Canon (music)

Canon (music)

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In music
Music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

, a canon is a contrapuntal
Counterpoint
In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm and are harmonically interdependent . It has been most commonly identified in classical music, developing strongly during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period,...

 composition that employs a melody
Melody
A melody , also tune, voice, or line, is a linear succession of musical tones which is perceived as a single entity...

 with one or more imitations
Imitation (music)
In music, imitation is when a melody in a polyphonic texture is repeated shortly after its first appearance in a different voice, usually at a different pitch. The melody may vary through transposition, inversion, or otherwise, but retain its original character...

 of the melody played after a given duration (e.g., quarter rest, one measure, etc.). The initial melody is called the leader (or dux), while the imitative melody, which is played in a different voice
Part (music)
1) A part is a strand or melody of music played by an individual instrument or voice within a larger work. Parts may be referred to as an outer part or an inner part . Part-writing is the composition of parts in consideration of harmony and counterpoint...

, is called the follower (or comes). The follower must imitate the leader, either as an exact replication of its rhythm
Rhythm
Rhythm may be generally defined as a "movement marked by the regulated succession of strong and weak elements, or of opposite or different conditions." This general meaning of regular recurrence or pattern in time may be applied to a wide variety of cyclical natural phenomena having a periodicity or...

s and intervals
Interval (music)
In music theory, an interval is a combination of two notes, or the ratio between their frequencies. Two-note combinations are also called dyads...

 or some transformation thereof (see "Types of canon", below). Repeating canons in which all voices are musically identical that repeat are called rounds
Round (music)
A round is a musical composition in which two or more voices sing exactly the same melody , but with each voice beginning at different times so that different parts of the melody coincide in the different voices, but nevertheless fit harmoniously together...

 – "Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
"Row, Row, Row Your Boat" is an English language nursery rhyme, and a popular children's song, often sung as a round. It can also be an 'action' nursery rhyme where singers sit opposite one another and 'row' forwards and backwards with joined hands...

" and "Frère Jacques
Frère Jacques
"Frère Jacques" , in English sometimes called "Brother John" or "Brother Peter", is a French nursery melody. The song is traditionally sung in a round. When the first singer reaches the end of the first line the next person starts at the beginning...

" being widely known examples.

Accompanied canon is a canon accompanied by one or more additional independent parts which do not take part in imitating the melody.

History


The Old French canon, which meant "learned", was taken from the Greek kanon for "rule" or "law", which eventually came to mean "an accepted rule" in English. This term was first used to refer to the rule that describes how the voices relate to each other. Not until the sixteenth century was canon used to describe the musical form
Musical form
The term musical form refers to the overall structure or plan of a piece of music, and it describes the layout of a composition as divided into sections...

 (Mann, Wilson, and Urquhart n.d.).

The earliest known canons are English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 rounds
Round (music)
A round is a musical composition in which two or more voices sing exactly the same melody , but with each voice beginning at different times so that different parts of the melody coincide in the different voices, but nevertheless fit harmoniously together...

, a form called rondellus starting in the 14th century (Mann, Wilson, and Urquhart n.d.); the best known is Sumer Is Icumen In
Sumer Is Icumen In
"Sumer Is Icumen In" is a traditional English round, and possibly the oldest such example of counterpoint in existence. The title might be translated as "Summer has come in" or "Summer has arrived"....

 (composed around 1250), called a rota ("wheel") in the manuscript source (Sanders 2001a and 2001b). In the 14th century many canons were written in Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 under the name caccia, and occasionally French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 chanson
Chanson
A chanson is in general any lyric-driven French song, usually polyphonic and secular. A singer specialising in chansons is known as a "chanteur" or "chanteuse" ; a collection of chansons, especially from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, is also known as a chansonnier.-Chanson de geste:The...

s of that period used canon technique.

During the period of the Franco-Flemish School
Franco-Flemish School
In music, the Franco-Flemish School or more precisely the Netherlandish School refers, somewhat imprecisely, to the style of polyphonic vocal music composition in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, and to the composers who wrote it...

