A Guide to Traditional Wedding Music: Pachelbelís Canon

February 01, 2013

Though we’ve featured a few alternative twists on wedding music in the past, by far the most popular choices for wedding ceremonies are classical acts. Harpists, string ensembles and other classical musicians remain the number one option for couples who’ve always dreamt of a traditional wedding – a huge part of which is the music.

When it comes to wedding music, we often find the same few pieces cropping up again and again; Pachelbel, Mendelssohn, Handel – all have become mainstays of wedding ceremonies. We thought it would be interesting to take a look at a few wedding favourites and find out how they became such an integral part of a traditional wedding. First up is the ever present Pachelbel’s Canon in D.

 It might seem like Pachelbel’s Canon has been a central part of wedding ceremonies since people started getting married, but in truth, the piece disappeared off the musical map for centuries until it was republished in 1919 and even then, didn’t become a fixture in wedding ceremonies until the 1970s when the Palliard Chamber Orchestra released a version of the piece that was used in a number of adverts and film scores.


A Canon  is a piece of music that features a repeated refrain played by different ‘voices’ – Pachelbel’s Canon is essentially the same eight bars of music repeated 28 times. The piece was originally scored for three violins and basso continuo that in modern times is generally played by a cellist. The ostinato in the bassline proved influential amongst other composers, with Handel, Haydn, and Mozart incorporating a similar two bar ostinato into their own compositions. Listen carefully enough and it’s possible to hear the same chord progression from Pachelbel’s Canon all over the place, even in modern pop songs.

 But how did it become so popular at weddings? The Canon is thought, by some, to have been written for the wedding of Johann Sebastian Bach’s brother, Johann Christoph but there’s little evidence to support this. The piece’s popularity at weddings is more likely due to its structure and pace. The graceful, stately tempo of the piece is well suited to the feel of a wedding with the measured bass line matching the steps of the bride and the repetitive structure means that the piece can go on for as long as necessary for the ceremony without sounding like it’s being artificially extended.

Stay tuned for more on the most popular pieces of wedding ceremony music. And for more info on hiring musicians for weddings and civil ceremonies, take a look at our selection of wedding acts or get in touch.

By Alice Chorley