Canons

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 canon

This piece has three voices and a long time interval between them:

Four-voice canon

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 canon

This is the only six-voice canon I've ever come across; I've done several versions of the animation:

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 canon

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

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 canon (cancrizans)

In which the imitation is time-reversed:

Canon in retrograde and inversion

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