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Famous Like Me > Composer > P > Johann Pachelbel

Profile of Johann Pachelbel on Famous Like Me

Name: Johann Pachelbel  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 1st September 1653
Place of Birth: Nuernberg, Germany (date of baptism)
Profession: Composer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia

Johann Pachelbel (päkh'əlbĕl) (August 1653 – March 3, 1706) was a German baroque composer and organist, best remembered for his Canon in D.

Pachelbel was organist at Erfurt, in the Thuringian region of Germany. He contributed to Protestant church music, especially to music for the keyboard. Pachelbel's harmonizations of church chorales seem to have been inspirational to the young Johann Sebastian Bach, whose older brother, Johann Christoph Bach, had been Pachelbel's organ student. Indeed, Pachelbel seems to have enjoyed close friendships with many members of the Bach family of musicians. Pachelbel served in the capelle in Eisenach, the home city of Ambrosius Bach and birthplace of his many children including Johann Sebastian and Johann Christoph, for a year in the 1670s. Pachelbel also stood as godfather for Ambrosius Bach's daughter (Johann Sebastian's sister) Johanna Judith Bach.

His sons Wilhelm Hieronymus Pachelbel and Charles Theodore Pachelbel were also both organists and composers.


Canon in D aside, Pachelbel is known for his works for organ: he composed more than two hundred pieces for the instrument. These include 95 magnificat fugues, most of which are based on invented themes and are brief pieces that were used to establish the pitch for the singers (whereas magnificat fugues were usually based on themes from the Magnificat, building upon a particular verse from the chant), and around 70 chorale preludes that demonstrated Pachelbel's knowledge of contemporary techniques for setting chorale melodies and developed a new compositional pattern that subsequently became a standard form.

Other works include fugues and ricercars for organ, a number of chorale variations (sometimes called partitas for organ), around twenty suites for harpsichord, a considerable number of cantatas for the Lutheran church and chamber sonatas for various instruments, especially the violin.

A few collections of Pachelbel's music were published during his lifetime. These are:

  • Musicalische Sterbensgedancken ("Musical Thoughts on Death", 1683), four chorales with variations.
  • Musicalische Ergotzung ("Musical Delight", 1691/1695), a set of six trio-sonatas for two violins and bass.
  • Acht Chorale zum Praeambulieren (1693), eight chorale preludes.
  • Hexachordum Apollinis ("Apollo's Lyre", 1699), six arias with variations.

Hexachordum Apollinis is regarded by many as Pachelbel's masterpiece. It consists of six arias for harpsichord or organ. Every aria contains a theme and a set of variations on that theme. The F minor aria, also known as Aria Sebaldina, included a dedication to Dietrich Buxtehude.

Rise in popularity of the Canon in D

Decade Number of times mentioned
in the NY Times
1850s 0
1860s 0
1870s 1
1880s 0
1890s 0
1900s 1
1910s 4
1920s 3
1930s 29
1940s 39
1950s 57
1960s 100
1970s 237
1980s 347
1990s 217

It is sometimes supposed that classical music is intrinsically timeless and is not subject to the caprices of fashion. Pachelbel's Canon may be said to both support and deny this supposition.

As tracked by mentions in The New York Times, Pachelbel was all but unknown to United States audiences before the 1930s.

During the 1930s, his organ music, particularly "From Heaven on High To Earth I Come," began to be programmed regularly by church organists during the Christmas season, and performances of other works are occasionally mentioned, such as "Seven Chorale Partitas" for organ, a motet, and a Magnificat.

The Canon was first mentioned on March 15, 1871, and the context, "a Bach fugue and a Pachelbel canon" suggests that the work was not familiar. However, by May 20, 1977, it was already being referred to as "the famous Pachelbel canon."

Thus, on the one hand we have a piece of music that, entirely divorced from its temporal context, managed to attain wide popularity amongst Western culture, thus apparently proving the "timelessness" of classical music. However, on the surface of it we may also be said to have a piece of music which went unnoticed in its own time and which, with the changes in vogue and popular culture in later years, underwent a change of fortunes; in effect, its time had come. The latter understanding would of course indicate that, like everything else, classical music (and the 'Canon' is certainly a classic in all senses of the word) is subject to changes in fashion.

This table and chart give the number of times Pachelbel is mentioned in The New York Times, by decade:


Pachelbel's Canon (info)
An arrangement of Pachelbel's Canon for solo piano, performed by Lee Galloway (
Pachelbel Fugue (info)
Short organ piece (MIDI file).
Problems listening to the files? See media help.


  • Jean M. Perreault: "The thematic catalogue of the musical works of Johann Pachelbel". Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Md. 2004. 414 p. ISBN 0810849704
  • Kathryn Jane Welter: "Johann Pachelbel: organist, teacher, composer : a critical reexamination of his life, works, and historical significance". Ann Arbor, Michigan UMI Dissertation Services, 2001. 384 p.

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Johann Pachelbel