How many weddings have you been to where you haven’t heard Pachelbel’s Canon in D? Ever wonder how this piece got to be so famous?
Chances are, you probably heard the Pachelbel Canon in D in almost every wedding you’ve attended. It is one of the most frequently used pieces of classical music. But the Canon begins in obscurity. After all, it was only a ‘canon’—a common but not especially remarkable form of music used at social gatherings primarily in the 15th century (well before Pachelbel’s time).
Like most other Baroque era music, it may have been enjoyed by the people of its day but had been long forgotten until being rediscovered in the early 1900s.
Obscurity to prominence
Johann Pachelbel was a German composer who lived from 1653-1706. He was one of the great organist-composers of his day and his church music remains very highly regarded. Sadly, most of his music has been lost.
The Canon in D is insignificant by comparison to his larger sacred works. It’s not the piece he likely would have chosen to become his most famous work, let alone one of the most well-known pieces of classical music! Nevertheless, that’s exactly what it has become.
Pachelbel wrote this piece near the end of the Baroque era, probably around 1680 (though some sources think it was 1700). It was originally written as a short chamber work, to be played by three violins and a basso continuo to be played at a tempo much faster than today’s performances.
After being rediscovered, the Canon (with its accompanying Gigue) was published in a 1919 scholarly article by Gustav Beckmann. It was published as sheet music a few years later in 1925. Arthur Fiedler, founder of the Boston Pops orchestra, recorded it in 1940, but it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that it started showing up in recordings and becoming truly well-known.
What seems to have really launched the Canon’s popularity was its discovery by Hollywood when it was used as the theme to the 1980 film “Ordinary People”.
Its charming grace makes it a favorite today for mainstream uses of classical music, including compilation CDs and weddings. Especially weddings.
Where does it get its appeal?
There are several reasons why the Canon in D is so appealing.
First is its sheer simplicity—it is very simple but yet very elegant. The melody repeats continuously. It is very easy to listen to, being harmonious throughout, charming, and with a memorable lyrical quality.
Second, many people have an emotional attachment to the piece because of its popularity and its use where emotions run high (such as weddings). Many use this attachment as the basis for including it in their own weddings (see below).
Third, it’s about the only piece of classical music that many, including brides, can recognize and name. That makes it a safe choice when searching for music.
Fourth, it’s musical style is such that it can be repeated over and over … and over again, yet ended at nearly any time. This is convenient when there’s an unexpected need for extra music, such as in weddings when the bridal party is delayed.
The Canon and you
While the Pachelbel Canon in D is certainly a beautiful work and has countless arrangements making it very flexible, it is overused. Not just overused, incredibly overused.
Wedding Music Unveiled recommends against it because of this. Music that is overused diminishes the personal nature of your wedding music by making it common with the music of so many other weddings. It’s too bad because it really is a nice piece of music for weddings.
If you are considering the Canon for your wedding, here’s a challenge. Try to find another piece of music, just as beautiful, that would express your wedding joy in a more personal way (a way not shared with tens or hundreds of thousands of other weddings each year). Classical music has hundreds of beautiful, melodic pieces that would work well for weddings. Many of these works may appeal to you and allow you music as unique as you.
The Canon is otherwise a very wonderful choice for a wedding. Many feel a special connection to this piece which is exactly what Wedding Music Unveiled recommends for your wedding music—this is what best expresses your joy. Except when everyone else is expressing the same thing. It’s like having a favorite song that gets overplayed and loses its appeal.
What are your thoughts
Leave a comment to let us know what you think about the Pachelbel Canon in D. Your comments are always welcome and appreciated!
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