Johann Pachelbel

* Born 1653 08 in Nuremberg, Germany
* Died March 09, 1706 in Nuremberg, Germany
* Period: Baroque (1600-1749)
* Country: Germany
* Genres: Keyboard, Chamber
Johann Pachelbel is unfairly viewed as a one-work composer, that work being the popular Canon in D major, for three violins and continuo. He was an important figure from the Baroque period who is now seen as central in the development of both keyboard music and Protestant church music. Some have summarized his primary contribution as the uniting of Catholic Gregorian chant elements with the Northern German organ style, a style that reflected the influence of the Protestant chorale. A Lutheran, he spent several years in Vienna where he was exposed to music by Frohberger and Frescobaldi, which influenced his work with the chorale-prelude. His music in this genre would in turn influence the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach, among others. It should be noted that many of Pachelbel's works are difficult to date, thus rendering judgments about his stylistic evolution questionable in many cases. Pachelbel was also a gifted organist and harpsichordist.

Pachelbel was born in August of 1653 and baptized on September 1. He showed musical talent early on and began studies first with Heinrich Schwemmer and later with George Kaspar Wecker, the latter instructing in composition and on organ. Pachelbel received his general education at St. Lorenz high school, and in 1669 he enrolled at the university in Altdorf. Pachelbel did not come from a wealthy family and earned meager sums serving as organist at the Lorenzkirche. He thus could not garner enough money to keep up with the tuition costs at the university and had to leave after about a year.

After a brief period of private study following his departure, Pachelbel traveled to Vienna and obtained an assistant organist post at St. Stephen's Cathedral in 1673. Four years later he took a position as court organist in Eisenach, where Bach would be born in 1685. He would become a close friend of the Bach family and teach both Johann Sebastian and Johann Christoph. Pachelbel left after a year at Eisenach however, and became organist at the Predigerkirche in Erfurt, in 1678.

The composer married Barbara Gabler in 1681, and by 1683 he was a father. In September of that year however, tragedy struck as a plague swept through Erfurt, taking his wife and infant son. Four sets of chorale variations appeared around this time under the title of Musicalische Sterbens-Gedancken (Musical Thoughts of Death). During this period his organ chorales would become his most important works.

In August 1684, Pachelbel married Judith Drommer. One of their seven children would be the composer, organist, and harpsichordist Wilhelm Hieronymus Pachelberg, born 1686. In 1690 Pachelbel took a post as Court organist at Stuttgart and appeared quite satisfied, but left after two years due to an impending invasion by French forces. He served next as municipal organist at Gotha, from the fall of 1692 until April 1695. He returned to Nuremberg around the latter time, eventually to become organist at St. Sebalduskirche (summer, 1695). He would serve for nearly 11 years in this post, producing his most famous vocal scores, as well as his great Magnificat fugues. In 1699 he produced his important collection of six arias, Hexachordum Apollinis, for organ or harpsichord. Pachelbel was buried in Nuremberg on March 9, 1706, and apparently had died on March 3. ~ Robert Cummings, All Music Guide.

* Born: Sep 01, 1653
* Died: Mar 03, 1706
* Active: '70s-'90s
* Major Genres: Drama, Romance
* Career Highlights: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Volver a Empezar, Voci Nel Tempo
* First Major Screen Credit: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1975)
Although the prolific organist-composer Pachelbel wrote many brilliant liturgical works, as well as lucid and uncomplicated toccatas, preludes, ricercare, fantasias, fugues, and ciaconnas (chaconnes), and a work of sheer genius -- the Hexachordum Apollinis (1699) -- it is only one of his most admired works, the Canon in D Major (actually a passacaglia with 28 variations), that has been exclusively quoted in films, such as The Wedding Planner (2001), Stradivari (1989), the television miniseries Cosmos (1980), Bad Timing (1980), and the exceptional Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (Every Man for Himself and God Against All; aka The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser) (1974).

