Sep 012016
 

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Johann Pachelbel, composer and organist in what is now known as the South German school, was baptized in Nuremberg (Nürnberg) on this date in 1653. His birth date is unknown. His is often considered to have brought this school of organ composition to a peak, although he is now chiefly remembered popularly for the canon in D major which was written as a chamber piece.  He composed a large body of sacred and secular music, and his contributions to the development of the chorale prelude and fugue have earned him a place among the most important composers of the middle Baroque era. Pachelbel’s music enjoyed enormous popularity during his lifetime. He had a great many pupils (including Johann Sebastian Bach’s elder brother, Johann Christoph), and his music became a model for the composers of south and central Germany.

Pachelbel’s music was influenced by the southern German school, as well as by Italian, and French composers. He preferred an uncomplicated contrapuntal style that emphasized melodic and harmonic clarity. His music is less virtuosic and less adventurous harmonically than his contemporaries but he experimented with different ensembles and instrumental combinations in both his chamber and vocal music, much of the latter featuring exceptionally rich instrumentation.

I’ll leave you to explore his music beyond the (in)famous canon. I don’t have space here, but you should find it rewarding. This link, for example, gives you a 90 minute sampling of his organ compositions:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twrYmpY-7sM

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Pachelbel’s Canon is part of what is more completely titled Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo (Kanon und Gigue für 3 Violinen mit Generalbaß) (PWC 37, T. 337, PC 358). It is sometimes referred to as the Canon in D, which drives many musicians mental because it is in the key of D MAJOR, not D. I suppose a linguistic argument can be made for “major” being the “unmarked case.” That is, it does not have to be “marked” as major because it is assumed. Just as “nurse” assumes “female” (unmarked), so the “marked case” is “male nurse.” I’d call this quibbling. Call it the Canon in D major and there’s no confusion.   Neither the date nor the circumstances of its composition are known, and the oldest surviving manuscript copy of the piece dates from the 19th century.

OK, let me get my prejudices out of the way first. You’ll know from previous posts that I greatly value the formulaic and predictable aspects of ritual. They are the whole point of ritual. Weddings are no exception. I am a pastor and I have officiated at dozens of weddings. I want traditional words from the officiant and traditional responses from the couple. I’ll even tolerate some common music and readings, although 1 Corinthians 13 is completely misplaced because it’s about general Christian kindness, not the love between a man and a woman. Pachelbel’s Canon as the entry music for the bridal party, sometimes the bride, sets my teeth on edge. It was a fad that caught on in the 1980s and has persisted. First, it has no connexion with weddings whatsoever. Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” and Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” were at least written with weddings in mind. Second, it is a chamber piece, not an organ composition. Third, it is always played in a slow lugubrious style that cloys like syrup in my ears.

One can never be sure how the Canon was played in Pachelbel’s day, but this seems like a reasonable reconstruction:

The tempo is brighter than the usual dirge, and there’s a feeling of energy and exuberance.

The Canon (without the accompanying gigue) was first published in 1919 by scholar Gustav Beckmann, who included the score in his article on Pachelbel’s chamber music. His research was inspired and supported by early music scholar and editor Max Seiffert, who in 1929 published his arrangement of the Canon and Gigue in his Organum series. However, that edition contained numerous articulation marks and dynamics not in the original score. Furthermore, Seiffert provided tempi he considered right for the piece, but that were not supported by later research. The Canon was first recorded in 1940 by Arthur Fiedler.

In 1968, the Jean-François Paillard chamber orchestra made a recording of the piece that changed its fortunes in the popular mind in perpetuity. This rendition was done in a more Romantic style, at a significantly slower tempo than it had been played at before, and contained obligato parts, written by Paillard, that are now closely associated with the piece. The Paillard recording was released in France by Erato Records as part of an LP that also included the Trumpet Concerto by Johann Friedrich Fasch and other works by Pachelbel and Fasch, all played by the Jean-François Paillard chamber orchestra. The canon was also included on a widely distributed album by the mail-order label Musical Heritage Society in 1968.

