Canon (music)

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Under canon (. Plural: canon, Greek for "scale guideline rule"; adjective: canonical) refers to a polyphonic composition in which a voice activated after the other, the first voice - almost as a guide - by the other voices is copied exactly. Usually in the prime or octave , all voices follow the same melody at the same pitch, only offset in time. However, there are also canon compositions in which the other voices follow in a third , fourth or fifth interval .


Originally, the Latin term canon in medieval music theory did not mean a musical genre, but - according to the meaning of the word - an instruction. Such instructions were used either to repeat individual parts of compositions - possibly transformed - or to derive further parts from them counterpoint . The canon as a generic term did not develop until the 16th century. Before that, at least for the strict canon, the term fugue existed . The first recorded canon Sumer is icumen in comes from 13th century England. The canon reached high points of artistry in the vocal polyphony of the Dutch in the 15th and 16th centuries as well as in baroque music , especially with Johann Sebastian Bach (e.g. The Musical Offering or Goldberg Variations ). At that time, the canon was viewed as a special case ( bound fugue or fuga ligata in contrast to the free fugue or fuga libera ) of the fugue , which is characterized by a more free imitation of the first part. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn wrote very elaborate canons. An example from the Romantic era are the strictly executed 15 canons in the Cammerstyl op.1 for piano by Friedrich Kiel, dedicated to Franz Liszt , at various intervals and sometimes with filling voices. Canons of all kinds enjoy great popularity today in the chants of Taizé .


JS Bach 1747, with a 6-part riddle canon
Canon characters (Signum congruentiae)

The well-known strict canon is usually notated as a single melody line; the entries of the following voices are marked with 1st , 2nd , 3rd etc. in the relevant places .

In earlier centuries (e.g. in Palestrina ) a special canon symbol, the signum congruentiae , was used for this (see picture opposite).


  • The best known and most common form is the strict canon , in which the two or more voices are identical and only start at different times. The voices can possibly use different pitches. In addition to the finite canon, there are also sentences that could be repeated almost indefinitely. One speaks here of a ring canon (English round ). If the melody modulates into a different key with each subsequent cycle, it is a spiral canon .
  • A circular canon is notated in a circular or ring-shaped notation system to illustrate the endless process. It is possible that the second voice has to be inserted in a countermovement, i.e. with the opposite reading direction, and / or is given a different clef .
  • If the note values ​​of a derived voice appear enlarged or reduced, one speaks of an augmentation or diminution canon . This technique developed from the possibilities of the mensural notation , in which different relationships between the voices can be created by combining different mensur marks. Here the phenomenon is called the scale or proportion canon, whereby it does not always have to be a purely proportional derivation, but is sometimes also exploited that notes can be two- or three-stage under certain scale lengths. As a rule, the slowest advancing voices end as soon as all of the musical material of the faster voices has sounded. Particularly well-known examples in the Renaissance are the 2nd Agnus Dei from the Missa L'homme armé super voces musicales by Josquin Desprez and the Missa Prolationum by Johannes Ockeghem . But later composers - such as J. S. Bach in the Musical Offering - wrote canons of proportions. A modern example is Arvo Pärt's Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten from 1977.
  • A cancer canon (or cross canon ) is when one voice plays the melody forwards and the other voice plays it backwards.
  • In a mirror canon (also called inversion or interval reversal canon), the intervals of the notated voice appear mirrored in the derivative. That means, if the notated voice z. B. steps up a third, the derived voice must do one down.
  • If you combine the two last-mentioned techniques, you get a mirror cancer canon . With the notation it is possible that the singers or players sit opposite each other and have to start in the opposite corners of the same sheet of music.
  • If several canons run simultaneously, a multiple canon is created. Depending on the number of superimposed canons, one speaks of double canon , triple canon , quadruple canon , etc. Extreme examples of this technique are two quadruple canons : the 24-part Qui habitat in adjutorio by Josquin (6 out of 4 notated voices each) and the 36-part Deo Gratias von Ockeghem (9 out of 4 notated voices each). At least one multiple canon has also come down to us from Mozart, in which three four-part choirs begin one after the other.
  • If there are different ways of listing a canon, it is a polymorphic canon .
  • In a riddle canon , only the musical material is noted in one line, but the type of canon and the use must be found by the performers themselves. It is customary for the riddle canon to be accompanied by an equally enigmatic textual note.

Famous canons

See also


Music collections

  • Bernhard Hoffmann, Christoph Lehmann: My canon book. tvd, Düsseldorf 1995, ISBN 978-3-926512-03-1 .
  • Hans Jaskulski (ed.): The canon book. 400 canons from 8 centuries on all occasions . Schott, Mainz 1999, ISBN 3-7957-5374-0 .
  • Fritz Jöde : The canon. A songbook for everyone. Total band. Möseler, Wolfenbüttel 1925 a. ö., ISBN 3-7877-1030-2 (Part 1: From the beginnings to Bach. Part 2: From the middle of the 18th century to Cherubini. Part 3: From the middle of the last century to the present).
  • Frauke Schmitz-Gropengießer (Ed.): It doesn't take much to be happy. Canon songs (= Reclam UB. 19068). Reclam, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-15-019068-5 .
  • Ralf Schöne (Ed.): Get up, singers, from your seats - 58 canons for singers . Association of German Concert Choirs, Weimar 2011, ISBN 978-3-929698-08-4 .

Secondary literature

Web links

Commons : Canon (music)  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Canon  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Johann Gottfried Walther : Musical Lexicon […]. Wolffgang Deer, Leipzig 1732, p. 132 f.
  2. List of works by Joseph Haydn: Hob. XXVII canons (a: sacred 1-10, b: secular 1-47) : sheet music and audio files in the International Music Score Library Project
  3. No Spring Smiles Me, WoO 25 (Brahms, Johannes) : Notes and audio files in the International Music Score Library Project
  4. Song list My Canon Book