Great Composers: Johann Pachelbel

Great Composers: Johann Pachelbel



let's face it you probably know this guy from his canon in d but that's exactly why all cellists want to go back in time and impale him on their sharpened end pens I'm the class of alert today we're talking about a Johann Pachelbel [Applause] Pachelbel was born in August 16:53 in the German town of Nuremberg like many musicians of the era his early life is a known unknown we do know that he received a music education from the local composer and contra Heinrich spammer who specialized in vocal writing although Nuremberg lies towards the south of modern-day Germany which was and still is predominantly Catholic Papa Bell was actually baptised into a Lutheran Church he was apparently very studious and excel that whatever subject he was taught before his 16th birthday he began a course of study at the University in all Dorf which was about 15 miles from his hometown but he only completed it about a year's worth of study there he had to withdraw because of what we would call in our modern parlance financial aid problems while it's unfair to try to draw parallels between the educational infrastructure of today and that of several centuries ago he more or less for lack of a better term ended up at a very advanced high school and he studied music both there and outside its purview doing so allowed him to pull in influences of music not just from his area of Germany but elsewhere around Europe especially the new styles pioneered by the Italians as well as Catholic liturgical music he just hadn't been exposed to that there before but the same Pachelbel's professional career started he kind of dropped off the map to the point where we don't really know exactly where he was at any given time there is much ambiguity that remains when trying to reconstruct the timeline of his career but we do know that he ended up as the organist at Vienna's famous Stefan's dome this church was Catholic as was the entirety of Vienna which at this point was a cultural capital and they demanded the absolute best from their musicians especially if those musicians were Italian the Italian style was in such great demand that some composers decided to Italian eyes their names just to get a leg up and get better positions but Papa Bell knew that he was talented enough that he didn't have to do this that said his knowledge of contemporary Italian styles almost assuredly helped his career Pachelbel's spent five years in Vienna before he moved back to what is now central Germany and thus back amongst the Protestants there was one single family which dominated church music in that region the box you couldn't walk down a street in central Germany without practically tripping over a box it got to the point where if you were a church in need of an organist you didn't say we need an organist you said we need a Bach they did not hold an outright monopoly they were just very good at their jobs and there were so many of them but as we know already Pachelbel was no slouch at the organ console and he held a post in Erfurt for 12 years he counted amongst his students johann christoph bah who was the older brother and later the teacher of the famous johann sebastian the bach family can be extremely confusing because johann christoph was also the name of one of Bach's sons and one of his cousins and one of his uncle's can we have more creativity in the names people and me you're just making it hard for all the musicologist out there at some point Pachelbel's duties became a tour for him and he negotiated a release from his contract in Erfurt in 1690 he was so good that he got a new gig within the month in the southern german town of stuttgart before a French invasion sent him and his family scurrying back up north to safety he eventually landed back in his hometown of Nuremberg at this point he was one of the most if not the most famous men burger in the world and the City Council really wanted him back he continued composing throughout all of this writing pieces both in the Germanic style and in the Italian style although as well come to see in just a few minutes he kind of wrote for functional use which didn't always help his post-mortem reputation he was kind of old-school in the fact that he wrote often in minstrel notation which was a free-flowing kind of bar line free style of writing that eventually gave rise to what we know as modern notation it was on its way out but he still continued writing in it because he liked it I guess that if he wanted to sort of evoke sort of the old-fashioned nosov it's there are many mysteries involved in Baroque music ology talked about dying in March of 1706 at the age of 52 which seems rather young to us but life expectancy being what it is he actually did pretty well his surviving children occupy some interesting footnotes in history his son Charles Theodore ended up as an organist in colonial era Charleston South Carolina not to be outdone his daughter Amalia is credited as the inventor of the first book of knitting patterns as a composer Pachelbel established a claim to fame for his chorale preludes these are pieces that would take a familiar chorale tune and spice it up somehow for use as well a prelude again it's a very functional genre in the mid brook which was Pachelbel's heyday these would be very recognizable in the later Baroque era such as the prevalence of JS Bach they're become highly ornamented and highly stylized to the point that they could be used as standalone pieces this is why any organist worth their salt plays chorale preludes by Bach not so much by Pachelbel because Pachelbel's music is very tied into these services in which he was hired to lead a POC