What's wrong with Pachelbel's Canon?

December 2, 2004 at 08:22 AM · I've always loved Pachelbel's Canon. A few weeks ago I downloaded the score and started fooling around with it. When my teacher found out all he could do was laugh (at me, not with me). My question is...what's wrong with Pachelbel's Canon? Maybe he thinks it's overdone? too simple? not serious music? I guess having him play a part is out of the question!

Replies (42)

December 2, 2004 at 03:07 PM · Heck, nothing's wrong with it. I was taught it by my teacher (admittedly, I was fairly young). I've played it in several weddings, too. I do find it a bit overplayed and hackneyed now, but that's just because it's so popular (esp. for things like weddings). I suppose it may count as a bit old-fashioned, now, as well. I but I still maintain that there's nothing funny about learning it. If you ever do weddings, someone will ask you to play it eventually (that and Trumpet Voluntary).

December 2, 2004 at 03:08 PM · There's nothing wrong with it. It's a beautiful work that everyone can appreciate...

...but because of that, many of us have just heard it a little too often and then it becomes cliched...a pity...

December 2, 2004 at 03:10 PM · Instead of laughing at it, we musicians should embrace it as a tradition, rather than a cliche!

December 2, 2004 at 03:15 PM · Overplayed is right. It is one of the same hundred pieces that classical music stations play over and over again. There is nothing wrong with it; it is a beautiful piece. However, the failure of the radio stations to play music that is more challenging than the usual hundred results, IMHO, in people having a taste for what is becoming the "muzak" of classical music. That's my whine for the day.

December 2, 2004 at 03:21 PM · It's one of the most brilliant pieces ever written. If you study the form you'll realize that's its not just a canon.

I like the idea of thinking of it as a tradition (for weddings), but it's really difficult after 600 times.

December 2, 2004 at 03:31 PM · I've never particularly liked it, but I've been asked to play it so many times that even hearing the first few notes inspire nausea...


December 2, 2004 at 03:32 PM · When someone is willing to pay me to play this piece at a wedding, I don't complain. It is short and simple, and the money flows in!

December 2, 2004 at 03:44 PM · It does inspire nausea once in a while, but the "Taco Bell Cannon" (as an old quartet mate always described it) is great music, which is why it's overplayed in the first place...

December 2, 2004 at 04:37 PM · I used to hate it until I discoverd that it is an great piece to improvise to. Try it - it is fun!

December 2, 2004 at 09:42 PM · Well, it's just kind of annoying...in the same way that the Moonlight Sonata, Fur Elise, and Rondo Alla Turca are- they're beautiful, but when everyone on Planet Earth has heard them 16,386 times it gets a little, um, old.

December 2, 2004 at 09:49 PM · Daniel, I'm wondering whether your teacher was laughing for the reason you think he was (although I guess it's a plausible reason, as mentioned above). How long have you been playing? I ask because many of my 'early stages' students aspire to play the Canon above all pieces, and often they try to approach it way before they are capable of playing That Bit (you probably know the fast section I'm referring to).

December 2, 2004 at 09:57 PM · I don't find anything wrong with Canon in D. Infact, I play it on both violin and piano, and I love it. Maybe it's just other poeple's opinions on it, but it's not a song to laugh at (unless someone's playing it so badly no one has any choice but to laugh).

December 2, 2004 at 09:58 PM · Hey, we're talking about the Pach-Man's greatest hit here.

Just don't forget that no collection of the Canon is complete without the Vitamin C version.

December 2, 2004 at 10:04 PM · what version?

December 2, 2004 at 10:14 PM · How many variations and spin-offs exist by now, I wonder? One of the choirs I'm in is singing a variation of "The First Noel" that has the Pachelbel Canon as backdrop introduced by piano, the choir comes in with "The First Noel" and at some point "that bit" becomes the choir melody before morphing back into the Christmas song. There must be dozens of similar things floating about. There is also some mood music I picked up a few years ago that consists of the first "sentence" over and over again for 15 minutes, with increasingly complex harmonies going back to unison to the word "Alleluhiah" over and over again. I suppose it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous.

December 3, 2004 at 12:44 AM · well i dont much care for it, its so ridiculously simple and repetative and people love to pretend that its profound and ever so beautiful. i dont know, maybe i'm biased.

