Johann Pachelbel was a well-known musician in his day. He composed a multitude of works for the organ (his native instrument), along with motets, sacred concertos, keyboard suites, and pieces in a variety of other genres. Of all these hundreds of compositions, however, far and away his best-known work is the Canon in D major, known colloquially as Pachelbel's Canon. This short piece has become a mainstay of chamber orchestras and other musicians and ensembles throughout the world. It has been arranged for almost any instrument or combination of instruments one might imagine, from synthesizer to brass quintet, and has been adapted for musical styles from jazz to new age.
A canon is simply an imitative piece in which one instrument plays a melody, and part way into it another instrument joins in with the same tune, followed by one or more further instruments. In the case of Pachelbel's work, a two bar ostinato (or repeating melodic phrase) in the bass becomes the foundation for a set of 28 variations, in which three violins interact in canon with one another. Baroque convention would have this work performed in a moderate-to-fast tempo; however, the work is most often heard played slowly. Played thus, the Canon becomes a quite beautiful and meditative work. Only occasionally is the Canon played in tandem with the lively Gigue that Pachelbel intended to follow it.