In director Robert Redford's Academy Award-winning Ordinary People (1980), the characters in an idyllic well-to-do small American community seem always to talk at each other rather than with each other, trying to maintain a superficial air of aloof chit-chat which bypasses real communication about personal feelings. The opening credits for the film occur in silence against a background that changes from flat black to a lightly clouded blue sky. The sound of a solo piano slowly fades in with the upper scale-wise notes of Pachelbel's famous Canon in D Major. The pianist adds the bass and middle voices as picture-perfect locations of the landscape are seen: a perfect autumnal lawn, a dock with a sea gull, a country lane covered with fallen golden leaves, a winding paved road (wordless choral voices enter in parallel thirds), the ideal white gazebo in a park, a church, and a music practice room with a choir of teenagers singing. They add words (not in the Pachelbel original score) to the Canon: "In the silence of our souls, O Lord, we contemplate Thy peace." In the context of the movie, the music serves both as a gentle, soul-soothing texture and as an expression of emotional repression. In a later backyard scene between Conrad Jared (Timothy Hutton) and his mother (Mary Tyler Moore), the Canon is heard lightly in the background as Conrad, who has tried to commit suicide, attempts to speak of his older brother Buck, who was killed in a boating accident. Later, Conrad has an epiphany in the psychoanalyst's office about "who it is who can't forgive who" as very thin echoes of the Canon are heard. In an especially effective sequence, Conrad finds out that his friend Karen, who was also a patient at the hospital for the mentally ill, has committed suicide. This sets off a sudden montage of images, accompanied by a version of the Canon with contemporary harmonies: the boating accident in a furious storm, Conrad's suicide scars as he throws water on his face from a bathroom sink, Conrad running to the office of the psychoanalyst (Judd Hirsch) where he realizes that he blames himself for his brother's death. As the movie concludes, after Conrad and his father speak in the backyard, the camera pulls away as the Canon, this time in its original orchestration for three string parts and continuo, underscores the final credits. ~ "Blue" Gene Tyranny, All Movie Guide.
Music Encyclopedia: Johann Pachelbel
(b Nuremberg, bap. 1 Sept 1653; d Nuremberg, bur. 9 March 1706). German composer and organist. He was taught by two local musicians, Heinrich Schwemmer and G. C. Wecker. In 1669 he entered the university at Altdorf and was organist of the Lorenzkirche there, but left after less than a year for lack of money and in 1670 enrolled in the Gymnasium Poeticum at Regensburg, where he continued musical studies with Kaspar Prentz.

After about five years as deputy organist at St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna (1637-7), and a year as court organist at Eisenach, Pachelbel was appointed organist of the Predigerkirche at Erfurt in June 1678, where he remained for 12 years. During this time he was outstandingly successful as organist, composer and teacher (his pupils included J.S. Bach's elder brother, Johann Christoph) and was twice married. He left Erfurt in 1690 and, after short periods as organist in Stuttgart and Gotha, returned to Nuremberg, where he was organist at St Sebald until his death.

Pachelbel was a prolific composer. His organ music includes c 70 chorales (mostly written at Erfurt), 95 Magnificat fugues (for Vespers at St Sebald) and non-liturgical works such as toccatas, preludes, fugues and fantasias. His preference for a lucid, uncomplicated style found fullest expression in his vocal music, which includes two masses and some important Vespers music as well as arias and sacred concertos. His modest contributions to chamber music include a canon that has become his best-known work.
Organ music

* c70 chorales
* 95 Magnificat fugues
* over 60 toccatas, preludes, fugues, ciacconas, fantasias, ricercares

Other keyboard music

* 21 suites
* 7 sets of chorale variations
* 10 arias with variations, incl. 6 in Hexachordum Apollinis (1699)

Chamber music

* Musicalische Ergötzung, 6 suites (1695)
* Partita, G
* Canon and Gigue, D

Sacred music

* 11 concs.
* vespers music, incl. 13 Magnificats
* 2 masses
* 11 motets
* arias
Biography: Johann Pachelbel
The German composer and organist Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) helped to introduce the south German organ style into central and north Germany. Through his close connections to the Bach family, his style influenced and enriched that of Johann Sebastian Bach.

