Inside Pachelbel's "Canon in D"

Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” is one of the most famous pieces of classical music of all time and has been performed at thousands of wedding ceremonies.

Is it a good choice for your wedding ceremony? Read on, learn and find out more.

Why is Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” a good choice for weddings?

1. People are familiar with it. As soon as you hear it, you think weddings.

2. For a processional, it is long and can accommodate a large Bridal Party or the Bridal Party and Bride. It is a more relaxed processional compared to Wagner’s “Wedding March” (Here Comes The Bride), which is more of a big fanfare type of piece.

3. Due to the repetitiveness of the piece, it is easy to end it somewhere in the middle.

Why is Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” NOT SUCH A  GOOD choice for wedding ceremonies?

1. Same reason as above, People are familiar with it…maybe too familiar with it! If you don’t want your wedding ceremony music to be the same as everyone else’s wedding, don’t use Canon in D as your processional. The main complaint of all the standard wedding ceremony music is that they are tired and overused…the same old, same old. Your guests will tune out and wait for the ceremony to be over.

2. Most wedding musicians are really tired of playing it, especially cellists who have to play the same 8 measures over and over.

For an elegant option, listen to “Rose Petals” from “A Wedding By The Lake.” It has a similar vibe as “Canon in D” but it is new, fresh and beautiful. It is perfect for a wedding processional for the Bridal Party or Bridal Party and Bride. You can use the recorded music or purchase sheet music for a string quartet, trio or duo; flute, piano and many other combinations. It is easy to add some live music to your wedding ceremony.

Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) was a German composer during the Baroque period of music. He wrote more than 500 pieces over his lifetime and was a prolific organist in his hometown of Nuremberg. His music influenced Mozart, Haydn and Handel.

Pachelbel's "Canon in D" (Kanon in D) is one of the most famous pieces of classical music of all times and has been recorded by many musicians and has been standard wedding fare for many years. It was composed around 1680 (first published in 1919) and was scored for three violins and a cello. (The instruments and musical notation back then were slightly different than they are today but this is the general idea.)

"Canon in D" is an eight bar chord progression repeated 28 times. Actually, the cello part (Originally Basso Continuo) is repeated 28 times while the three violins (in true canonical fashion) interweave the melody and harmonies above it. The repeated 8 measure bass line (cello) solidifies the repeated harmonic structure, which actually makes "Canon in D" a chaconne, another Baroque musical form. (If you would like more technical information on baroque music form and notation, see the links below.) There are many arrangements and recordings of "Canon in D."

So, what is a Canon or Kanon? It is a piece of music that is similar to the type of music called a round which is very popular for sing-a-longs. Some rounds you probably know are: “Row Row Row Your Boat,” “Scotland’s Burning,” “Frere Jacques” and “Three Blind Mice.” One part starts out and then the second part joins in imitating the first melody a few bars later, followed by a third or fourth part. It is a good way to teach young singers how to sing in harmony and independently of other parts.

The “Canon in D” became really popular in the1970s, after French conductor Jean-François Paillard made a recording. Since then, the music has been recorded hundreds of times, and the iconic harmony has made its way into pop songs, films, and many weddings. Many pop songs use the simple chord progression like “Let It Be” (Beatles), “Hook” (Blues Traveler), “No Woman, No Cry” (Bob Marley), “Cryin'” (Aerosmith), “With or Without You” (U2), “Push” (Matchbox 20), “We're Not Gonna Take It” (Twisted Sister), “Sk8er Boi” (Avril Lavigne) and “Basket Case” by Green Day.

Listen to the piano version of “Rose Petals.”

I hope this give you some insight for music for your wedding ceremony. Have fun and good luck!

R.J. Mitchell, Composer

Purchase CDs, Mp3 and Sheet Music.

Learn more about Canon in D.

Get more information on basso continuo and figured bass.

Learn about the chaconne.