canon, in Christianity, in the Roman Catholic Church, decrees of church councils are usually called canons; since the Council of Trent the expression has been especially reserved to dogmatic pronouncements of ecumenical councils. The body of ratified conciliar canons is a large part of the legislation of canon law. The Eucharistic central, mainly invariable part of the Mass is the canon. The term is also applied in the Western Church to certain types of priests. There are canons regular, priests living in community under a rule but not cloistered like monks; the Augustinian, or Austin, canons and the Premonstratensians are the best known of these. The priests attached to a cathedral or large church are sometimes organized into a group, or college, and called canons secular; a church having such a group is a collegiate church. A canon is also an official list, as in canonization, i.e., enrollment among the saints, and of the names of books of the Bible accepted by the church (see Old Testament; New Testament; Apocrypha; Pseudepigrapha). Cathedral canons often have diocesan charges or pastoral duties apart from the cathedral. Canons of the Church of England are mostly cathedral canons.
canon, in music, a type of counterpoint employing the strictest form of imitation. All the voices of a canon have the same melody, beginning at different times. Successive entrances may be at the same or at different pitches. Another form of canon is the circle canon, or round, e.g., Sumer Is Icumen In. In the 14th and 15th cent. retrograde motion was employed to form what is known as crab canon, or canon cancrizans, wherein the original melody is turned backward to become the second voice. In the 15th and 16th cent. mensuration canons were frequently written, in which the voices sing the same melodic pattern in different, but proportional, note values, i.e., to be sung at different speeds. Bach made noteworthy use of canon, particularly in the Goldberg Variations. Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Schumann, and Brahms wrote canons, and Franck used the device in the last movement of his violin sonata. It is an essential device of serial music.

Body of laws established within Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, independent churches of Eastern Christianity, and the Anglican Communion for church governance. Canon law concerns the constitution of the church, relations between it and other bodies, and matters of internal discipline. The ecclesiastical lawyer and teacher Gratian published the first definitive collection of Roman Catholic canon law circa 1140; the Decretum Gratiani drew on older local collections, councils, Roman law, and church fathers. The enlarged Corpus juris canonici (“Body of Canon Law”) was published in 1500. A commission of cardinals issued the new Codex juris canonici (“Code of Canon Law”) in 1917, and a revised version was commissioned after the Second Vatican Council and published in 1983. Following the Schism of 1054, the Eastern Orthodox church developed its own canon law under the patriarch of Constantinople. The Anglican, Coptic, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches also formulated their own collections.

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Musical form and compositional technique. Canons are characterized by having a melody that is imitated at a specified time interval by one or more parts, either at the same pitch or at some other pitch. Imitation may occur in the same note values, in augmentation (longer notes), or in diminution (shorter notes); in retrograde order (beginning at its end), mirror inversion (each ascending melodic interval becoming a descending interval, and vice versa), or retrograde mirror inversion; and so on. Canons range from folk rounds such as “Three Blind Mice” and “Frère Jacques” to the massively complex canons of Johann Sebastian Bach.

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