 (1430–1550), canon as a contrapuntal art form received its greatest development, while the Roman School
Roman School
In music history, the Roman School was a group of composers of predominantly church music, in Rome, during the 16th and 17th centuries, therefore spanning the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras. The term also refers to the music they produced...

 gave it its most complete application. In later periods the canon played a less important role in entertainment, with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Bach's
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

 The Musical Offering
The Musical Offering
The Musical Offering , BWV 1079, is a collection of canons and fugues and other pieces of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, all based on a single musical theme given to him by Frederick II of Prussia , to whom they are dedicated...

). Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg was an Austrian composer, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School...

's twelve-tone technique
Twelve-tone technique
Twelve-tone technique is a method of musical composition devised by Arnold Schoenberg...

 later revived interest in canon.

Types of canon


The most rigid and ingenious forms of canon are not strictly concerned with pattern but also with content. Canons are classified by various traits: the number of voices, the interval at which each successive voice is transposed in relation to the preceding voice, whether voices are inverse
Inversion (music)
In music theory, the word inversion has several meanings. There are inverted chords, inverted melodies, inverted intervals, and inverted voices...

, retrograde
Permutation (music)
In music, a permutation of a set is any ordering of the elements of that set. Different permutations may be related by transformation, through the application of zero or more of certain operations, such as transposition, inversion, retrogradation, circular permutation , or multiplicative operations...

, or retrograde-inverse
Musical terminology
This is a list of musical terms that are likely to be encountered in printed scores, music reviews, and program notes. Most of the terms are Italian , in accordance with the Italian origins of many European musical conventions. Sometimes, the special musical meanings of these phrases differ from...

; the temporal distance between each voice, whether the intervals of the second voice are exactly those of the original or if they are adjusted to fit the diatonic scale
Diatonic scale
In music theory, a diatonic scale is a seven note, octave-repeating musical scale comprising five whole steps and two half steps for each octave, in which the two half steps are separated from each other by either two or three whole steps...

, and the tempo of successive voices. However, canons may use more than one of the above methods.

How voices in a canon are named


Although, for clarity, this article uses leader and follower(s) to denote the leading voice in a canon and those that imitate it, musicological literature also uses the traditional Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 terms dux and comes for "leader" and "follower", respectively. The terms "proposta" for the leader and "riposta" for the follower are also common terms.

Number of voices


A canon of two voices may be called a canon in two, similarly a canon of x voices would be called a canon in x. This terminology may be used in combination with a similar terminology for the interval between each voice, different from the terminology in the following paragraph.

Another standard designation is "Canon: Two in One", which means two voices in one canon. "Canon: Four in Two" means four voices with two simultaneous canons. While "Canon: Six in Three" means six voices with three simultaneous canons, and so on.

Simple


A simple canon (also known as a round
Round (music)
A round is a musical composition in which two or more voices sing exactly the same melody , but with each voice beginning at different times so that different parts of the melody coincide in the different voices, but nevertheless fit harmoniously together...

) imitates the leader perfectly at the octave or unison. Well-known canons of this type include the famous children's songs Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
"Row, Row, Row Your Boat" is an English language nursery rhyme, and a popular children's song, often sung as a round. It can also be an 'action' nursery rhyme where singers sit opposite one another and 'row' forwards and backwards with joined hands...

 and Frère Jacques
Frère Jacques
"Frère Jacques" , in English sometimes called "Brother John" or "Brother Peter", is a French nursery melody. The song is traditionally sung in a round. When the first singer reaches the end of the first line the next person starts at the beginning...

.

Interval



An interval canon imitates the leader at any interval other than the octave or unison (e.g., canon at the second, fifth, seventh, etc.). If the follower imitates the precise interval quality of the leader, then it is called a strict canon; if the follower imitates the interval number (but not the quality—e.g., a major third
Major third
In classical music from Western culture, a third is a musical interval encompassing three staff positions , and the major third is one of two commonly occurring thirds. It is qualified as major because it is the largest of the two: the major third spans four semitones, the minor third three...

 may become a minor third
Minor third
In classical music from Western culture, a third is a musical interval encompassing three staff positions , and the minor third is one of two commonly occurring thirds. The minor quality specification identifies it as being the smallest of the two: the minor third spans three semitones, the major...

