Giovanni Gabrieli, composer and organist, represented the end of the “Venetian School” style and the move into the baroque musical era.
San Mark’s Basilica, had a long tradition of musical excellence and Gabrieli’s work there; made him one of the most noted composers in Europe. The vogue that began with his influential volume “Sacrae symphoniae” (1597), was such that composers from all over Europe and especially from Germany; came to Venice to visit or study under him.
Not only did they carry back the grand Venetian polychoral style to their home countries, but also the more intimate style of madrigals. Heinrich Schütz and others helped transport the transitional early Baroque music north to Germany; a trend that decisively affected subsequent music history. The productions of the German Baroque, culminating in the music of J.S. Bach; were founded on this strong tradition, rooted in Venice.
Giovanni Gabrieli – BIOGRAPHY
Giovanni Gabrieli was born sometime between 1554 and 1557 in Venice; one of five children. His father came from the region of Carnia (north-eastern Italian area of Friuli); arriving in Venice shortly before Giovanni’s birth.
Not much is known about Giovanni’s early life, but he studied with his uncle, the composer Andrea Gabrieli, who was employed at St Mark’s Basilica; from the 1560’s until his death in 1585. Giovanni may indeed have been brought up by his uncle, as is implied by the dedication to his 1587 book of concerti; in which he described himself as “little less than a son” to his uncle.
His uncle had travelled abroad and had made good connections. Giovanni also went to Munich in 1575, to study with the renowned Orlando de Lassus, at the court of Duke Albert V; staying there until 1579. Lassus was to be one of the principal influences on the development of his musical style.
By 1584 he had returned to Venice and in 1585, he became principal organist at St Mark’s Basilica; after Claudio Merulo had left the post. Following his uncle’s death in 1585, he took the post of principal composer as well.
Giovanni quickly assumed the limelight in the field of ceremonial music, though he was never so active as a madrigalist. The publication of his uncle’s music in 1587, was a mark of respect and regard for his music; fearing it may be lost. It also included some of his own church music.
Giovanni’s foreign connections included Hans Leo Hassler, the German composer and former pupil of Andrea, who avidly adopted the Venetian style and patrons such as the Fugger family and Archduke Ferdinand of Austria.
In later years Giovanni became a famous teacher; his most notable student was the German Heinrich Schütz.
Gabrieli’s career rose further, when he took the additional post of organist at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco; another post he retained for his entire life. San Rocco was the most prestigious and wealthy of all the Venetian confraternities; second only to San Marco itself, in the splendour of its musical establishment.
Some of the most renowned singers and instrumentalists in Italy performed there and a vivid description of its musical activity survives in the travel memoirs of the English writer Thomas Coryat. He wrote music specifically for that location; although he probably composed even more for San Mark’s Basilica.
San Mark’s had a long tradition of musical excellence and Gabrieli’s work there, made him one of the most noted composers in Europe. The vogue that began with his influential volume “Sacrae symphoniae” (1597), was such that composers from all over Europe, especially from Germany; came to Venice to study.
Evidently, he also instructed his new pupils to study the madrigals being written in Italy; so not only did they carry back the grand Venetian polychoral style to their home countries, but also the more intimate style of madrigals. Heinrich Schütz and others helped transport the transitional early Baroque music north to Germany, a trend that decisively affected subsequent music history. The productions of the German Baroque, culminating in the music of J.S. Bach; were founded on this strong tradition, rooted in Venice.
Becoming increasingly ill after about 1606, deputies were appointed; to take over duties he could no longer perform. He died in 1612 in Venice, apparently from complications of a kidney stone.
MUSIC AND STYLES
Though Gabrieli composed in many of the forms current at the time, he preferred sacred vocal and instrumental music; that exploited sonority for maximum effect. All of his secular vocal music was relatively early in his career and interestingly, he never wrote lighter forms, such as dances.