abelian chorale Prelude is trying to be a good piece but also as a prelude to something larger he prepares the choir and/or congregation for singing this particular tune a hallmark of Papa Bo's music is its simplicity especially when compared to the music of composers later on when you look at some Pachelbel organ music rarely have ever does he use the pedals he basically just sticks to the manuals which meant that these pieces could be adapted and played on smaller organs in smaller churches or if the church didn't have a node and all could be played on the harpsichord on the other hand BOTS who used the pedals didn't just use the pedals he really made them a virtuosic part of the texture but again Bach was living in a later time period where things got more ornament this isn't to say that pakka bows music isn't ornamented but composers of his time were expected to provide guidelines rather than actual rules later on composers would stipulate that their music had to be played as written but in the mid Baroque and prior to that it was expected that performers would improvise their own ornamentations based on the musical context that's an important point to know when looking at a piece by Pachelbel it's not just as simple as it looks on the page in fact no piece from his era or before is as simple as it looks additionally it's only on special occasions that Pachelbel puts the chorale melody and a voice other than the soprano again this has a very practical aspect to it in church choirs boys would be singing the soprano parts which meant that you had the least trained voices singing the most audible part so not only was this part generally the simplest in a chorale texture but having it doubled in the soprano part in the chorale Prelude was very important the influence of chorale melodies can also be seen in sets of chorale variations that he published because chorale variations a lot of composer to really show off what they could do as opposed to a chorale Prelude which was more functional this included a collection called the music hellish cabins give akan literally musical thoughts about death this was likely written after his first wife and child died in a plague outbreak in October of 1683 unfortunately for us this like a vast quantity of Baroque music has been lost it didn't help that once the Baroque was over the best music of that era became just the domain of a very small and devoted sect who really loved basically just JS Bach however Pachelbel's productivity in the genre and some luck means that less Pachelbel is lost than many of his contemporaries while Pachelbel was a fantastic organist and an adept composer in the styles in which he was required to write it's hard to find instances where he directly influences or impacts the works of other composers mostly this has to do with his position in music history and the fact that styles and trends changed after his death as the mid Baroque gave way to the late Baroque for instance you cannot talk about Pachelbel without mentioning the freaking canon in d this is one of the few pieces of classical music that everybody knows at this point if you get married but don't have a string quartet playing hand in d while you're doing it are you even married anyway I guess we should talk about this piece because it is his most famous and it's really weird that it's his most famous you see most of possible surviving works at you know for the keyboard or they're some kind of vocal piece very little of his purely instrumental music survives we don't know when it was written although it likely dates from the tail end of the 1600s and we don't even have a copy in Pachelbel's own hand the earliest manuscript that anybody has of this piece was a copy that somebody else made in the 1800s and that copy comes from a time when most Baroque composers were complete unknowns it wasn't published until the 1900s and then it languished in further obscurity until 1968 when it was first recorded after that it's repeating chord progression which is just eight notes in the bass became co-opted by several European bands for their hits it was a piece that was in the right place at the right time show us often have to play this in gigs and the reason they don't like it is because it's the same eight notes over and over and over and over and over and you get the point all the other instruments in every arrangement get the nice melodies and then the cellos is just there sewn away at the same eighth notes it's very frustrating for them you can see why that's and the chord progression that this repeating pattern spells out this very pop music like which some people have a problem with anyway Pachelbel was rather influential in one genre the fugue of course Bach would come to overshadow everyone else in this but it was palpable not Bach who first paired up the feud with a preceding Prelude like his chorale trailers though not as extensive or as elaborate as they would become but he wasn't trying to write complex fugues for the sake of writing complex views like almost everything he wrote they likely functioned in some sense in in liturgical context he also was one of the composers who up stripped the Chaconne of his dance-like origins and into a form that would closely resemble the passacaglia for Pachelbel music was about spiritual well-being an attitude that he shared with many of his contemporaries the clarity and relative contrapuntal simplicity of his music was an expression of this but please do us all a favor we're gonna listen to something by Papa Bell for goodness sakes don't listen to the canon in d cellists and musicologist everywhere well thank you [Applause]

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