Canon in D

Category: Baroque Music
Writer: Frankie Chan
Canon in D, one of the most widely known classical music pieces of contemporary times, is composed by German composer Johann Pachelbel. The original version of Canon in D is composed for three violins, accompanied by one (or more) bass instrument(s). Over time, the piece has been arranged into various versions, such as piano solo and orchestral versions. The exact date of its composition is not recorded but it is generally believed to be composed between 1680-1706.

The Rise of Canon in D (with audio links)

  • 1680-1706, the Canon in D was composed by the German composer Johann Pachelbel.
  • 1919, it was first documented in academic article which written by German historian Gustav Beckmann.
  • 1940, the first recording of Canon in D was made under the direction of American conductor Arthur Fiedler - Pachelbel's Canon (Arthur Fiedler, 1940).
  • 1968, a famous recording was made under the direction of French conductor Jean-François Paillard. This arrangement and interpretation of Canon in D greatly changed its fate and brought it to the attention of the public - Jean-François Paillard, Pachelbel Canon in D major.
  • 1980, it was used as the main theme for the American movie "Ordinary People", and its popularity grew as audiences in Europe and the United States tried to identify the music. It then widely spread in Europe and America and gradually to other regions - Johan Pachelbel - Canon In D Major - OFFICIAL "Ordinary People" Version.
  • 2001, it was used as a soundtrack for the South Korean film "My Sassy Girl". The success of the film helped to the widespread popularity of Canon in D (especially in Asia) and it became one of the most widely known classical music of contemporary times - My Sassy Girl (Korean) Piano Scene - Canon.

Composing Techniques

Canon in D is mainly composed of two composing techniques: the "Canon" created by 3 violins, and the "Basso Ostinato" created by the bass instrument(s). The title "Canon in D" mainly refers to the "Canon" which created by the violins.

Pachelbel's Canon

Pachelbel's Canon. Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Canon means different voices play the same melody but starting at different time-spots, resulting an overlapped and intertwined effect. It's a typical example of polyphonic music, meaning that the notes in each voice can be regarded as melody and harmony, creating a unique musical texture.

Basso Ostinato

Basso Ostinato is a repeating bass-melodic-line in a piece of music. It is often used as an introduction, and is repeated throughout the piece until the end. The basso ostinato of Canon in D is made up of 8 notes (D-A-B-F#-G-D-G-A). It is known as the Romanesca Sequence, which was popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, often used in church music.

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Contributing Writer(s)

Frankie Chan

Frankie Chan

California Baptist University (US), Hong Kong Baptist University
Violin, Western Music Theory


Classic FM. (24 May, 2019). How did Pachelbel’s Canon in D become the most popular wedding song?. Retrieved 26 January, 2023 from

Galaxy Music Notes. [n.d.]. Learn About "Canon and Gigue in D" by the Baroque Composer Johann Pachelbel. Retrieved 26 January, 2023 from

Johann Pachelbel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved 26 January, 2023 from

Levine, Alexandra S. (9 May, 2019). "How 'Canon in D Major' Became the Wedding Song". Retrieved 26 January, 2023 from

Schwarm, B. (16 May, 2020). Pachelbel’s CanonEncyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 26 January, 2023 from

Ludwig van Beethoven

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Beethoven's music inherited the artistic atmosphere of Haydn and Mozart, penetrated the desire for dignity, vented the anger tortured by fate, and demonstrated his determination to fight with fate.

Compared to other musicians, Beethoven is effectively to interact the philosophy of life with audience through music. Although he was not a romantic, he had become the object followed by other romantics.

As a musician, Beethoven suffered from ear diseases. However, he was unwilling to succumb to fate, vowing to take fate by the throat, and continue to complete his career. In the last ten years of his life, without hearing any sound, his compositions influenced the development of music for nearly two hundred years.

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G Song by Terry Riley

As an iconic American composer, Terry Riley (born 1935) is always considered as a minimalist. However, this kind of thoughts would be ignoring part of his creativity. In fact, Riley added plenty elements in his compositions since 1970s, especially when he started collaborating with the Kronos Quartet. Riley's composing style is very extensive, including improvisation, polyrhythm and jazz. He adopted classical elements, such as instrumentation, musical forms, structure and tonality. He also combined the elements from different periods to create unique musical textures. This research focuses on Terry Riley’s String Quartet, G Song. The research will be divided into two parts. The first part introduces Riley’s life and the background of G Song. The second part focuses on music analysis, including the musical structure "Two forms in one work"; The harmony "Unresolved Dissonance"; The rhythm "Metric Modulation"; The baroque "Canon"; The modern "Pointillism". The purpose of this study is to discuss how Riley combined classicism and modernism into a work, and discuss why the statement "Terry Riley is considered as minimalist" would be ignoring part of his story.
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