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Canon (music)

The meaning of «canon (music)»

In music, a canon is a contrapuntal (counterpoint-based) compositional technique that employs a melody with one or more imitations of the melody played after a given duration (e.g., quarter rest, one measure, etc.). The initial melody is called the leader (or dux), while the imitative melody, which is played in a different voice, is called the follower (or comes). The follower must imitate the leader, either as an exact replication of its rhythms and intervals or some transformation thereof. Repeating canons in which all voices are musically identical are called rounds—"Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "Frère Jacques" are popular examples.

An accompanied canon is a canon accompanied by one or more additional independent parts that do not imitate the melody.

During the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque—that is, through the early 18th century—any kind of imitative musical counterpoints were called fugues, with the strict imitation now known as canon qualified as fuga ligata, meaning "fettered fugue".[1][2][3] Only in the 16th century did the word "canon" begin to be used to describe the strict, imitative texture created by such a procedure.[2] The word is derived from the Greek "κανών", Latinised as canon, which means "law" or "norm". In contrapuntal usage, the word refers to the "rule" explaining the number of parts, places of entry, transposition, and so on, according to which one or more additional parts may be derived from a single written melodic line. This rule was usually given verbally, but could also be supplemented by special signs in the score, sometimes themselves called canoni.[1] The earliest known non-religious canons are English rounds,[citation needed] a form first given the name rondellus by Walter Odington at the beginning of the 14th century;[2] the best known is "Sumer is icumen in" (composed around 1250), called a rota ("wheel") in the manuscript source.[4][5] The term "round" only first came to be used in English sources in the 16th century.[6]

Canons featured in the music of the Italian Trecento and the 14th-century ars nova in France. An Italian example is "Tosto che l'alba" by Gherardello da Firenze. In both France and Italy, canons were often featured in hunting songs. The medieval and modern Italian word for hunting is "caccia", while the medieval French word is spelled "chace" (modern spelling: "chasse"). A well-known French chace is the anonymous "Se je chant mains".[7] Richard Taruskin describes "Se je chant mains" as evoking the atmosphere of a falcon hunt: "The middle section is truly a tour de force, but of a wholly new and off-beat type: a riot of hockets set to 'words' mixing French, bird-language, and hound-language in an onomatopoetical mélange."[8] Guillaume de Machaut also used the 3-voice "chace" form in movements from his masterpiece Le Lai de la Fontaine (1361). Referring to the setting of the fourth stanza of this work, Taruskin says "a well-wrought chace can be far more than the sum of its parts; and this particular chace is possibly Machaut's greatest feat of subtilitas."[9]

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