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CLASSICAL  March 2000

CLASSICAL March 2000

Subject:

Re: Canon

From:

William Hong <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 2 Mar 2000 22:33:30 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (59 lines)

Natasha Thompson wrote:

>Hi I am from Central Peace High School, And I am trying to find out
>information about the peice "Cannon".  I am pretty sure that is what
>it is called.

Yes, you're right, "cannon" is how it's pronounced.  Musically, a canon
(with one n) can be very simplistically described as a sort of round, just
like the ones we all sang in school.  Two or more voices (or instruments)
play the exact same melody in turn, separated by a certain set amount of
time or musical beats.  Each voice doesn't have to play or sing at the same
pitch as the others, but they do have to imitate each other pretty exactly.

If we've guessed the particular Canon you're thinking of, it was written in
the late 1600s by Johann Pachelbel.  Originally, he wrote it to be followed
by a Gigue (French spelling of Jig, as in Irish/Scottish), and wrote it for
three violins to play as the "round" voices, with accompaniment by bass
instruments (cello, bass, or similar) with a keyboard backup--in his time
this keyboard instrument was usually a harpsichord.

Pachelbel was writing a type of piece which was in fact quite common to
that period, where the three violins play their imitative music over what
is called an "ostinato" or "ground" bass line.  The bass instruments play
a short melody which begins the Canon and is in fact the "kernel" upon
which the violins first imitate, then expand and elaborate upon that melody
in turn.  Meanwhile, the bass continues to play the same short melody over
and over throughout the piece, which is why it's called an ostinato
(related to "obstinate":-).  In jazz, this same device is often called
a "riff".  So a modern name for the Canon might be "Triple Round over
a Riff"?

In any case, the piece has created a bad taste in many older classical
music lovers' mouths in recent years, because it has been so overplayed
that people tire of it easily.  That's no fault of the piece itself, which
is actually a very nicely done example of how this sort of music goes.
It hasn't helped that most of the time it's heard in a sort of sappy
"arrangement", with some of the stringed instruments plucking all the way
through, which Pachelbel never specified.  So if you want to hear it more,
try listening to one of the recordings of the Canon and Gigue which play it
in the form that Pachelbel originally wrote it, just the three violins and
bass.

BTW, for another neat example of a Canon in a similar style, there's one
from a composer who lived at the same time as Pachelbel, by the name of
Heinrich Biber.  Biber was said to have been familiar with the Canon, and
decided to out-do Pachelbel in this sort of music.  So within a set of
seven "Partias", or dance suites under the overall title of "Harmonia
Artificioso-Ariosa", there's a short dance piece called a Ciacona, which
he also subtitled "Canon in unisono".  It is for only two violins and bass,
but Biber wrote much more complex music for those violins, so that it
sounds like three or more of them playing at once.  Otherwise, it is built
up pretty much like the Pachelbel Canon, except that Biber's ending is much
quirkier and more sudden.

Hope this helps.

Bill H.

 [Bless you, Bill.  -Dave]

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