Sunday, June 26, 2011

Canons and Cannons: Pachelbel Canon in D and Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture

Row, row, row your boat ...

Every American child knows this song by heart.  Technically, it's called a "round", where different groups start singing the same things at different times.  It's simple enough to get large groups of children to do it at school concerts - and well done!  Having been to my share of school concerts (as both performer and listener), this is A Very Good Thing Indeed for teaching our children the basics of music.  It's a very old music form, dating from the High Middle Ages.  Keep the Dream alive, everyone!

But what happens if you complicate things just a bit?  Say, by adding an extra (and new) melodic theme to the plain, old, boring Round?  You get this:

It's called a "Canon", and Johan Christoph Pachelbel created what is undoubtedly the most famous version, composed in the 17th Century. Surprisingly, it was lost, and only re-discovered after World War I. I say "surprisingly" because this piece is hugely popular today. You've probably heard it.

But "Canon" is not the same as "Cannon", which involve not a chamber quartet, but black powder, but may involve a repeated theme (shelling the enemy).  It took until the 19th Century and Tchaikovsky to write a piece for orchestra and Field Artillery, but this is a doozy.  It's another piece that you've almost certainly heard before, the 1812 Overture, written to celebrate the defeat by the Russian Empire of Napoleon's Grand Armeé in 1812.  Literally, it was scored for orchestra and field artillery.  In other words, cannons.

And so, a single character makes a difference, but you'll get great music whichever way you like to spell canon/cannon.  I kind of think that my High School music teachers would be appalled reading this, but it's true.

Oh, and for a very politically incorrect and a totally awesome version of Earth Shattering Kaboom done to the 1812 Overture, here's nuclear detonations to replace the puny 105 mm cannons.

* OK, it's a fair cop. I can't remember the unit number. In the unlikely circumstance that one of the artillerists runs across this post, that you for your service, and thank you for a fabulous evening of entertainment.


Southern Belle said...

Perfect music choices considering yesterday's events!

Southern Belle said...

I forgot to mention that the 1812 Overture always reminds me of Caddyshack.

The Big Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
libertyman said...

Actually have both in stock, though always new information from the erudite Borepatch.

Though years ago when I bought the Pachelbel Canon, I didn't know how to pronounce it, as I had never heard it out loud before. So to the merriment of the clerk I asked for "Patch el bell"(back when people bought things face to face).

Went to the Esplanade years ago and saw the Boston Pops perform 1812 -- did you ever see it performed there?

Borepatch said...

Libertyman, I don't like crowds. So we never went in to Boston for their (outstanding) concerts on the Charles, and we rarely went in to Washington D.C. for big events like 4th of July.

Guffaw in AZ said...

I LOVE them both, thanks!
(did Spike Jones or PDQ Bach ever do variations? That would have been awesome!)

The Big Guy said...

Variations on a Theme:

Regarding Pachelbel's Canon-
I've always wanted to sneak this version into a wedding...
(plays w/ Quicktime or iTunes)

Re: 1812 Overture-
The Jacksonville Symphony used to do a Concert on the Green series at a local golf course, and the National Guard would provide artillery for the evening they did the Overture. It gave new meaning to "Percussion Section".


(PS- So jealous of the Blogshoot. You lucky Bastids. Next time...)

PPS - Delete and repost due to egregious misspelling.

Unknown said...

This is an old post and you might not be keeping up with it anymore, but my high school actually did these two songs as a field show. It was a sort of mashup or medley of Canon in D and Overture of 1812. It was called "Canons". We had two cannons on the field that shot out confetti. The crowd loved it. If you want to listen to it, just go to