The musical education of Johann Pachelbel began in his childhood. In 1669, while at the University of Altdorf, he was organist in the church of St. Lorenz. The following year, at the gymnasium at Regensburg, and during his employment at St. Stephan's, Vienna, after 1672, he became familiar with the south German musical tradition of J. K. Kerll. In 1677 Pachelbel became court organist at Eisenach, where he met the local branch of the Bach family, in particular Johann Ambrosius Bach, who was one of the municipal musicians.

In 1678 Pachelbel accepted the important post of organist at the Predigerkirche in Erfurt. During this period Johann Christoph Bach studied with him for 3 years. During his stay at Erfurt, Pachelbel produced at least three of the four works listed by J. G. Walther in Musikalisches Lexikon (1732) as published during his lifetime: Musicalische Sterbens-Gedanken (1683), chorale varitions; Musicalische Ergetzung (1691), chamber music; and Chorale zum Praeambuliren (1693), an instruction book for organ. Here Pachelbel also composed two cantatas of homage for Karl Heinrich of Metternich-Wenneburg, other cantatas, and possibly other chamber music.

In 1690 Pachelbel accepted employment at the court at Stuttgart, which he fled in 1692 because of the French invasion. He became municipal organist at Gotha, but his activities are uncertain until 1695, when he became organist of the famous church of St. Sebaldus, Nuremberg. Here he was active as a teacher, and Walther speaks of his illustrious reputation. Two of Pachelbel's sons were important musicians: William Hieronymous at Erfurt and Nuremberg, and Carl Theodore at Stuttgart and Charleston, S.C.

Pachelbel was one of the composers of the movement leading to the adoption of equal temperament, making use of as many as 17 different keys in his suites. He applied the variation techniques of the secular suite to the setting for organ of Lutheran chorales (Musicalische Sterbens-Gedanken). He introduced to central and north Germany the brief, light keyboard fugue (as in his Magnificat fugues). He is particularly noteworthy for a style of chorale prelude of which he seems to have been the chief protagonist. In it a preliminary imitative passage on each phrase of the melody precedes the statement of the phrase, intact, in one part. His virtuosity as an organist is probably reflected in his toccatas, which emphasize elaborate manual figures and omit the fugal sections typical of the north German style.

Further Reading

Pachelbel's place within the music of his period is discussed in Manfred Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era (1947). See also Paul Henry Lang, Music in Western Civilization (1941).
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: Johann Pachelbel
(baptized Sept. 1, 1653, Nürnberg — died March 3, 1706, Nürnberg) German composer and organist. Conservative musically, he was friendly with Dietrich Buxtehude and was the teacher of Johann Christoph Bach, who later gave lessons to his younger brother Johann Sebastian Bach. Though he wrote a huge amount of music, of which his organ chorale variations and Magnificat settings are especially remarkable, he is principally known today for a single piece, the extremely popular Canon in D Major, which he may not have written.
Columbia Encyclopedia: Pachelbel, Johann
(päkhĕl'bĕl, päkh'əlbĕl') , 1653–1706, German organist and composer, b. Nuremberg. He held a number of posts as an organist in German churches, returning to his birthplace in 1695, where he became the organist at St. Sebald's Church. As a composer he is best known for his chorale preludes and variations, and is famous for the haunting and much-recorded Canon in D Major. Pachelbel is credited with significant influence on the keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Two of Pachelbel's sons, Wilhelm Hieronymus Pachelbel, c.1685–1764, b. Erfurt, and Carl Theodorus Pachelbel, 1690–1750, were also musicians and composers; they primarily followed their father's style. The younger son emigrated to the New World c.1730 and became a well-known musical figure in Rhode Island, New York, and South Carolina, and died in Charleston.


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