It is likely that more people are familiar with the piece of music called Pachelbel’s Canon, also known as the Canon in D, than know the full name or anything of the history of the composer, Johann Pachelbel. Written in 1680, it is still a very popular piece at weddings, and has been the subject of a wide range of interpretations, not to mention parodies, all of which keeps the seventeenth century composer's name alive in the 21st century.
Pachelbel was born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1653. Showing exceptional talent as a child, Pachelbel studied music at the University of Altdorf. However, he had to leave due to economic hardship, and became a scholarship student at the Regensburg Gymnasium Poeticum. In his extracurricular studies, he was exposed to Italian Baroque music, which was also extremely popular in Vienna, where he moved in 1673, when his schooling was done.
In Vienna, Pachelbel became a deputy organist at Saint Stephen Cathedral. His time in Vienna expanded his knowledge of church music from the Lutheran tradition in which he was raised to include knowledge of Catholic composers from both Italy and southern Germany and their styles.
Pachelbel became court organist in Eisenach in 1677, but with the death of his patron's brother only a year later, he lost his position, as the family focused on mourning rather than the arts. They remained on good terms, however, and Pachelbel went to Erfurt to become organist at Lutheran Preacher's Church. In his twelve-year tenure there, his reputation as one of the premiere organ composers of his day was established. During this time he also married, became a widower, and married again.
Pachelbel next spent two years in Stuttgart as musician and organist, and—driven out by a French invasion—subsequently took a position in Gotha, where he stayed for two years, from 1692 to 1694. It is possible that he met Johann Sebastian Bach, a child at the time, at a wedding during this period. When the organist at Saint Sebald in Nuremberg died in 1695, Pachelbel was invited to replace him and released from Gotha to do so. He died in Nuremberg in 1706.
During his lifetime, Pachelbel was most well-known as an organ composer, and he wrote more than 200 and many vocal works as well. It was during the 1970s that his work, Canon in D Major experienced an enormous resurgence in popularity that has continued to this day. There are still dozens of recordings available, both in traditional style and with myriad adaptations and arrangements.