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Pachelbel's Canon (also known as Canon in D major, or, more formally, Canon and Gigue in D major for three Violins and Basso Continuo (Kanon und Gigue in D-Dur für drei Violinen und Basso Continuo)) is the most famous piece of music by Johann Pachelbel. It was written in or around 1680, during the Baroque period, as a piece of chamber music for three violins and basso continuo, but has since been arranged for a wide variety of ensembles. The Canon was originally paired with a gigue in the same key, although this composition is rarely performed or recorded today. It is well known for its chord progression, which has become one of the most used in popular music.
The piece is commonly played at weddings and is frequently present on miscellaneous classical music compilation CDs, along with other famous Baroque pieces such as Air on the G String by J. S. Bach, (BWV 1068). A non-original viola pizzicato part is also commonly added (in a string orchestra or quartet setting) when a harpsichord player is not used to improvise harmonies over the bass line. Comedian Rob Paravonian jokes in his Pachelbel Rant  that the Canon makes Pachelbel the original one-hit wonder.
The same two-bar bass line and harmonic sequence is repeated over and over, about 30 times in total. The chords of this sequence are: D major (tonic), A major (dominant), B minor (tonic parallel or submediant — the relative minor tonic), F♯ minor (dominant parallel or mediant — the relative minor dominant), G major (subdominant), D major (tonic), G major (subdominant), and A major (dominant). This sequence (or rather, close imitations of it) appears elsewhere in the classical body of work. Handel used it for the main theme and all variations thereof throughout the second movement of his Organ Concerto No. 11 in G minor, HWV 310. Mozart employed it for a passage in Die Zauberflöte (1791), at the moment where the Three Youths first appear. He may have learned the sequence from Haydn, who had used it in the minuet of his string quartet Opus 50 No. 2, composed in 1785. Neither Handel's, nor Haydn's, nor Mozart's passage is an exact harmonic match to Pachelbel's, the latter two both deviating in the last two bars, and may in fact have arisen more prosaically from one of the more obvious harmonisations of a descending major scale. For parallels in popular music, see below.
The actual canon is played over the ground bass by the violins. In the beginning, the first violin plays the first two bars of the canon's melody. At this point, the second violin enters with the beginning of the melody, whilst the first violin continues with the next two bars of the canon. Then the third violin commences the canon, whilst the second violin plays the third and fourth bars and the first violin continues with the fifth and sixth. The three violin parts then follow one another at two bars' distance until the end of the piece. The canon becomes increasingly dense towards the middle of the piece as the note values become shorter (first in the first violin, then in the second, and finally in the third violin). Afterwards, the piece gradually returns to a less complex structure as the note values lengthen once more. There are some 28 repetitions of the ground bass in total. The canon is relatively simple and does not make use of any advanced counterpoint devices such as inversion, augmentation, diminution, etc.
It is often seen to be a set of variations over a ground bass or chord progression, like various composers' variations on La Folia (many of which also date from the Baroque period), whereas it is actually a true canon at the unison over a ground bass, as can be seen above. In this regard it is similar to the 13th century round Sumer Is Icumen In.
 Modern adaptations
One of the all-time top ten most watched videos on YouTube is guitar, which has been viewed over 30 million times. Posted online in December 2005, it consists of a rock music version of Pachelbel's Canon performed on electric guitar by a young man wearing a baseball cap. Since the guitarist's face cannot be seen and he is named only as funtwo in the video, there was speculation about his identity during the first half of 2006. The guitarist has since been named as Jeong-Hyun Lim, a 23-year old from South Korea who had taught himself to play. The arrangement used in the video was written by the Taiwanese guitarist JerryC and is called "Canon Rock". Jeong-Hyun Lim's version of the song has received widespread media coverage.
The popularity of this video has in itself spawned hundreds of imitators, which eventually led to the creation of an Ultimate Canon Rock video featuring a compilation of the best interpretations.
Comedian Rob Paravonian has a routine where he performs several popular rock songs spanning several genres that all follow the same progression in mock criticism of unoriginal songwriting. The video has become a YouTube hit.
|Canon in D (Pachelbel's Canon) (arrangement for solo piano)|
|Performed by Lee Galloway, www.leegalloway.com. Note that this arrangement is not exactly a canon like the original composition.|
|A version in canon|
|The canon played in canon throughout.|