), it is called a free canon (Kennedy 1994).

Contrapuntal derivations


The follower is by definition a contrapuntal
Counterpoint
In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm and are harmonically interdependent . It has been most commonly identified in classical music, developing strongly during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period,...

 derivation of the leader.

Canon by inversion


An inversion canon (also called an al rovescio canon) has the follower moving in contrary motion
Contrary motion
In music theory, contrapuntal motion is the general movement of two melodic lines with respect to each other. In traditional four-part harmony, it is important that lines maintain their independence, an effect which can be achieved by the judicious use of the four types of contrapuntal motion:...

 to the leader. Where the leader would go down by a particular interval, the follower goes up by that same interval (Kennedy 1994).

Retrograde


In a retrograde canon, also known as a canon cancrizans (Latin for crab canon
Crab canon
A crab canon—also known by the Latin form of the name, canon cancrizans—is an arrangement of two musical lines that are complementary and backward, similar to a palindrome. Originally it is a musical term for a kind of canon in which one line is reversed in time from the other . A famous example...

, derived from the Latin cancer = crab), the follower accompanies the leader backward (in retrograde). Alternative names for this type are canon per recte et retro or canon per rectus et inversus (Kennedy 1994).

Mensuration and tempo canons


In a mensuration canon (also known as a prolation canon
Prolation canon
In music, a prolation canon or mensuration canon is a type of canon, a musical composition wherein the main melody is accompanied by one or more imitations of that melody in other voices. Not only do the voices sing or play the same melody, they do so at different speeds...

, or a proportional canon), the follower imitates the leader by some rhythmic proportion. The follower may double the rhythmic values of the leader (augmentation or sloth canon) or it may cut the rhythmic proportions in half (diminution canon). Phasing
Phasing
In the compositional technique phasing, the same part is played on two musical instruments, in steady but not identical tempo...

 involves the application of modulating rhythmic proportions according to a sliding scale. The cancrizans, and often the mensuration canon, take exception to the rule that the follower must start later than the leader.

Many such canons were composed during the Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

, particularly in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries; Johannes Ockeghem
Johannes Ockeghem
Johannes Ockeghem was the most famous composer of the Franco-Flemish School in the last half of the 15th century, and is often considered the most...

 wrote an entire mass (the Missa prolationum
Missa prolationum
The Missa prolationum is a musical setting of the Ordinary of the Mass, by Johannes Ockeghem, dating from the second half of the 15th century...

) in which each section is a mensuration canon, and all at different speeds and entry intervals. In the 20th century, Conlon Nancarrow
Conlon Nancarrow
Conlon Nancarrow was a United States-born composer who lived and worked in Mexico for most of his life. He became a Mexican citizen in 1955.Nancarrow is best remembered for the pieces he wrote for the player piano...

 composed complex tempo or mensural canons, mostly for the player piano
Player piano
A player piano is a self-playing piano, containing a pneumatic or electro-mechanical mechanism that operates the piano action via pre-programmed music perforated paper, or in rare instances, metallic rolls. The rise of the player piano grew with the rise of the mass-produced piano for the home in...

 as they are extremely difficult to play. Larry Polansky
Larry Polansky
Larry Polansky is a composer, guitarist, mandolinist, and a professor at Dartmouth College. He is a founding member and co-director of . He co-wrote HMSL with Phil Burk and David Rosenboom....

 has an album of mensuration canons, Four-Voice Canons. Arvo Pärt
Arvo Pärt
Arvo Pärt is an Estonian classical composer and one of the most prominent living composers of sacred music. Since the late 1970s, Pärt has worked in a minimalist style that employs his self-made compositional technique, tintinnabuli. His music also finds its inspiration and influence from...

 has written several mensuration canons, including Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, Arbos and Festina Lente.

