April 4, 2017

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This site explores examples of puzzle canon, sometimes stretching back to medieval times but with a bias toward more recent centuries, enabling readers to engage with the music without much specialized historical knowledge.


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"Puzzle canon," "riddle canon," "Ratselkanon," "Enigmatic canon," "closed canon," all these terms refer to a sort of canon that is sufficiently strict that a single written melody can represent two or more performed melodies! One of these melodies might be the retrograde of the other, or upside-down, or higher or lower, twice as fast or slow. Only the imagination is the limit. many more possibilities exist. What kinds of clever things have Bach, Mozart and others tried? What other kinds of puzzle canons exist? Who are the unsung heroes of canon from Medieval times to the present? The puzzlecanon website is the place to find out!

May 27, 2020

Meant as one of a collection of exercises in solfeggio for students at the Paris Conservatory, this is a canon for bass voice and piano. The left hand part and melody are retrogrades of one another.

March 15, 2020

Among the famous canons in Franz Joseph Haydn's work is the curiously simple but carefully crafted two-voice canon in the Minuet of the String Quartet, Op. 76, No. 2, "Fifths" (ca. 1796). What makes this movement so outstanding is the way in which the canon is crouched into the composite ternary form, and the perfection with which the trio serves as a foil to the unflinchingly canonic mi...

October 5, 2019

When J. S. Bach was around 28 years old he put this canon in the album of his cousin Johann Gottfried Walther, a versatile composer in his own right, as were many in the Bach family. Bach and Walther's friendship was strengthened during Bach's time in Weimar where Walther was the town organist, and the canon, dated 1713 is from the middle of Bach's time there. *

Walther was fond of writin...

June 15, 2019

This month, I launched the YouTube channel "puzzlecanon" (see here). The purpose is to support both this channel and my other interests in the research, composition and enjoyment of puzzle canons, counterpoint and the symmetrical arts.

A video illustrating the "Canon con quatro claves" by Francisco de Montanos was uploaded today. That canon appeared as a puzzler sometime in 2016.

June 15, 2019

Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721-1783), who was a private student of J S Bach for two years (1739-41), published many examples of canon in his three-volume treatise (or five volumes, depending upon how you count), Die Kunst des reinen Satzes in der Musik [the art of pure composition in music] (1771-1779). Having written a little about modulating canons and canons per tonos, I thought it w...

July 9, 2018

The four-voice, posthumously published modulating canon "Mir lächelt kein Frühling" by Johannes Brahms is much like a round, but each new entry enters a melancholy semitone lower than the last. Once all the voices have entered and as each of these voices makes its way through the 16-measure melody, what we hear is a four-measure unit or iteration descending each time by semitone.  By the...

June 25, 2018

Roussel's piece for piano ascends by an octave with each repetition. This canon, though it rises with each repetition, is neither modulating nor a canon per tonos.

The instruction is given, "Reprendre au signe ⦻ en transportant les trois parties à l'octave supérieure, et continuer ainsi autant que le permettra l'étendue du clavier."

[Resume at the sign by carrying the three parts to the up...

May 31, 2018

Composer John Dowland (1563-1626) lived in the time of the long reign of Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland.  In fact he was a contemporary of Shakespeare. Dowland is famous especially for his songs and works for lute. I suppose you could call him the pre-eminent Renaissance singer/songwriter.  Much of his music was printed, but the printing of music was somewhat new at the time,...

March 13, 2018

Back in January, I posted a puzzle that looked something like this.

Below, as promised, is a solution. But the question may arise to the reader: "How does one arrive at a solution?" 

Some of the questions one asks in solving a canon such as this are these: 

  1. are there any textual clues that might help with categorize the canonic techniques: interval of imitation, inversion, retrograde, e...

March 8, 2018

Paolo Agostino (ca.1583-1629) was one of the great contrapuntists and composers of canon. Among various positions he held throughout his life as organist, or choir director, he eventually became the director of the choir at Cappella Giulia at the chapel of St. Peter at the Vatican, a post also held at other times by Palestrina and Domenico Scarlatti (see

March 1, 2018

Among the pieces in Bach's Musical Offering, dedicated to Frederick the Great, is a puzzle canon with the epigram: "Ascendenteque Modulatione ascendat Gloria Regis" (As the modulation ascends, so may the king's glory ascend).

This is a canon 'Per Tonos" or "by a tone," as described by Giovanni Maria Bononcini (1642-1678), quoted in translation by Alfred Mann in his book The Study of...

January 25, 2018

Here's a scrap I came across and found in my notebook. I'll have to go back and trace its source again. In the meantime, can you solve it? 

I found a four-voice solution. As each part repeats, it does so at a lower pitch, as suggested by the epigram: "SOL POST VESPERAS DECLINAT:" "After the evening the sun sets." Of course the 'declinat' has a double meaning. 

You'll want to choo...

May 26, 2017

In Thomas Morley's 1597 treatise entitled "A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke" among various canonic devices, Morely gives an example with instructions on how to compose a palindromic piece for voices. He writes (p.201):

… you may make eight partes in foure (or fewer or more as you list) which may be sung backward and forward, that is, one beginning at the beginnin...

April 19, 2017

The first performance of Martha Horst's piece entitled Cloud Gate will take place in Chicago on Saturday, April 22, 2017, at St. James Cathedral (65 East Huron Street) as part of the Chicago Composers’ Orchestra concert Chicago Stories which consists of five premières. All five composers were asked to create specific thematic pieces about Chicago....

April 4, 2017

In 1946 P. J. de Bruyn brought back to light a curious form of musical puzzle canon employed in the 16th century by Ghiselin Danckerts, a Flemish musician. Danckerts was a composer, theorist and a chapel singer in the papal court from 1538 to his death in 1565. Danckerts' music was not well published, but was apparently well-regarded in his time. His unpublished treatise, known simply as...

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