Canon and Gigue in D
by Johann Pachelbel [playing time 6:26]  [Download the MP3]

Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)

Popular today for his Canon in D, Pachelbel also enjoyed great popularity during his lifetime. After the personal tragedy of losing his wife and son to the plague in 1683, he remarried and two of his sons went on to become minor composers in their own right. Pachelbel wrote several hundred works, mostly for use in the church, including many chorales and fugues. They are by and large quite accessible, both to the ear and in their modest technical demands on the performer.

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Pachelbel Canon and Gigue in D by Jeffrey C. Hall is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Johann Pachelbel has emerged, in the past 30 years or so, from obscurity to international renown as the composer of arguably the most popular work in the classical repertoire, and here it is. My realization includes the now-immortal canon, as well as the brief, much less frequently heard gigue that follows it. Ironically, this work with which Pachelbel is forever linked is atypical of his output.

The first part of the work is a strict three-part canon heard over a two-bar ground that is repeated 28 times. Here's the ground, which you'll hear by itself at the outset.

(You can listen to and read about a number of other canons on this site. For a discussion about canons and grounds, see my realization of Bach's Fourteen Canons on the Goldberg Ground. Hear a mighty treatment of an eight-bar ground in Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor. My performance of the minimalist work In C by Terry Riley, is essentially a 50-minute canon. And for the last word in canonic rigor, try the various canons of The Art of Fugue, by Bach.)

The three parts of the canon follow one another at two bar intervals, harmonizing throughout with the ground. Here is the score, starting immediately after the first statement of the ground.

Pachelbel arranges the "variations" in the canonic line to create steadily building intensity (0:00 through 2:00), gradual relaxation in figures that sweep back and forth like waves (2:00 through 2:30) or in a gentle pulse (2:30 through 2:50), slowly returning energy (2:50 through 3:30), and a stately conclusion (3:30 through 4:48). The gigue that follows has canonic elements (listen to the initial lines in each of the upper three parts in both the A and B sections), but Pachelbel here sacrifices strict canon in favor of a jolly dance to conclude the work.

In this realization, I have used EWQLSO strings and Roland SRX-06 flute organs, bringing them in and dropping them out to highlight the canon as it weaves its way above the ground.

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