Pachelbel's Canon in D - Full Review - WKMT (2023)

Complete Review of Canon in D Major byjohann pachelbel.

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the piece is onetriple canonin unison, with a constantassessof two bars This means that eachreasonit is played three times, once on each of the three violins.

In fact, all three violins have essentially the same score.

Violin I begins first (bar 3), two bars later Violin II (bar 5), and two bars later Violin III (bar 7).

This means that each of them leads at some moments, while at others it follows them.

The canon is only interrupted in the last measure of the work, so that the three violins finish simultaneously.


The Strict Cannon, which Pachelbel chose to compose, not only allows the composer to foresee the form, but also requires him to plan ahead.

To create a structure that works, thecompositorhe chose texture and density as his main tool, since harmony could not be altered. Four bars show accelerated activity (Main reason) and for the next four bars, they fade into the background (Follow up). allCycleof 8 bars is a kind of inhalation and exhalation.

Also, cannonballing is a technique that requires moving on to new material once a cycle is complete. When all three violins have played a motif and its counter-motif, it is safe to say that the person's ear is saturated with that motif and yearns for something new.

However, almost all motifs have two simple elements in common that unite them.

Oeighth jumpIt's inneighbor note. This is Pachelbel's way of moving towards new materials, without losing consistency!

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Also, there are some rhythmic elements that appear, disappear and reappear.

Cycle 1 introduces the 16th note rhythm, which we hear again in Cycle 3. Likewise, Cycles 2 and 4 share the 16th and 16th note rhythm.

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This playful interweaving of rhythmic motifs makes it clear that the composer does not compose songs "on the fly", but must have planned them in advance.

In conclusion,For any type of composition, structure and consistency are essential.

The harmonic cadences that would mark the end of a Phrase are replaced here by processes of condensation and loss of texture to mark the end of a Cycle.

This option - to give it structure, relying less on harmony, and more on texture - is something that many contemporary composers can benefit from.

In other works, elements or entire motifs and ideas are free to return or be freely reinterpreted. In a canyon like this, the composer has to be very careful not to bore the audience and, at the same time, present a solid piece.

The solution given by Pachelbel are tiny elements, such asoctavo hopIt's inNeighborthat are repeated discreetly and creatively throughout the piece, and other rhythmic elements that unite some parts and distinguish them from others. All this gives the music the desired consistency, without boring the ears of the public.



The bass (usually cello) has only a 2-bar part, which defines the harmonic progression. The same two measures are repeated in a loop throughout the piece. It is, therefore, an element that the composer himself chose not to develop or even not be able to fundamentally alter.

It is interesting to mention that although the bass notes never change, the chords can be slightly reinterpreted. For example, until measure 16, the fourth chord is an F#m (III). In measure 17, however, the first violin plays D, so the chord is interpreted as D/F sharp (I6).

In the score all the consonants between the first violin and the bass are explained. They are mostly neighbors and passing notes.

Those in parentheses are consonants that can be considered non-harmonic.

In the first 25 measures the intervals between the bass and the first violin are given. Many "forbidden" ranges are revealed. So are the parallel fifths on beats 3 and 4 of bar 25 hiding in the background behind the busy Violins II and III.

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Another example is the parallel octaves between beats 3 and 4 at bar 20. Here, the dense melodic line hides the mistake.

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formal structure

EachCycleIt has a duration of eight bars, which is divided into two parts, theLeadIt's inFollow up(four bars each).

The Lead is divided in turn intoPrimary reasonIt's in secondary reason (Lead 1 and Lead 2 in the image below), each lasting two bars.

In practice, we always hear part of the soloist played on one of the violins.

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One of the main differences between Lead and Follow up is the use ofdissonances.

In the Main part we find various types of non-harmonic notes created from the various motifs of each Cycle.

On the other hand, the backing part has little to no non-harmonic notes, as it works as a “palate cleanser” so to speak.



bars 1-10they are essentially an introduction, the 'Opening the Curtain'.

measures 1-2define the 'scene' of the harmonic progression.

measures 3-6thicken the texture, introduce the character tools, using only "safe" intervals of 3, 5 and 8.

measures 7-10thicken the surface rhythm by adding occasional non-harmonic notes.

The passage ends with aleaning over(D-C# bar10), usually played with a trill. This characteristic appoggiatura initiates the first cycle.

Cycle 1 (red):

Measures 11-18

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Measures 11-12they are the main reason.

Here we see an acceleration of the superficial rhythm, using a constant rhythm ofsemicolcheias.

Oneighbor notemieighth jump, with which the motif enters, are two very characteristic elements that are repeated in this piece.

Measures 13-14. The First Violin now plays the Secondary Principal Motif, complementing the Primary Motif played by the Second Violin. The Primary is played, for the most part, below the Secondary, ensuring that the Secondary stays in the foreground.

