Why do “serious musicians” hate Pachelbel’s Canon?

As an amateur musician playing classical flute/recorder duets on wind synth, I’ve always enjoyed playing Canon in D by J. Pachelbel.  Yet I keep hearing and reading in music lectures and articles that Pachelbel’s Canon is mediocre, underwhelming, overplayed music.  I can understand the overplayed part, but mediocre and underwhelming?  Why?  In a lecture by Robert Greenberg (San Francisco Conservatory of Music), it was claimed this piece is often called “Taco Bell’s Canon” by music students.  My duet partner and I really enjoy playing it, and when we play it in a public performance, we always get positive comments from the audience.

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So why do “serious musicians” so dislike Pachelbel’s Canon?

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4 Responses to Why do “serious musicians” hate Pachelbel’s Canon?

  1. Dave says:

    Well…it’s partly about pro musician snobbery, but there’s also some reason for it. Here’s 2 things:

    1. There are so many other beautiful songs! Why do we have to keep hearing this one over and over and over?

    2. Speaking of over and over, Canon in D is just a repeating harmonic pattern that never changes. To a musicians that have been taught from an early age to listen to the minute details of each song, it ends up sounding like “It’s a Small World” to our ears. Mozart, Bach, Beethoven…those guys were always changing things up, even on variations that repeated essentially the same material. They would be creative with the harmony, the form, the melody – Pachelbel didn’t do any of that. It’s beautiful, but it’s also shallow.

    It’s a nice song, but it’s not so great that it should be overplayed as much as it is.

    Good question though.

  2. artw says:

    Dave,
    That’s a great reply, especially your point #2 about the repeating harmonic pattern that never changes. That’s something I understand and can easily relate to in other areas where I have more skills, such as theater lighting.

    Thanks for the comment. I’m curious if others will chime in.

  3. dhbailey says:

    The people who request it only hear it very occasionally, such as at the special event for which they hire the musicians. They don’t realize that the musicians may be playing 3 or 4 such special events each weekend, and at most of them they will be requested to play the Canon.

    As for the harmonic repetition, it’s not really a Canon, although the top parts are canonic. It’s really a chaconne which by definition has a repeating bass line which defines a repeating harmony.

    Pachelbel did a great job writing that piece, and the combination “speaks” to many people even though it is several centuries old. I personally am a professional musician who loves the piece and as along as I don’t have to perform it more than once a week I love playing it. But when I end up having to play it 4 times at 4 special events in a week it does get old quickly.

  4. artw says:

    Dave,
    You wrote: “It’s really a chaconne which by definition has a repeating bass line which defines a repeating harmony.”

    Looking up chaconne in my Harper’s Dictionary of Music (Ammer, 1972), they define chaconne like you did – as a slow, stately dance in triple meter, indistinguishable from passacagalia, of variations over repeating bass line. But in looking at my sheet music for Canon (duet for flutes), there’s no obvious bass line and the repeating nature of the 2nd part 4 measures behind looks a lot like a canon/round. So why does this look so much like a canon, assisted by Pachelbel’s title)? Were I to see a piano part, would the chaconne nature be more obvious?
    I don’t doubt what you say, but still remain confused when my flute duet arrangement looks startlingly like a round.