Among the innovations credited to him, although not the first to use them; were dynamics. He was the most famous of his period, to use specifically notated instrumentation (as in the famous Sonata pian’ e forte) and massive forces arrayed in multiple, spatially separated groups – an idea which was to be the genesis of the Baroque “concertato” style. This spread quickly to northern Europe, both by the reports of visitors to Venice and by Gabrieli’s students; which included Hans Leo Hassler and Heinrich Schütz.
Like composers before and after him, he would use the unusual layout of the San Marco church, with its two choir lofts facing each other; to create striking spatial effects. Most of his pieces are written so that a choir or instrumental group will first be heard on one side, followed by a response from the musicians on the other side. Often there was a third group situated on a stage near the main altar in the centre of the church.
While this polychoral style had been extant for decades; Adrian Willaert, may have made use of it first in Venice.
Above. St Mark’s Basilica. Raised choir lofts each side of the altar.
Gabrieli pioneered the use of carefully specified groups of instruments and singers, with precise directions for instrumentation and in more than two groups. The acoustic in the church was that instruments, correctly positioned; could be heard with perfect clarity at distant points. Thus instrumentation may look strange on paper. For instance, a single string player set against a large group of brass instruments; can be made to sound in perfect balance in San Marco. A fine example of these techniques, can be seen in the scoring of “In Ecclesiis”.
Gabrieli’s first motets, were published alongside his uncle Andrea’s compositions, in his 1587 volume of “Concerti”. These pieces show much influence of his uncle’s style, in the use of dialogue and echo effects. There are low and high choirs and the difference between their pitches is marked by the use of instrumental accompaniment. The motets published in Giovanni’s 1597 “Sacrae Symphoniae”, seem to move away from this technique of close antiphony; towards a model in which musical material is not simply echoed, but developed by successive choral entries.
Some motets, such as “Omnes Gentes” developed the model almost to its limits. In these motets, instruments are an integral part of the performance and only the choirs marked “Capella” are to be performed, by singers for each part.
There seems to be a distinct change in Gabrieli’s style after 1605, the year of publication of Monteverdi’s “Quinto libro di madrigali”, and Gabrieli’s compositions are in a much more homophonic style as a result. There are sections purely for instruments – called “Sinfonia” and small sections for soloists singing florid line; accompanied simply by a basso continuo. “Alleluia” refrains, provide refrains within the structure; forming rondo patterns in the motets, with close dialogue between choirs and soloists.
In particular, one of his best-known pieces, “In Ecclesiis”, is a showcase of such polychoral techniques; making use of four separate groups of instrumental and singing performers, underpinned by the omnipresent organ and continuo.
“Concerti” (1587) – “Concerti di Andrea, et di Giovanni Gabrieli, organisti della Serenissima Signori di Venetia”. – A collection of 77 works, the majority of which are by his uncle, Andrea Gabrieli; but also containing some of the younger Gabrieli’s polychoral motets.
“Sacrae Symphoniae” (1597). – A collection of: 45 motets for 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15 or 16 voices; 14 canzonas in 8, 10, 12 or 15 musical lines and two sonatas, one in 8 musical lines, the other in 12.
“Canzoni per sonare” (1608). – A collection of 36 short works by Gabrieli, Girolamo Frescobaldi, and others. The 1st to 4th and the 27th and 28th are by Gabrieli.
“Canzoni e Sonate” (written nlt. 1612, publ. 1615.) – Collection of 16 canzoni and 5 sonate for 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15 and 22 “voci, per sonar con ogni sorte di instrumenti, con il basso per l’organo (musical parts, to sound on all sorts of instruments, with bass by means of the organ)”. Published posthumously in 1615. Note that numbering as published (Roman system), does not quite agree with the Charteris catalogue.
Sacrae Symphoniae II (written nlt. 1612, publ. 1615). – “Sacrae symphoniae” Liber secundus. – Published posthumously in 1615.
Major members of the Venetian School of Music.
Giovanni Gabrieli Giovanni Gabrieli Giovanni Gabrieli Giovanni Gabrieli