In 1970, a classical radio station in San Francisco played the Paillard recording and became inundated by listener requests. Hence the piece gained growing fame, particularly in California. In 1974, London Records, aware of the interest in the piece, reissued a 1961 album of the Corelli Christmas Concerto performed by the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, which happened to contain the piece, now re-titled as Pachelbel Kanon: the Record That Made it Famous and other Baroque Favorites. The album was the highest-selling classical album of 1976. By the early 1980s its presence as background music was inescapable. Pachelbel is sometimes called the “Godfather of Pop” because the harmonic progression of the Canon is used in any number of pop music songs.

The Canon in D major was originally scored for three violins and basso continuo and paired with a gigue. Both movements are in the key of D major. Although a true canon at the unison in three parts, it also has elements of a chaconne. All right, bear with me for a little analysis. The Canon combines the techniques of canon and ground bass. Canon is a polyphonic device in which several voices play the same music, entering in sequence. In Pachelbel’s piece, there are three voices engaged in canon, but there is also a fourth voice, the basso continuo, which plays an independent part. The bass voice keeps repeating the same two-bar line throughout the piece. The common musical term for this is ostinato, or ground bass. I pity the ‘cellist. In Germany, Italy, and France of the 17th century, some pieces built on a ground bass were called chaconnes or passacaglias. Such works sometimes incorporate some form of variation in the upper voices.

Now we get to the fun part. Somebody, as sick as I was of the dreary background music version of the Canon came up with the Taco Bell Canon:

Hilarious, and more in keeping with the original than most modern renditions. Scan YouTube and you’ll find a host of variants.

This brings me to tacos, also sadly misunderstood. In the US, the Tex-Mex version of the hard-shell, corn-tortilla stuffed with ground beef and salsa has become synonymous with “taco.” The Mexican taco is, in reality, a corn or flour tortilla wrapped around just about any filling you want. I gave a recipe for my favorite deep-fried tripe tacos here, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/%ef%bb%bfalexis-st-martins-stomach/  Let’s go with tacos al pastor instead, a central Mexican favorite. If you want the best go to a Mexican taqueria. Otherwise, this recipe is all right. A charcoal grill with a spit is best but you can make do with a broiler.

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Tacos al Pastor

Ingredients

10 guajillo chiles, seeds removed
2 chiles de árbol
3 lb boneless pork shoulder, sliced thick
8 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar
3 tbsp prepared or fresh achiote paste
3 oz kosher salt, plus a little extra
1 pineapple, peeled, cored, cut into ½” rings
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 red habanero chiles, seeds removed, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh mint, chopped
3 tbsp fresh lime juice
16 flour tortillas
lime wedges

Instructions

Bring the guajillo chiles, chiles de árbol, and 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit 30 minutes to let the chiles soften.

Place the pork slices in large ziplock bags so that they can lie flat.

Purée the chiles and soaking liquid, garlic, vinegar, sugar, achiote paste, 3 ounces of salt, half of the pineapple, and half of the onion in a blender until smooth. Pour the mixture over the pork, divided evenly among the bags. Close each top except for a small hole. Squeeze out all the air and completely seal the top. Shake each bag to distribute the marinade, then refrigerate overnight.

Using a charcoal grill or a broiler, grill the remaining pineapple over medium-high heat, turning once, until charred. Finely chop the pineapple and combine it with the habanero chiles, mint, lime juice, and remaining onion in a small bowl. Season with salt to taste, cover, and chill until ready to use.

Remove the pork from the marinade and grill slowly until the marinade remaining on the pork has begins to caramelize and char on both sides. Transfer the cooked pork to a cutting board and let rest for  10 minutes. Meanwhile, grill the tortillas until they begin to char.

Slice the pork against the grain into ¼” strips. Top each tortilla with a few pieces of pork and some pineapple salsa. Serve with lime wedges to squeeze on top. You may also serve chopped fresh cilantro to add as a garnish.

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