The Authentic Pachelbel’s Canon: Watch a Performance Based on the Original Manuscript & Played with Original 17th-Century Instruments

Even if we don’t know its name, we’ve all heard Johann Pachel­bel’s Canon in D, bet­ter known sim­ply as Pachel­bel’s Canon — and prob­a­bly more than once at a wed­ding. But though Pachel­bel com­posed the piece in the late 17th or ear­ly 18th cen­tu­ry, it has­n’t enjoyed a con­sis­tent pres­ence in the world of music: the ear­li­est man­u­scripts we know date from the 19th cen­tu­ry, and its lat­est peri­od of pop­u­lar­i­ty began just over fifty years ago, with an arrange­ment and record­ing by the Jean-François Pail­lard cham­ber orches­tra.

And so, no mat­ter how many times we’ve heard Pachel­bel’s Canon, and no mat­ter how many ver­sions we’ve heard, we might well ask our­selves: have we real­ly heard Pachel­bel’s Canon? In the video above, San Fran­cis­co ear­ly-music ensem­ble Voic­es of Music — here Kather­ine Kyme, Car­la Moore, and Cyn­thia Freivo­gel on vio­lin, Tanya Tomkins on cel­lo, Han­neke van Proos­dij on baroque organ, and David Tayler on the the­o­r­bo — per­form what many enthu­si­asts would con­sid­er a defin­i­tive Pachel­bel’s Canon. Not only do they play that ear­li­est of its known man­u­scripts, they play it using instru­ments from the time of Pachel­bel, and with the kind of play­ing tech­niques pop­u­lar back then.

“The string instru­ments are not only baroque, but they are in baroque set­up,” notes the video’s descrip­tion. “This means that the strings, fin­ger­board, bridge and oth­er parts of the vio­lin appear just as they did in Pachel­bel’s time.” The video shows that “no met­al hard­ware such as chin­rests, clamps or fine tuners are used on the vio­lins, allow­ing the vio­lins to vibrate freely.” As for the organ, it’s “made entire­ly of wood, based on Ger­man baroque instru­ments, and the pipes are voiced to pro­vide a smooth accom­pa­ni­ment to the strings, instead of a more solois­tic sound.”

Just as van Proos­di­j’s tech­nique might look slight­ly unfa­mil­iar to a mod­ern organ­ist, so might Kyme, Moore and Freivo­gel’s to a mod­ern vio­lin­ist: “All three are play­ing baroque vio­lins with baroque bows, yet each per­son has her own dis­tinct sound and bow­ing style — each bow has a dif­fer­ent shape and bal­ance.” Their play­ing dif­fers in the way, the notes add, that musi­cians’ play­ing appears to dif­fer in paint­ings from the 17th cen­tu­ry, a time when “indi­vid­u­al­i­ty of sound and tech­nique was high­ly val­ued,” and none of it was over­seen by that most 19th-cen­tu­ry of musi­cal fig­ures, the con­duc­tor. How many his­tor­i­cal­ly-aware brides and grooms — with the means, of course, to hire not­ed ear­ly-music ensem­bles — will it take to bring those val­ues back into the main­stream?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Sounds of the Actu­al Instru­ments for Which Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and Han­del Orig­i­nal­ly Com­posed Their Music

See Mozart Played on Mozart’s Own Fortepi­ano, the Instru­ment That Most Authen­ti­cal­ly Cap­tures the Sound of His Music

How the Clavi­chord & Harp­si­chord Became the Mod­ern Piano: The Evo­lu­tion of Key­board Instru­ments, Explained

Mashup Weaves Togeth­er 57 Famous Clas­si­cal Pieces by 33 Com­posers: From Bach to Wag­n­er

Pachelbel’s Music Box Canon

Pachelbel’s Chick­en: Your Favorite Clas­si­cal Pieces Played Mas­ter­ful­ly on a Rub­ber Chick­en

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Comments (11)
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  • sfemet says:

    Thank you so much for post­ing this! Not only did I get to wake up to some­thing beau­ti­ful, I learned they are based in San Fran­cis­co and just bought a tick­et for one of their per­for­mances.

  • Carol says:

    I love it in all its var­i­ous ways

  • Bob Long says:

    I love this piece and its pre­sen­ta­tion here. I just had a ques­tion about the tem­po. The Voic­es of Music ver­sion of the Canon in D here sounds very bright in tem­po, more so than the stan­dard fare you here or play at wed­dings. My ques­tion is, how was the tem­po marked on that ear­li­est known man­u­script? If not marked, what is the gauge in gen­er­al that ear­ly music musi­cians use to judge the tem­po of a piece? Thanks again for the beau­ti­ful music!
    Bob Long

  • Voices of Music says:

    Hi Bob, there is no tem­po mark­ing in the orig­i­nal man­u­script. If a tem­po mark is not present, the impli­ca­tion is that it is “tem­po ordi­nario.” For this video, the tem­po is derived from the sec­tion of music where the repeat­ed notes are played under one bow. This spe­cial baroque effect does not real­ly work at a slow­er tem­po. Also, the tem­po is sim­i­lar to a basic pulse, which is a typ­i­cal baroque tem­po.
    You can see what is called “affe­tu­oso” baroque bow­ing at 2:12 in the video start­ing with the vio­lin on the left (Kati) and then going left to right.
    Hav­ing said that, one of the fun things about baroque music is that you can play the same piece at dif­fer­ent tem­pos and with dif­fer­ent artic­u­la­tions and orna­ments.

  • Martin Cohen says:

    Great music. Too bad that we did not see the whole group until over three min­utes had passed. It might have been due to the ver­ti­cal item in the cen­ter.

  • Ingrid says:

    Too fast to get into that nice med­i­ta­tive zone. I val­ue accu­ra­cy, but not at the expense of beau­ty.

  • David Tayler says:

    The tem­po was beau­ti­ful to the per­form­ers. One of the beau­ties of baroque music is dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions.

  • Voices of Music says:

    The cam­era angle was, right­ly or wrong­ly, a delib­er­ate choice :)

  • Lee Shaffer says:

    Sin­cere grat­i­tude to friend Cyn­thia Porcher for shar­ing this amaz­ing resource in gen­er­al and pro­duc­tion in par­tic­u­lar. Grat­i­fy­ing, too, to real­ize “old” just doesn’t always apply. We look for­ward to more gifts from open

  • Tracey says:

    You post so much amaz­ing infor­ma­tion and I nev­er com­ment, but this share was THE BEST — thank you for the care, atten­tion and con­sis­ten­cy in giv­ing us access to a beau­ti­ful world.

  • Voices of Music says:

    The cam­era angle reflects the struc­tur­al analy­sis of the coun­ter­point, where a sort of solo for the third vio­lin is revealed at the end of an extend­ed, angu­lar phrase. We also released a ver­sion that shows the whole group, but it was not near­ly as pop­u­lar.

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