Monday, January 10, 2011

Music Monday ~ Pachelbel's Canon in D

What is it about Pachelbel's Canon in D that has endeared it to so many musicians and listeners during the past few decades, whereas for a couple of centuries or so after the composer's death it was ignored, virtually forgotten?

Maybe it's the fact that there are no copyright restrictions upon the piece. It can be used (and abused) free of licence and expense. Or maybe there's something a wee bit special about the chord structure that somehow linked it to late 20th century musical sensibilities. Maybe Pachelbel unknowlingly discovered a set of magical chords? I don't know. In fact I wasn't familiar with the piece at all until my husband mentioned it to me during a conversation about classical music used in popular mode.

(Note: the word canon has umpteen definitions. In music a canon is a contrapuntal (counterpoint) composition that employs a melody with one or more imitations of the melody played after a given duration.)

In its classical form Pachelbel's Canon in D is often used at weddings, especially here in the USA. It has featured in the soundtrack of several popular movies - the first of these probably Robert Redford's Ordinary People. From that point in the 1980s every musician and his dog started to play around with parts of Pachelbel's Canon. Artists as diverse as The Village People, Coolio, The Pet Shop Boys, The Farm have used its chords and themes. Snippets of the piece have been used in TV commercials. There's a very good web page HERE with lists of songs using or inspired by Pachelbel's Canon, and details of its use in movies, TV etc.

Johann Pachelbel composed this piece around 1680. He was then one of Germany's foremost organist-composers. Born in Nuremburg, baptized on 1 September 1653 indicating, possibly, his birth date having been in late August. Unfortunately no actual date of birth has ever been established. Any astrological investigation can be sketchy at best, but there might be something of interest even so.

Pachelbel, as with so many of his contemporaries, met with hardship and tragedy. He lost his first wife and baby son to the plague of 1683; fled from the invasion of Stuttgart by the French in 1692, settled in Nuremburg and re-maried. The couple had 7children, 2 of whom became muscians. Pachelbel died in March 1706, aged 52.

Chart below is set for 25 August 1653, one week earlier than his baptism.

I guess he could have been born a week or more earlier than this though, putting Sun in late Leo. In Pachelbel's case it's necessary to to concentrate only on the slower moving planets: Jupiter, Saturn, the outer planets, and perhaps Mars. These would have been in much the same position throughout the likely birth period of mid to late August. As it happens there's a configuration in the chart linking these slower-movers. It's made up of two oppositions linked by trines and sextiles. Astrologers call such a configuration a Mystic Rectangle.

Why such a configuration was given this name isn't clear. No astrologer I've read has ever claimed that it has any mystical connotations. There's a feeling of balance and harmonious stability from this configuration though. Interpretation will depend on the planets involved. In this case, Saturn-Jupiter opposition, Pluto-Mars/Uranus/Neptune opposition. Sextiles at the short sides of the rectangle, trines via the long sides. Here we have powerhouses in opposition, seeking balance - yet with an underlying harmony via the trines and sextiles. The symbols of both tradition (Saturn) and the avant garde (Uranus) are represented, along with creativity (Neptune) and publication to the masses (Jupiter). This astrological rectangle continues to distribute its mystical magic to the masses more than four centuries after it took part in the creation of Canon in D!

Four samples. Many more are listed at the link earlier in this post.

Mainz Chamber Orchestra & Gunter Kehr ~ Classical version:

A General electric advert from the 1980s.

Coolio with I'll C U When U Get There

The Farm with All Together Now (official song for the England Soccer Team's Euro 2004 campaign. Song reached number 5 in the UK charts that summer.)


Anonymous said...

Ha.. In the liner notes of Brian Eno's album "Ambient Music" he described how he was stuck in the hospital (motorcycle accident I think) and he was in casts and couldn't move. Someone came in with a record player and set up an LP with Canon in D for him, but they set it on the wrong speed, 16 1/6rpm. He said he sat there in for an hour in painkiller-induced somnolescence as the Canon played way too slow, like a parody of itself. So he made a whole album, starting with Canon in D slowed down like 100x. And the genre of ambient music was invented.

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~~~ Hi! Thank you for that additional tidbit. It's a very nice addition to the information available on the "evolution" of Canon in D.

I think Pachelbel would be amazed - and proud!