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Cherubini's Crayfish Canon

Remember Gossec's "Canon en Écrevisse ou Retrograde?" I wrote about a few years ago? Well, his colleague at the Paris Conservatory, Luigi Cherubini wrote one as well.

Portrait of Cherubini with crayfish

A collection in several volumes with hundreds of short pieces by faculty at the Conservatoire de Paris was assembled for a pedagogical purpose and edited by Édouard Batiste, professor of solfeggio and organist at St. Eustache, including pieces mostly by Cherubini and Gossec, but also Catel, Méhul, and others. It includes Cherubini's "Canon dit en Écrevisse," or canon, better known as a crayfish.

Unlike Gossec's canon "en Ecrevisse au Retrograde" for violin and piano, each of whose parts is a palindrome, Cherubini's bass vocal line and piano bass line are retrogrades of one another, constantly interweaving and exchanging roles as bass and tenor voices as they cross one another, while the remaining notes in the piano harmonize continuously and independently of the retrograde relationship.

One clever feature of this retrograde canon is the appearance of a little imitative canon within it. In the eighteenth measure, the other parts drop out, and the piano begins a sequence, imitated one bar later by the vocal bass line. Of course the two lines continue until the midpoint and it all reverses, but since the piano is otherwise free, the trailing off of this mini canon - its corresponding end has a very different effect, as its little imitative exposition retrogrades to a humorous dwindling of voices. This imitative section forms the center of the palindrome, presenting a sweet and diverting harmony.

Another unique feature of this canon is its style of vocal setting. Unencumbered by imitative necessity, the accompaniment's upper voices contribute to an ever-changing texture as they sometimes harmonize with and sometimes double the vocal part, either at the octave or unison.

also available as a 2-page pdf "Canon dit en écrevisse"

If anyone can would like to contribute a recording of this canon, I would love to share it.


Batiste, Édouard (1820-1876). Solfèges du Conservatoire par Cherubini, Catel, Méhul, Gossec, Méhul, etc. Nouvelle édition avec accompgagnt. de Piano ou Orgue, par Édouard Batiste. 1866. Livre VI, Pages 161-162.

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