Other types of canon


The most familiar of the canons is the perpetual/infinite canon (in Latin: canon perpetuus) or round
Round
Round or rounds can mean:* The shape of a closed curve with no sharp corners, such as an ellipse, circle, rounded rectangle, or sphere* Roundness , the smoothness of clastic particles...

. As each voice of the canon arrives at its end it can begin again, in a perpetuum mobile
Perpetuum mobile
Perpetuum mobile , moto perpetuo , mouvement perpétuel , movimiento perpetuo , literally meaning "perpetual motion", means two distinct things:#pieces of music, or parts of pieces, characterised by a continuous steady stream of notes, usually at a...

fashion; e.g., "Three Blind Mice". Such a canon is also called a round
Round
Round or rounds can mean:* The shape of a closed curve with no sharp corners, such as an ellipse, circle, rounded rectangle, or sphere* Roundness , the smoothness of clastic particles...

 or, in medieval Latin terminology, a rota
Rota (music)
A rota is a type of vocal round of the 13th and 14th centuries, probably only in England.In the rota, as opposed to the rondellus, the voices entered one at a time, each singing precisely what the previous voice sang, exactly as in the modern round...

. Sumer is icumen in
Sumer Is Icumen In
"Sumer Is Icumen In" is a traditional English round, and possibly the oldest such example of counterpoint in existence. The title might be translated as "Summer has come in" or "Summer has arrived"....

is one example of a piece designated rota.

Additional types include the spiral canon, accompanied canon, and double or triple canon.

Puzzle canon


A Puzzle canon can be any of the above types, but only one voice is notated, and it is up to the performer to find out which rule applies to the canon. Often some kind of riddle is given as a hint. Machaut's
Guillaume de Machaut
Guillaume de Machaut was a Medieval French poet and composer. He is one of the earliest composers on whom significant biographical information is available....

 rondeau
Rondeau (music)
The rondeau was a Medieval and early Renaissance musical form, based on the contemporary popular poetic rondeau form. It is distinct from the 18th century rondo, though the terms are likely related...

 Ma fin est mon commencement et mon commencement est ma fin (My end is my beginning and my beginning is my end) is a crab canon with a third voice which is a musical palindrome
Palindrome
A palindrome is a word, phrase, number, or other sequence of units that can be read the same way in either direction, with general allowances for adjustments to punctuation and word dividers....

. In the Agnus Dei movement of Dufay's
Guillaume Dufay
Guillaume Dufay was a Franco-Flemish composer of the early Renaissance. As the central figure in the Burgundian School, he was the most famous and influential composer in Europe in the mid-15th century.-Early life:From the evidence of his will, he was probably born in Beersel, in the vicinity of...

 mass
Mass
Mass can be defined as a quantitive measure of the resistance an object has to change in its velocity.In physics, mass commonly refers to any of the following three properties of matter, which have been shown experimentally to be equivalent:...

 L'homme armé the rule is noted: Cancer eat plenis et redeat medius (Let the crab proceed full and return half). This means that the cantus firmus
Cantus firmus
In music, a cantus firmus is a pre-existing melody forming the basis of a polyphonic composition.The plural of this Latin term is , though the corrupt form canti firmi is also attested...

 must be sung first in full note values, then in halved values and retrograde (since it is a crab).

Mirror canon



In a Mirror Canon
Mirror Canon
The mirror canon is a type of canon which involves the leading voice being played alongside its own inversion . The realisation from the 'closed' form can be effected by placing the page in front of a mirror, thus upside down, and beginning with the already progressing first voice.The Canon a 2...

 (or canon by contrary motion), the subsequent voice imitates the initial voice in inversion. They are not very common, though examples of mirror canons can be found in the works of Bach, Mozart (e.g., the trio from Serenade for Wind Octet in C, K. 388), Webern, and other composers.

