A comprehensive database tracking more than 2,000 of the earliest surviving music compositions using ‘canonic’ techniques has been developed by a team of Australian university researchers.

Music teachers, students, performers, composers and music lovers can browse the online database to find these earliest examples of multipart music using techniques of pervasive melodic imitation – that is, where the same melody or its transformation occurs successively or even simultaneously in different parts – from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries.

“These 200 years saw an unprecedented period of musical innovation,” University of New England (UNE) music historian Dr Jason Stoessel said.

“Typically people associate canon with later composers like Bach or Pachelbel. Yet all techniques for composing canons arose and flourished in this earlier period of music.”

The canonic techniques to explore from this period include some that were highly experimental, such as combining a melody with the same melody sung backwards and reversing the direction of a melody.

“Using the database, people can search for a piece of music by title or composer and discover which pieces of music used various techniques, and explore the rapid development of canonic techniques,” Dr Stoessel said.

“We hope music lovers will use the database to better appreciate this music and to inspire and innovate their own musical creativity.”

The database has been created by Dr Stoessel and University of Queensland researcher Dr Denis Collins, and was funded by the Australian Research Council. It includes several newly discovered canons. A new project will explore the revival of canonic composition from 1580-1650.

The database can be accessed by going to www.canons.org.au