Canons


J. S. Bach, Canone per Augmentationem in moto contrario

To hear what's going on in imitative contrapuntal music, you need to follow multiple melodic lines simultaneously and match what you've heard in the past to what you're hearing in the present. How difficult this is depends on many factors, including ...

  • the number of voices
  • the amount of time between points of imitation
  • the number of themes involved simultaneously
  • whether the imitation is at the same speed as the original
  • whether the imitation is inverted
  • whether the imitation is played forwards or backwards

Following is a collection of animated graphical scores of music with canons with various degrees of complexity.

Two-voice canons

The simplest canons have two voices and no added complexity.

In these, the main factor contributing to how difficult they are to follow is the length of time between the first and second appearance of the melodic material.

Three-voice canons

The melodies in this atonal canon are very disjointed:

The time interval in this well-known canon is quite long:

In this one, the "subject" is just four notes, and the canon repeats forever (at multiple octaves):

Four-voice canons

There are four versions of the graphical score for this one:

This canon is unusual in that it includes a variety of playing techniques: arco, pizzicato, jeté, portamento (glissando), and percussion (tapping the instrument):

From The Musical Offering (BWV 1079); this is a puzzle canon that can be realized in more than one way:

Six-voice canons

This six-voice canon is completely regular (each voice enters at the same time and pitch interval from the previous voice):

This six-voice canon is irregular (voice enters at different time and pitch intervals):

Thirteen-voice canon

It's probably best to first follow the first part (in white, corresponding to Jesus) all the way through a few times, just to get familiar with the melody and the transitions across the joints:

Sixteen-voice canon

This one pushes the definition of "canon" to an extreme: it's a percussion piece, so there are no melodies, and the time interval is so short that it's hard to say whether it's a canon or merely an echo:

Double canons

Two canons running in parallel:

Canons in inversion

In these, the imitation is inverted (melodic intervals are preserved, but up/down are reversed):

Canons in augmentation and diminution

The subject appears at four different speeds:

Conlon Nancarrow's canons are quite different from Bach's:

Canons in augmentation and inversion

In these, the imitation is both augmented (played half as fast) and inverted:

Retrograde canons (cancrizans)

In which the imitation is time-reversed:

This might not count as a canon, since the time-reversed music doesn't overlap the time-normal version:

Canon in retrograde and inversion

In which the subject is both inverted and time-reversed: