melody in a round - or a canon.

And then the melody changes a little bit, this one has more movement in the notes, but it still gets repeated in all three of the top voices.

That melody changes a little more every time we hear it, and it gets a little more complicated every time!

But listen for that original 8 notes in the cello… it’s still there! Laying the foundation for all of the exciting things on top.

Sometimes, musicians think the piece is a bit boring, since it’s the same 8 chords over and over and over again. What do you think?

When Pachelbel wrote this piece, he wanted it to be played a lot faster than we normally hear it today.

Why is it played slowly today?

Well, in the 1960s, so almost 300 years after Pachelbel wrote it, the Jean-Francois Paillard chamber orchestra played it MUCH slower.

People loved it! And from then on, the slower, more lush version has been incredibly popular!

It also uses a pretty common chord progression that is still used in pop music (and a lot of other types of music), so you might hear songs nowadays that still sound a bit like this piece from way back in the 1600s!

People have also made versions of it not even using traditional instruments at all!

How cool!

Classical Sprouts is produced by Emily Duncan Wilson.

Kate Botello is a host and producer at Classical IPR.
Emily Duncan Wilson is IPR's digital content manager and is the producer of "Classical Sprouts" and "Kids Commute".