Measures 15-18they are the end of the First Cycle, where the first violin introduces the first Accompanying Motif. He returns to the longer values ​​of quarter notes and eighth notes, while freely using the first elements of the Cycle (eighth jumpmineighbor note).

It is worth mentioning that, although the Accompaniment is in a high register, it does not "steal the limelight" from the Guide Melody, but rather is in the background. The composer achieves this through Rhythm. The shortest values, which require our attention, appear in the Lead.

Artists can take advantage of the foreground effect through dynamics by playing the Lead higher, but it is not necessary.

Cycle 2 (Blue):

Measures 19-26they are the most famous part.

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Measures 19-20enter the new reason.

This time, even shorter values ​​are used (sixteenth and sixteenth notes).

Standard pitch notes are used to connect structural notes, while special onesneighbormihopthey are rarely used.

There is a clever use of the octave jump in measure 19, which alters the register, creating two levels in the melody. This provides several effects, one of which is that Pachelbel captures the audience's attention by surprising it.

Measures 21-22. Following canon rules, second violin takes lead 1, while first violin moves to lead 2.

This Secondary Lead complements the Primary even more smoothly than the one in Cycle 1. We mainly look at double thirds, above and below. The two violins almost never go against each other in this Cycle and usually move in parallel.

Measures 23-26expose the gradual disappearance of the second reason. First Violin introduces the accompaniment, which is even more reserved than before.

Here we only see eighth notes in the strong parts of the beats first (23-24) and then in the weak parts (24-25).

We see the use of the octave jump once (bars 23-24)

It is worth mentioning that in the last two bars (24-25), the main melody on the third violin is not the primary, but the secondary/doubled thirds. It can still give the impression of a separate and independent motive.

Cycle 3 (Yellow):

Measures 27-34

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Measures 27-28. The composer uses the aforementionedneighbor notemieighth jumpto create this pattern. It is made, almost exclusively, of these two elements.

The result is a melody that constantly switches between two levels. Essentially they are two melodies that appear and disappear successively, creating holes in each quarter note. This is what we call oblique polyphony.

Note that Pachelbel only uses sixteenth notes, as in the First Cycle.

Measures 29-30these spaces are filled in in the first bar, while they are highlighted in the second.

In other words, in bar 29, violin I plays in the opposite range of violin II, constantly overlapping. By bar 30, Violin I is consistently a third or sixth above Violin II, doubling it and enhancing the contrast between the layers.

Barras 31-34.This is the only time the rhythm of the accompaniment is the same as the leader. However, constant sixteenth notes are repeated notes and therefore avoid dissonances.

It is very interesting to mention that, in marked contrast to the previous Cycle, in these last two measures (33-34) the Guide has moved to the Background, while the Accompaniment is rising to the Foreground.

Lead 2 was formed as a complement to Lead 1, without which it cannot compete with the accompaniment part of Violin I and II. The rising sixteenth notes of Violin I especially outshine Violin III and this is often exaggerated by acrescendofirst violin

Cycle 4 (purple):

Measures 35-42

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Measures 35-36. The Lead is related to previous Cycles.

This introduction shares the rhythm of the second cycle (eighth notes and sixteenth notes).
It also shares the constant octave jumps and other intervals with the third cycle.

Measures 37-38. As in Cycle 3, here the second part of Lead is initially played in opposite registers to Lead 1, while in the second half it moves in parallel.

Measures 39-42. The Accompaniment returns to the values ​​of the longest notes (quarter notes and eighth notes) reminiscent of the Accompaniment of the First Cycle.

The only dissonance is aleaning overat the end of the first half (measure 40).
Also, notice theeighth jumpat the beginning of the second half (measure 41).

Cycle 5 (orange):

Measures 43-46

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Measures 43-44begin with a new motif of a dotted eighth-eighth note rhythm and an ascendanteighth jump. Shortly after, on the second chord, we find what appears to be aneighbor note.

The second chord is conceptually a V7, so the F sharp of Violin I is a non-harmonic note, a delay that resolves to G. Through the lens of counterpoint, however, F sharp is a consonant, whereas G should be considered a neighbor note.

This is why the non-harmonic F# consonant is described in parentheses.

Measures 45-46. Lead 2 starts by doubling lead 1 by a third in the first half. Note that the three violins begin with aeighth jump.

In the second half (bar 46), the First Violin converses briefly with the Second.

Measures 47-50introduces a new accompaniment, which plays almost identical notes to the introduction, but uses suspensions as a variation. It consists mainly of a downward movement step by step.

Note that in measure 49, First Violin enters with aeighth jump. Thus, in this Cycle, there are at least two voices that initiate their jump motif.


Measures 51-57

In the last 8, theeighth jumpIt is a very prominent item.

The melodies are almost exclusively consonant and descending.

These last bars act as a decompression, a winding down of the melodic line to its simplest elements and towards the final cadence.

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