Prolation canon

Prolation canon

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In 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 prolation canon or mensuration canon is a type of canon
Canon (music)
In music, a canon is a contrapuntal composition that employs a melody with one or more imitations of the melody played after a given duration . The initial melody is called the leader , while the imitative melody, which is played in a different voice, is called the follower...

, a musical composition wherein the main melody
A melody , also tune, voice, or line, is a linear succession of musical tones which is perceived as a single entity...

 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 prolations, a mensuration term that dates to the medieval
Medieval music
Medieval music is Western music written during the Middle Ages. This era begins with the fall of the Roman Empire and ends sometime in the early fifteenth century...

 and 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...

 eras). Accompanying voices may enter either simultaneously or successively. Prolation canons are among the most difficult to write, and are relatively rare in the repertory, though they are most common in the early Renaissance and from the 20th century to the present.

Examples of prolation canons from different eras include Le Ray Au Soleyl by Johannes Ciconia
Johannes Ciconia
Johannes Ciconia was a late medieval composer and music theorist who worked most of his adult life in Italy, particularly in the service of the Papal Chapels and at the cathedral of Padua....

 (late 14th century), the entire 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...

by 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...

 (mid-15th century), in which each separate section of the mass explores a different prolation (or different gap between entries and relative speed of each voice), the Agnus Dei from the Missa L'homme armé super voces musicales
Missa L'homme armé super voces musicales
The Missa L'homme armé super voces musicales is the first of the two settings of the Ordinary of the Mass, by Josquin des Prez, which use the famous L'homme armé tune as their cantus firmus source material; . The setting is for four voices...

by 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...

 (late 15th century), the Agnus Dei from the Missa L'homme armé
Missa L'homme armé
Over 40 settings of the Ordinary of the Mass using the tune L'homme armé survive from the period between 1450 and the end of the 17th century, making the tune the most popular single source from the period on which to base an imitation mass....

 by Pierre de la Rue
Pierre de La Rue
Pierre de la Rue , called Piersson, was a Franco-Flemish composer and singer of the Renaissance. A member of the same generation as Josquin des Prez, and a long associate of the Habsburg-Burgundian musical chapel, he ranks with Agricola, Brumel, Compère, Isaac, Obrecht, and Weerbeke as one of the...

 (early 16th century), the Canon a 4 per Augmentationem et Diminutionem, the last in a set of 14 canons written as an appendix to the Goldberg Variations
Goldberg Variations
The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, is a work for harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach, consisting of an aria and a set of 30 variations. First published in 1741, the work is considered to be one of the most important examples of variation form...

, by Johann Sebastian 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...

, and in the 20th century, the Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten
Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten
Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten is a short canon in A minor, written in 1977 by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt for string orchestra and bell. The work is an early example of Pärt's tintinnabuli style, which he based on his reactions to early chant music...

 by 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...

 (1976). 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 written numerous four voice prolation canons whose melodies are permutations of a limited number of elements. A particularly striking example occurs twice in the opening movement of Symphony No. 15 (Shostakovich)
Symphony No. 15 (Shostakovich)
The Symphony No. 15 in A major , Dmitri Shostakovich's last, was written in a little over a month during the summer of 1971 in Repino. It was first performed in Moscow on 8 January 1972 by the All-Union Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra under Maxim Shostakovich.-Form:The work has four...

, first in the strings (Fig. 27) and later in the woodwind (Fig. 47). Both these passages create complex textures that contribute powerfully to the strange and enigmatic atmosphere of what was to be the great Russian composer's symphonic 'Swan Song' (1971).

In the example, the first 12 bars of the Agnus Dei II of the earlier of the two masses Josquin wrote based on the L'homme armé
L'homme armé
L'homme armé was a French secular song from the time of the Renaissance. It was the most popular tune used for musical settings of the Ordinary of the Mass: over 40 separate compositions entitled Missa L'homme armé survive from the period....

tune, each voice sings the same music, but at different speeds. The top voice is barred in 3/4 meter for clarity. The slowest voice is the one in the middle; the lowest voice sings the same music at twice the speed of the slowest; and the highest voice sings the same music at three times the speed of the slowest. In the original score only one part is given: a notation over the single line of music indicates the three prolations to be used, and a second notation over the line indicates where each voice should end if sung correctly.