Basel: The Canon

The Canon
Basel's dance of death, Canon

Todt zum Chorherren:
HErr Chorpfaff habt jhr g'sungen vor,
   Viel süß Gesang in euwerm Chor:
So mercken auff der Pfeiffen Schall,
   Verkündet euch deß Todes Fall.

Death to the Canon
Mr. Canon, have you lead the singing;
many sweet songs in your choir,
then notice the sound of the fife.
It announces to you the case of death.

Der Chorherr:
ICh sange alß ein Chorherr frey
   Von Stimmen manche Melodey,
Deß Todes Pfeiff dönt dem vnglych,
   Sie hat so sehr erschrecket mich.

The Canon.
I sang as a free canon
many voices and melodies.
Death's fife sounds different;
It has terrified me so much.

Holbein's dance of death. The canon's cape is made of square pieces of fur laced with animals' tails.
Holbein Proofs, Canon
Holbein's dance of death alphabet
Initial L

Canons are priests attached to a cathedral. The canons are so called because they lead a rule bound life, "vita canonica".

The canon is dressed in an almuce, a cape of fur adorned with animals' tails, just like he is in Holbein's great dance of death (picture to the left) and Holbein's initial L (picture to the right).

In Paris' danse macabre, Death mentions the »a[u]musse grise« (grey almuce) of the canon; in London's dance of death, Death mentions the canon's »Amys of gris« (i.e. almuce of grey [fur]), and in Copenhagen's dance of death, Death makes a comment on the canon's »grey fur cloak« — presumably a cloak that's furred with grey fur.

The dialogue between Death and the Canon is reminiscent of Heidelberg's block book and other versions of the high German dance of death.

English translation from Beck, 1852
Death to the Canon.The Canon's reply.

So, Canon, you have loud and long
Been chaunting out your choral song;
Now harken to my pipe so clear,
Announcing that your death is here.

Yes, I have sung as canon free
Full many a grave sweet melody;
But death's pipe such discord has made,
That I'm sore startled and afraid.

Translation from Hess, 1841
Death to the Canon.Answer of the Canon.

Sir quire monk have you been singing
Much sweet song, in your choir
Hear now the sound of the pipe
Announces your for death be ripe.

I sung as a canon free
Of voices many of melody,
The pipe of death not equal bee,
There fore so much it frightned me.


Various Artists

Merian (1621)
Merian 1621: Canon
Chovin (1744)
Chovin 1744: Canon
Büchel (1768)
Büchel 1768: Canon
Büchel (1773)
Büchel 1773: Canon
Feyerabend (1806)
Feyerabend 1806: Canon
Hess (1841)
Hess 1841: Canon
Beck (1852)
Beck 1852: Canon
Stuckert (1858)
Stuckert 1858: Canon