Andrea Gabrieli

Andrea Gabrieli, was a prolific and versatile composer and organist of the “Venetian School”, of the late Renaissance musical era. He was born between 1532-1533 and died in 1585.

Equally adept in sacred, instrumental and social music; he created a “grand ceremonial style” of considerable historical interest; providing the music for the festivities accompanying the celebration of the victory over the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and for the visit of several princes from Japan in 1585.

The uncle of the somewhat more famous Giovanni Gabrieli, he was the first internationally renowned member of the Venetian School of composers and was extremely influential in spreading the “Venetian style”; throughout Italy and into Germany.


Andrea Gabrieli – LIFE

Details on Andrea Gabrieli’s early life are not well documented. Born between 1532-1533, he was probably a native of Venice; most likely residing in the parish of S. Geremia, Cannaregio, (near to the present St Lucia railway station).

He may have been at an early age, a pupil of Adrian Willaert, at St. Mark’s Basilica. There is some evidence that he spent time in Verona in the early 1550’s, due to a connection with Vincenzo Ruffo, who worked there as “maestro di cappella”.  Ruffo published one of Gabrieli’s madrigals in 1554 and Gabrieli also wrote some music for a Veronese academy.

Andrea Gabrieli Venetian School of Music

He is known to have been organist in Cannaregio, between 1555 and 1557; at the time he first competed unsuccessfully, for the post of organist at St. Mark’s.

In 1562 he went to Germany, where he visited Frankfurt am Main and Munich and while there he met and became friends with the Franco-Flemish composer, Orlande de Lassus. One of the most wide-ranging composers of the entire Renaissance, he wrote secular songs in French, Italian and German; as well as abundant Latin sacred music.

It is thought that he moved on to the court of Graz in Austria and finally was patronised by the noble Fugger family, in Augsburg.

This musical relationship with Lassus, had proved immensely fruitful for both composers. Whilst Lassus certainly learned from the Venetian; Gabrieli took back to Venice numerous ideas he learned, while visiting Bavaria.


In 1564, he returned to Venice and within a short time, he was composing in most of the current idioms; including the one area which Lassus entirely avoided – purely instrumental music.

In 1566, Gabrieli was appointed to the post of first organist at St. Mark’s; succeeding Claudio Merulo. It was one of the most prestigious musical posts in northern Italy; where he gained a reputation as one of the finest current composers. He retained this position for the rest of his life.

Working in the unique acoustical space of St. Mark’s, he was able to develop his unique, “grand ceremonial style”; which was enormously influential in the development of the polychoral style and the “concertato” idiom. It partially defined the beginning of the Baroque era in music.

His duties at St. Mark’s clearly included composition, for he wrote a great deal of music for ceremonial affairs; some of considerable historical interest. He provided the music for the festivities accompanying the celebration of the famous victory over the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto (1571). He also composed music for the visit of several princes from Japan in 1585.

Late in his career, he also became famous as a teacher. Prominent amongst his students were his nephew, Giovanni Gabrieli; the music theorist Lodovico Zacconi; Hans Leo Hassler, who carried the concertato style to Germany and many others.

The date and circumstances of his death were not known until the 1980’s, when the register containing his death date was found. Dated August 30, 1585, it included the notation that he was “about 52 years old”; from which it was inferred his approximate year of birth.

His position, was not filled until the end of 1586 and a large amount of his music was published posthumously, in 1587, by nephew Giovanni.

Left: Published in 1572 – “The First Book of Madrigals in Five Voices“.



Andrea Gabrieli, a prolific and versatile composer, wrote a large amount of music, including sacred and secular vocal music, music for mixed groups of voices and instruments and purely instrumental music; much of it for the huge, resonant space of St. Mark’s.

His early style is indebted to Cipriano de Rore and his madrigals are representative of mid-century trends. Even in his earliest music, however, he had a liking for homophonic textures at climaxes; foreshadowing the grand style of his later years. (Homophonic: Having or characterised by a single melodic line with accompaniment).

After his meeting with Lassus in 1562, his style changed considerably and the Netherlander became the strongest influence on him.

Appointed to St. Mark’s Basilica, he began to turn away from the Franco-Flemish contrapuntal style which had dominated the music of the 16th century; instead exploiting the sonorous grandeur of mixed instrumental and vocal groups, playing antiphonally in the great basilica.

His music of this time, uses repetition of phrases with different combinations of voices at different pitch levels; although instrumentation is not specifically indicated, it can be inferred; he carefully contrasts texture and sonority to shape sections of music in a way which was unique and which defined the Venetian style for the next generation.

Above: Andrea (right) with his nephew Giovanni and their CD recording of “Ricercari and Canzoni”

Gabrieli wrote music for other than for St. Mark’s. He provided the music for one of the earliest revivals of an ancient Greek drama in Italian translation – ”Oedipus tyrannus”, by Sophocles, produced at Vicenza in 1585. He wrote the music for the choruses; setting separate lines for different groupings of voices.

Andrea Gabrieli was reluctant to publish much of his own music, leaving it to his nephew Giovanni Gabrieli, after his uncle’s death.

His output included:

  • 4 Masses,
  • 7 Penitential Psalms,
  • 2 Magnificats,
  • more than 100 motets,
  • 260 madrigals,
  • 4 mascherate,
  • 4 dialogue-madrigals,
  • choruses to Sophocles’s Oedipus (performed at the opening of Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza, in June 1585),
  • some 30 greghesche and justiniane (comic part-songs with dialect text)
  • many works for organ and instrumental ensembles.










Major members of the Venetian School of Music. 

Adrian Willaert (c.1490-1562) 

Jacques Buus (c.1500-1565)

Nicola Vicentino (1511-c.1576)

Cipriano de Rore (c.1515-1565)

Gioseffo Zarlino (1517–1590)

Baldassare Donato (1525–1603)

Annibale Padovano (1527–1575)

Costanzo Porta (c.1529-1601)

Claudio Merulo (1533–1604)

Gioseffo Guami (c.1540-1611)

Vincenzo Bellavere (d.1587)

Girolamo Diruta (c.1554-after 1610)

Girolamo Dalla Casa (d.1601)

Giovanni Gabrieli (c.1555-1612)

Giovanni Croce (c.1557-1609)

Giovanni Bassano (c.1558-1617)

Giulio Cesare Martinengo (c.1561-1613)

Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643)


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