THE HISTORY AND EXPLANATION OF CANON IN D
A canon is a compositional technique that employs a melody with one or more imitations of the
melody played after a given duration (e.g., quarter rest, one measure, etc.). The initial melody
is called the leader (or dux), while the imitative melody, which is played in a different group of
identical instruments or voices (or voice, is called the follower (or comes). The follower must
imitate the leader, either as an exact replication of its rhythms and intervals or some version of.
Repeating canons in which all voices are musically identical are called rounds – as in popular
examples, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Frère Jacques”.
An example of a canon in sheet music:
Notice how the example shows 3 “voices”; 2 beats apart.
The earliest known canons are English rounds, a form called rondellus starting in the 14th
century. In the 14th century many canons were written in Italy under the name caccia, and
occasionally French chansons of that period used canon technique.
The most familiar of the canons is the perpetual/infinite canon or round. Additional types include
the spiral canon, accompanied canon, and double or triple canon.
A popular, famous canon favorite includes; Pachelbel’s Canon; by German Baroque
composer Johann Pachelbel. It was originally scored for three violins and basso continuo and
paired with a gigue in the same key. The Canon remained forgotten for centuries and was
rediscovered only in the 20th century. Today, it is frequently played at weddings and included
on classical music compilations, along with other famous Baroque pieces such as Air on the G
String by Johann Sebastian Bach.
By: Gretchen Almind, Student of Violin at Austin Texas
Thomas McGregor, Instructor