Blogging Pachelbel #2 — Muenchinger/Stuttgart

Had I listened to this recording before the Baumgartner, I would have been scandalized, because this recording makes a cut around the same place as in the Baumgartner, but, as ugly as the Baumgartner recording is, the cuts here do much more violence to the essential nature of the piece.

It seems obvious that the Baumgartner recording is related to this one as both recordings screw around in exactly the same locations. The Baumgartner omits the opening continuo-only statement of the ground — this recording includes it, but instead of going straight into the canon in m. 3, it orchestrates a second statement, before starting the canon in m. 6. I’m not sure what problem was being solved here, but if the Baumgartner was cutting something that was too bare, this recording eases us into the full texture a few voices at a time.

Then there’s the question of the cuts, which happen in the same location, but whereas the Baumgartner carefully maintained the integrity of the canon and just omitted the same 8 measures of the canon in each part, this recording simply jumps from m. 27 to to m. 35 in all the parts at once. This means that the first violin plays the full canon except for 4 of the couplets, but that the 2nd and 3rd violin skip a different 4 couplets! So, while two couplets (mm. 27-30 in v. 1) are never heard, two of the other couplets cut from violin 1 are heard only in the 2nd and 3rd violins. The couplet introduced in v. 1 in m. 31 is heard only in the 2nd and 3rd violins, and the next couplet only in the 3rd violin.

In investigating the historiography of the Canon, one of the things that has struck me is the degree to which popular culture seems to have latched onto the harmonic progression of Pachelbel’s Canon more than the intricately woven contrapuntal texture. For instance, the amazing Canon Rock phenomenon partakes of the harmonic progression and uses the canonic theme as melodic material, and the passages where the canon is in thirds with itself certainly get used as an opportunity to show off guitar virtuosity. But there is never any true canonic imitation.

Most of the keyboard transcriptions are far worse about this, even though a keyboard player ought to be able to recreate a fair amount of contrapuntal texture. It’s clear that the canonic texture is not primarily what people who respond to Pachelbel’s piece by creating their own versions are moved by, since the canonic texture almost never appears in these transcriptions/arrangements. And the general public still loves these pieces, despite the richness in the original that has been bleached out.

I had attributed this to garden-variety musical naïveté, but now that I’ve heard some of these early recordings of Pachelbel’s Canon that were prepared and played by professional Classical musicians who have every capacity for understanding contrapuntal textures, it seems quite obvious to me that the popular imagination is not alone in responding mostly to the harmony and melody. The balances in both the Paillard and Baumgartner recordings, along with this one, tend to highly emphasize one of the lines as the clear MELODY at any point, and it’s this aspect of the musical conception, I think, that leads to such cuts as the one we see here that is completely devestating to the contrapuntal texture.

Now, of course, it doesn’t sound bad, because the canon is designed so that you can pretty much mix and match any of the parts and it will come out all right (that’s the nature of the ground bass, within limits, of course). And, indeed, had I not been watching the score scroll by in Finale while listening, I’m not sure I would have noticed. I certainly did miss the repeated notes in the Baumgartner, but thought they were just made into accompaniment figures so that I had simply missed them. In this case, I would have been less likely to notice, given that it’s the three couplets before the repeated notes that are omitted.

But I can’t help but wonder exactly what it is that leads to these cuts. What is wrong with this passage that it gets taken out in two of these early recordings? I’m pretty much at a loss for an explanation, myself.