December 3, 2004 at 01:01 AM · Nice piece it's a good piece to give someone who's never heard classical music before something to start on but when you play for weddings and various other things and all you ever get asked to play is the canon, it gets tiring when you have to play it all the time and in terms of the "greatness" (I realise this can be a rather personal thing) I don't consider it to be anywhere's near the works of Bach and Beethoven.

December 3, 2004 at 01:19 AM · I think Kelsey's point's important; for people who have less experience of hearing classical music, the Canon is often one of the key pieces they recognise. My adult beginners will say 'I never listen to classical music and know nothing about it', and I'll play the opening of the Canon, or Beethoven's 5th, or that irritating little Bach minuet, and they'll reply, 'Oh yes, I know that.' Classical music, like many other art forms, is an acquired taste. Without putting too fine a point on it, I think teachers need to be sensitive when dealing with students who are just venturing into the genre.

December 3, 2004 at 01:36 AM · sounds like a new variation of it is in order.

composers mobilize!

December 3, 2004 at 02:11 AM · There is a Cd titled Pachelbel's Greatest Hit: The Ultimate Canon that has some interesting takes. Personally I really like Wynton Marsalis' version.

Christian: Vitamin C is Colleen Fitzpatrick, formerly of Eve's Plum. The last track in her first CD is titled Graduation and is sort of a Hip-Hop-ish version. I'm a little surprised no one else has commented on this one.

December 3, 2004 at 02:23 AM · my violin teacher has all of us--her students--play Pachelbel's Canon at the close of every annual chamber music winter concert that we throw. she LOVES it. and, simply put, it's beautiful. however, we long term classical players look on it sometimes as the jazz world would look at Kenny G; it's nice sounding but it's commercial. it's the nice, familiar, piece that gets played at weddings - keeping the Canon company are pieces like Massenet's Meditation. it is a very nice piece, the Canon, it's just easy to feel that it is overplayed. that's why it gets attached to some negative sentiment from professionals.

December 3, 2004 at 02:30 AM · I know that every year my seventh grade students always ask me if we can play the Canon. They've heard the Capongegro arrangment for young string orchestra so I like to show them the actual music and then they want to play it because it looks "hard". I play it myself on average about ten times a month due to its popularity at weddings, usually for either the bridesmaids or the bride, and its great for something like that. Awhile back it was used as the background music for some sort of "rehab" commercial...you know, the "its never too late to get help..." type of commercial. I would much rather hear it at weddings.

December 3, 2004 at 02:44 AM · A fun arrangment of the Pachelbel Canon with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg in the quintet, although as you will later find out, you don't get to hear much from her :)


December 3, 2004 at 02:43 AM · I've played a couple different arrangements of the Canon for string quartet and trio, for weddings and receptions. 'Tis true; it is overplayed, generally, though some versions are nicer than others.

Especially, several years back, I remember hearing a version of the Canon played on the radio that really caught my attention! It was played on period instruments, and at an invigoratingly faster tempo. A couple friends and I played it as a string trio during a reception for the LA Phil's sponsors, but, just for kicks, we tried it at that faster tempo. What fun! It certainly brought a refreshing wind into that old piece! And, of course, it was a hit with the audience. =)

December 3, 2004 at 04:07 AM · I've heard the most ghastly recording by Leppard...

December 3, 2004 at 04:56 AM · Greetings,

changing spots is easy, changing position hard?



December 3, 2004 at 06:00 AM · It's actually just major/minor arpeggios, but geniously arranged ones at that.

It is overplayed, but it doesnt make the song bad. It's unfortunate that such a song could be ruined.

December 3, 2004 at 08:11 AM · I'm sure it would sound quite different when sung...


December 3, 2004 at 08:28 AM · Here's a couple of good reasons to be friendly to the Pachabel. If you've played in more than one wedding, you have inevitably discovered that even if by some miracle you did actually get to run through the timing of the processional, it is practically guaranteed that you will be caught about 6-26 bars off course from the original destination during the actual performance. The bride may choose to speed-walk instead of stroll, the flower girl might throw the entire basket and turn the opposite direction of the front of the chuch, or the wedding coordinator may cue you to begin when the grandmothers are to be seated instead of when the bride walks. (All of the above have happened to me.)

