Johann Pachelbel

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Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), German baroque composer and organist, belonged to that generation of composer/musicians (Buxtehude, von Biber, Arcangelo Corelli and others) whose compositional skills and instrumental virtuosity prepared the scene for the now better known J. S. Bach, G. F. Handel, Vivaldi and others of the High Baroque.

A native of Nuremberg, he was taught by a couple of local teachers, before entering the nearby Altdorf University in 1669 and becoming organist at the Lorenzkirche. He left within the year – financial restraints – and managed to gain a scholarship to the Gymnasium Poeticum at Regensburg; which arranged external musical tuition for him from Kaspar Prentz, whose Italianate leanings were to influence certain of Pachelbel's later compositions.

During the period 1673 to 1678 he was in Vienna, studying under Johann Kaspar Kerll whilst filling the deputy organist post at Stephanskirche (to 1677) and the next year as court organist at Eisenach; before accepting the post of organist at Predigerkirche which he was to hold for 12 years – extremely productive years, when most of his chorales were written and he was in demand as an organist and teacher – and married twice. (He lost his first wife and their only son in a plague epidemic in 1683.)

After short stints as organist at Stuttgart and Gotha, his remaining years were spent back in his home town of Nuremberg at St. Sebald church, where he replaced his old teacher, J.K. Kerll in 1695. He died in 1706, his burial on 9 March.

Pachelbel is most known for his ubiquitous Canon in D major; these days found everywhere in every conceivable mix of instruments and arrangements. Even people who think they do not know it, know it. It is ironic that the Canon (with its lesser known partner, the Gigue) was one of his relatively few pieces written for chamber ensemble. The bulk of his work is for organ with some other keyboard works and a considerable amount of choral and vocal music. His music is, in the main, clear and uncluttered with much of the adornment frequently found in music of his time. Whilst he was a prolific composer, much of his music has never been published.

Works include:

  • Organ music: about 70 chorales, 95 Magnificat fugues, over 60 toccatas, preludes, fugues, ciacconas, fantasias and ricecares.
  • Other keyboard music: 21 suites, 7 sets of chorale variations, 10 arias with variations,

(incl. 6 in Hexachordum Apollinis, 1699)

  • Chamber music: 6 suites (Musicalische Ergotzug, 1695) Partita in G, Canon and Gigue in D.
  • Sacred music: 11 concertos; vespers music, incl. 13 magnificats; 2 masses; 11 motets; arias.

Reference: “The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music”