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Who Is Pachelbel?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
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  • Last Modified Date: 31 March 2014
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It is likely that more people are familiar with the piece of music called Pachelbel’s Canon, also known as the Canon in D, than know the full name or anything of the history of the composer, Johann Pachelbel. Written in 1680, it is still a very popular piece at weddings, and has been the subject of a wide range of interpretations, not to mention parodies, all of which keeps the seventeenth century composer's name alive in the 21st century.

Pachelbel was born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1653. Showing exceptional talent as a child, Pachelbel studied music at the University of Altdorf. However, he had to leave due to economic hardship, and became a scholarship student at the Regensburg Gymnasium Poeticum. In his extracurricular studies, he was exposed to Italian Baroque music, which was also extremely popular in Vienna, where he moved in 1673, when his schooling was done.

In Vienna, Pachelbel became a deputy organist at Saint Stephen Cathedral. His time in Vienna expanded his knowledge of church music from the Lutheran tradition in which he was raised to include knowledge of Catholic composers from both Italy and southern Germany and their styles.

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Pachelbel became court organist in Eisenach in 1677, but with the death of his patron's brother only a year later, he lost his position, as the family focused on mourning rather than the arts. They remained on good terms, however, and Pachelbel went to Erfurt to become organist at Lutheran Preacher's Church. In his twelve-year tenure there, his reputation as one of the premiere organ composers of his day was established. During this time he also married, became a widower, and married again.

Pachelbel next spent two years in Stuttgart as musician and organist, and—driven out by a French invasion—subsequently took a position in Gotha, where he stayed for two years, from 1692 to 1694. It is possible that he met Johann Sebastian Bach, a child at the time, at a wedding during this period. When the organist at Saint Sebald in Nuremberg died in 1695, Pachelbel was invited to replace him and released from Gotha to do so. He died in Nuremberg in 1706.

During his lifetime, Pachelbel was most well-known as an organ composer, and he wrote more than 200 and many vocal works as well. It was during the 1970s that his work, Canon in D Major experienced an enormous resurgence in popularity that has continued to this day. There are still dozens of recordings available, both in traditional style and with myriad adaptations and arrangements.

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Discuss this Article

TreeMan
Post 6

@titans62 - I think one of the first viral videos on Youtube was someone playing Pachelbel's Canon like a metal song. It was called Pachelbel Rock, I believe.

There is also a comedian named Rob Paravonian who sings and plays the guitar during his shows. His most famous act is called the Pachelbel rant where he talks about how a lot of modern songs are all based off of the same chords that Pachelbel used in his canon.

Besides that, there have been a lot of commercials that used the song to make a serene setting.

titans62
Post 5

@Izzy78 - Oddly enough, I was reading an article about Pachelbel's Canon a few days ago.

It actually got "lost" in the musical world for a couple hundred years until it was found and published in the early 1900s. After that, it started gaining popularity and getting played at weddings and other events like the article mentioned.

I'm not sure if there was some sort of occasion in the 70s that caused it to become more famous. I didn't read anything about that.

Today, there are a lot of viral videos of people playing versions of the song on different instruments.

Izzy78
Post 4

@Emilski - I listen to quite a bit of classical music when I am studying or surfing the internet. I have to say, I don't know of anything Pachelbel wrote besides Canon in D.

I'm sure he wrote a lot of fine music, that's just the only thing that lasted until the modern era.

What I'm curious about is what in the 1970s caused Canon to get more popular? Was it featured in a commercial or something? It seems like it's here to stay now. I'd be surprised to find someone who didn't know the melody.

starrynight
Post 3

I think it's really awesome that Pachelbel actually experienced success in his lifetime. I feel like a lot of really famous classical composers and artists only get famous posthumously!

I'm wondering if one of the reasons Pachelbel was well-known during his lifetime is because he composed a lot of church music. I know religion used to be a large part of public life.

Also, I read somewhere that Pachelbel's compositions were more accessible to the average person. A lot of the accompaniments to his organ music could be played on regular household instruments. Also, many of his organ pieces didn't require use of the foot pedals!

Emilski
Post 2

Any time I read about a classical composer, I always think it is amazing how many songs they wrote. Of course, a lot of their music was commissioned for various occasions, but very few bands or artists write 200 songs over their existence in today's world.

Pachelbel only lived to be 53 which makes it all the more impressive.

Besides Canon in D, are there any more songs that Pachelbel wrote that the average person would have heard before?

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