Here's where the Canon comes in handy. Whether you need eight bars or eighty, you can feel confident that you can come to a closure within 5 seconds of the designated cutoff. You can edit the heck out of it, make it easy or difficult, include only the variations you like, and if things get really sour and you have no idea what is going on, you can improvise. You can tweak the tempo, as it has been played at just about every one imaginable. You can solo on the violin, use piano accompaniment, arrange it for duet, trio, or quartet. It is the ultimate multi-tasker of wedding processionals. Most soon-to-be brides who haven't a clue about classical music recognize and love Canon in D. If you can play this piece, paired with Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring by Bach (which has similar miraculous properties),you are on your way to becoming a professional wedding musician.

December 3, 2004 at 08:36 AM · Sue - highly unlikely ;), I started the violin when I was 8 - now I'm almost 19. But the opposite might be true - perhaps he thinks I'm "above" it.

December 3, 2004 at 09:39 AM · To take this example to the extreme, consider his reaction to "Twinkle twinkle"

December 3, 2004 at 11:04 AM · I think Pachelbel's Canon has a BEAUTIFUL melody and is very well put together, despite that crazy clip (grr). (nah, that was pretty funny) Yeah, it could use some more variety - especially the bowing, but I think you guys are being overly critical. As far as it being overdone, that's just because of it's appeal. The fact that so many people do enjoy it proves in itself that it's good music. What other purpose does music have other than to be enjoyed?

December 3, 2004 at 11:07 AM · Maybe I'll play "The Lark Ascending" instead. Would that be considered classier? I guess it doesn't matter - I won't need anybody else to play it.

December 3, 2004 at 03:01 PM · Daniel,

I'm afraid that when it comes to music, mass appeal is no guarantee of quality. Often the opposite is true.


December 3, 2004 at 03:57 PM · Owen,

The reason that it is "so rediculously simple" is because there was a genious at work behind it's creation. It sounds simple and feels simple under the fingers and ensemble wise, but really, it is a highly complex and beautifully constructed work of art.

I mean, it's not Bach's "Art of the Fugue", and neither should it be seriously compared to it, but it's really quite a gem.

Very overplayed, but IMHO, it does attest to it's quality, in this case.


December 4, 2004 at 12:15 AM · Sue- you might have a point there, that maybe your teacher was laughing for a different reason. After all, my teacher laughed at me when I asked her if I was able to play the Vivaldi Four Seasons when I had only been playing for a year and a half or something. I hate it when your teacher laughs at you, though!

December 4, 2004 at 12:25 AM · Lol, Daniel... Perhaps after having played for as long as you have, your teacher felt it was safe to betray a little classical snobbery! That's what it is, I think, but not because it's a bad or cheesy piece - it's just been so well (over?)-marketed by the Lite Classics industry, it's gained something of a Bondesque reputation.

Candace, your anecdote reminded me of taking Intro and Rondo along to my lesson when I was - ooh, around Grade 6 level - and my teacher blatantly snorting in my face:) The look on her face stays in my memory, which is perhaps why I try to be kind when my students bring along pipe-dream music.

December 4, 2004 at 05:41 AM · I dont know if i'd call it genius, its a clever canon to be sure but not all that complex in the end, and more clever in the mathmatical sense than the musical.

December 4, 2004 at 06:10 PM · Yes, Sue, from all the violin students in the world: we will love you dearly if you refrain from laughter or any other like gesture when we bring you the Paganini concerto to play...in our 6th month of playing...

December 27, 2004 at 12:02 AM · I LOVE Pachelbel's Canon!! It used to be my favorite song, in fact. It's still up there on the list. :) Part of what I love about it is the fact that there are so many variations, and they all sound perfect with each other, so it's easy to improvise. In all seriousness, I've performed it while making it up as I go along! Even if it is a little overused...

December 27, 2004 at 12:22 AM · Hmm, not sure if all the variations sound perfect with each other... one of my students downloaded a version for violin and piano from the internet, and it was pretty awful... and it wasn't just that it was avoiding third position, it was just awful, period.

December 27, 2004 at 01:04 AM · In responce to Carl's comment about singing the Canon, at my 11th birthday party, we were making s'mors and started improvining a 4 part vocal version of the canon all about s'mors...

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