Table canon



A Table canon is a retrograde
Retrograde
-Retrograde:* Retrograde motion, in astronomy, describes retrograde motions of celestial bodies relative to a gravitationally central object* Apparent retrograde motion, in astronomy, is the apparent motion of planets as observed from a particular vantage point...

 and inverse
Inversion (music)
In music theory, the word inversion has several meanings. There are inverted chords, inverted melodies, inverted intervals, and inverted voices...

 canon meant to be placed on a table in between two musicians, who both read the same line of music in opposite directions. As both parts are included in each single line, a second line is not needed. Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

 wrote a few table canons (Benjamin 2003, 120).

Rhythmic canon


Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen was a French composer, organist and ornithologist, one of the major composers of the 20th century. His music is rhythmically complex ; harmonically and melodically it is based on modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from his early compositions and improvisations...

 employed a technique which he called "rhythmic canon", a polyphony of independent strands in which the pitch material differs. An example is found in the piano part of the first of the Trois petites liturgies de la présence divine
Trois petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine
Trois petites liturgies de la présence divine is a piece by Olivier Messiaen for women's voices, piano solo, ondes Martenot, and orchestra , in three movements...

, where the left hand (doubled by strings and maracas), and the right hand (doubled by vibraphone) play the same rhythmic sequence in a 3:2 ratio, but the right hand adapts a sequence of 13 chords in the sixth mode (B-C-D-E-F-F-G-A-B) onto the 18 duration values, while the left hand twice states nine chords in the third mode (Griffiths 2001).

Elaborate use of canon technique

  • Josquin des Prez
    Josquin Des Prez
    Josquin des Prez [Josquin Lebloitte dit Desprez] , often referred to simply as Josquin, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance...

    , Missa L'homme armé super voces musicales, Agnus Dei 2: One voice with the words 'ex una voce tres' (three voice parts out of one), a mensuration canon in three voices.
  • Josquin des Prez, Missa L'homme armé sexti toni, Agnus Dei 2: two simultaneous canons in the four upper voices, and at the same time a crab canon in the two lower voices.

Contemporary canons


In his early work, such as Piano Phase (1967) and Clapping Music (1972), Steve Reich
Steve Reich
Stephen Michael "Steve" Reich is an American composer who together with La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass is a pioneering composer of minimal music...

 used a process he calls phasing
Phasing
In the compositional technique phasing, the same part is played on two musical instruments, in steady but not identical tempo...

 which is a "continually adjusting" canon with variable distance between the voices, in which melodic and harmonic elements are not important, but rely simply on the time intervals of imitation (Mann, Wilson, and Urquhart n.d.).

Media



Further reading

  • Lamla, Michael. Kanonkünste im barocken Italien, insbesondere in Rom. 3 vols. Berlin: Dissertation.de—Verlag im Internet, 2003. ISBN 3-89825-556-5.
  • Messiaen, Olivier. Traité de rythme, de couleur, et d'ornithologie (1949–1992). I-II, edited by Yvonne Loriod, preface by Pierre Boulez. Paris: Leduc, 1994.
  • Schiltz, Katelijne, and Bonnie J. Blackburne (eds.). Canons and Canonic Techniques, 14th-16th Centuries: Theory, Practice, and Reception History. Proceedings of the International Conference Leuven, 4–5 October 2005. Analysis in Context: Leuven Studies in Musicology 1. Leuven and Dudley, Massachusetts: Peeters, 2007. ISBN 9789042916814.
  • Vuza, Dan Tudor. "Supplementary Sets and Regular Complementary Unending Canons", four parts. Perspectives of New Music 29, no. 2 (Summer 1991): 22–49; 30, no. 1 (Winter 1992): 184–207; 30, no. 2 (Summer, 1992): 102–25; 31, no. 1 (Winter 1993): 270–305.
  • Ziehn, Bernhard. Canonic Studies: A New Technique in Composition, edited and introduced by Ronald Stevenson. New York: Crescendo Pub., 1977. ISBN 0-87597-106-7.

External links