Canon in D and Ode to Joy – Behind the Music

 
Ah…Canon in D. Beloved by brides and immediately recognizable with its repeating eight-measure harmonic pattern that lulls cellists and wedding musicians into glassy-eyed stupors.

German composer and music teacher Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) wrote Canon in D – officially known as Kanon und Gigue für 3 Violinen mit Generalbaß (Canon and Gigue for 3 Violins and Basso Continuo) – sometime around 1680. Pachelbel was the Baroque version of a rock star but, as musical trends changed through the years, some of his works – including Canon in D – were forgotten for centuries. Thanks to a mention in an early 20th century scholarly article, a new arrangement, and a recording by Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler in 1940, Canon in D made a comeback. Today, Pachelbel’s famous harmonic pattern is found everywhere – films, pop songs, and even advertisements. It’s become the comfortable cotton that’s woven into the fabric of our musical heritage.

 
Because Canon in D is so ubiquitous and a bit boring, it was on my “The World Does Not Need Another Arrangement of This” list. (Amazing Grace is on that list, too, if you’re curious.) So I ignored Canon until one day Sheet Music Plus emailed digital composers a list of the most searched for songs on their website. From their email, I scribbled down every title that I could possibly arrange. When I finished my two-columned list, I noticed that at the top of one column was Canon in D and – directly across – at the top of the other was Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (a.k.a. Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee).

Eureka! I drew a bidirectional arrow between the two and the idea of Joyful Canon was born.

About 95% of the weddings I’ve played included some form of the Canon and my only love for Pachelbel’s work has come from the fact that it’s easily lengthened or shortened to fill the time to get the wedding party down the aisle. With that in mind, I set out to write Joyful Canon with the same idea. I even drew a musical map. (Yes, I really am that geeky.)
Joyful Canon Piano Sheet Music

  • 8 measures Canon in D
  • 1 verse of Ode to Joy ending in a measure with a six-four meter
  • 8 measures Canon in D
  • 1 verse of Ode to Joy ending in a measure with a six-four meter
  • 8 measures Canon in D
  • 1 verse of Ode to Joy ending in a measure with a six-four meter
  • 8 measures Canon in D
  • 1 verse of Ode to Joy ending in a measure with a six-four meter
  • 8 measures Canon in D
  • 5 measure coda of Ode to Joy

It may look mathematical and boring but it’s very practical for a pianist who is trying to fill time and far more interesting than the plain ol’ Canon. For continuity, I tied the two works together by borrowing musical ideas from the Canon sections and using them in the Ode to Joy sections. But the cherry on top was placing every Ode to Joy six-four measure – the natural breaking points to lengthen or shorten the arrangement – in the same spot at the top of the pages. That way it’s quick and easy to find the perfect spots to repeat or skip. (Helpful when a ring bearer who needs a nap is having a meltdown in the center aisle five pews from the front…) Enjoy! 🙂

Joyful, joyful, we adore You,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before You,
Op’ning to the sun above.

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