The two pieces chosen for this paper are particularly famous and are recognizable audibly, if not by name, by the majority of western populations. Pachelbel’s Canon in D was virtually forgotten from the 1700’s until it was rediscovered in 1919 by Gustav Beckmann. It gradually gained publicity, and burst into the popular culture after being used as the score for a movie, it is now by far the most famous canon and of the most well known pieces of baroque music.
The canon is a musical form popular in the Baroque period and is characterized by imitative counterpoint in which multiple voices, in this case violins, play the same piece of music but start at different times and in different keys. Pachelbel wrote his canon for 3 violins and a basso continuo which may have been a bass or a harpsichord. It is a strict canon in which the first voice is imitated precisely by the others for the duration of the piece. It contains 3 parts in two bar intervals with the new voices introduced at said two bar intervals.
Another characteristically baroque feature of the Canon is the use of a Basso Continuo. During the Renaissance and earlier periods, the bass was used as a melodic device as the lowest voice, equal to the any other instrument. During the 17th century, the bass began the transition to becoming a harmonic device providing a ‘backbone’ for which it is now almost exclusively used. In Canon, the bass serves a double purpose as a Basso Ostinato or Ground Bass, a melodic device which entails the continuous repetition of the same two bar sequence for the duration of the piece.
It also has an associated gigue, a classically baroque dance piece that departs from the strict canon form in favor of a livelier more jolly melody. In the baroque era, it would be played at the conclusion of the Canon and there would be an actual dance performed. While some modern performances include the guige, most play the Canon alone.
The exact year that Pachelbel wrote his famous Canon is an apparent mystery, it is generally accepted as having been composed in the 1680’s although one author theorizes that it may have been in 1694 for Johann Christoph Bach’s wedding. While it is difficult to find any record of what inspired Pachelbel to write this Canon, it has inspired an extraordinary number of composers of both classical and more modern styles of music.
Adagio for Strings was composed by Samuel Barber in 1936 at the tender age of 25 while vacationing in Europe. The time was a tumultuous one, immediately following the great depression and clouds of conflict looming in Germany. In search of stability, the arts as a whole rejected the new frightening transformations and revolutions of the 20th century, instead turning to earlier practices and techniques in a period referred to as Neo-Classicism. With regard to music, it rejected the musical experimentation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and looked to reconnect with the classical period. Barber’s Adagio,...