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8.553873 - GABRIELI, G.: Music for Brass, Vol. 2 (London Symphony Brass, Crees)

Giovanni Gabrieli (c

Giovanni Gabrieli (c.1553-1612)

Works for Brass, Volume 2


Any real understanding of Giovanni Gabrieli's music is impossible without some appreciation of its context within the Venice of the sixteenth century, As the main trading post between East and West, Venice was a rich and prosperous city; guarded by a powerful naval fleet it contained some of the finest art and architecture and successfully exported items of the most superb quality, including books, cloth and glass, Venetians enjoyed political stability and felt genuinely privileged, with a deep sense of pride in the quality of their own standard of living and their ability to impress foreign dignitaries. This was reflected in the ceremonial aspects of public life in which all strata of society were involved, and where the religious was healthily mixed with the temporal - Venice was never a close friend of the Church of Rome. Processions were regularly held on important civil and religious occasions; they would often be led by the republic's ruler, the Doge, whose role was as much caretaker and guardian as head of state; they usually began around the magnificent Byzantine Basilica of St Mark itself. They were of the utmost importance to the community, being governed by a careful protocol dating back to the fifteenth century which ensured the greatest degree of solemnity and pomp. One of the most important customs was that at least six silver trumpets should play at such events, ensuring the necessity of instrumental music to accompany all great celebrations in and of the Most Serene Republic.


Into this splendour came Giovanni Gabrieli; his exact date of birth is unclear, but it was some time between 1553 and 1556: the unclear handwriting in his obituary indicates that he was either 56 or 58 at the time of his death in 1612. He was born into a musical family - his uncle Andrea (c.1510-1586) had worked and studied in Munich and was appointed to St Mark's in 1566 as organist, quickly becoming a celebrated composer, especially of ceremonial music, thus continuing a tradition of formal music going back to the thirteenth century and one which became particularly important following the appointment of the Flemish musician Adrian Willaert (c.1490-1562) as Director of Music in 1528.


We know that, apart from almost certainly having lessons with Andrea, Giovanni also worked in Munich at the court of Duke Albrecht V and, like his uncle before him, studied there with the great Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594), probably returning to Venice after Albrecht's death in 1579. He deputised as organist at St Mark's in 1584 and then again in 1585, and was made second organist and composer following the resignation of the previous incumbent, Claudio Merulo (1833-1604), who was lured to the Steccata Chapel in Parma for a higher salary .In the same year he became organist of the Schola Grande di San Rocco, a part-time post. He was to hold down both positions until his death in 1612 from a kidney stone complaint which had troubled him for over six years.


Gabrieli's time as a colleague of his uncle was unfortunately short-lived, as Andrea died at the then extremely ripe age of 76, the year after his nephew's appointment. The need for a successor to continue his grand style of composition must have been in the minds of the authorities when they gave Giovanni the job; they were not to be disappointed. Immediately he began to edit and publish his uncle's 'Concerti', often written for cori spezzati or divided choirs of voices and instruments. This was to greatly influence his own compositional style; Giovanni's genius was to fully realise the potential of their spatial technique and to carry it even further, As the new Principal Composer of St Mark's, he was granted permission to hire freelance singers and players to enlarge the virtuoso ensemble already established permanently in 1567, and he embarked on a series of choral and instrumental works which utilised not only the galleries of the Basilica, but also special platforms which were erected for important festivities, accommodating as many as five separate groups.


It would be easy to think of Gabrieli just as a composer of special effects, but just the range and expression of his compositions alone is remarkable. At no time is Gabrieli a formulaic composer; he was constantly experimenting with every aspect of musical technique Even a cursory examination of his two main collections, the 1597 Sacrae Symphoniae and the purely instrumental posthumously published 1615 Canzoni e Sonate will reveal that no two works are really similar. Sonority is especially important - groups of contrasting high and low voices are common and he may even, surprisingly, dispense with alto and tenor voices altogether. There is both mastery of intricate counterpoint and yet immensely impressive block chords; part writing and complex rhythms reflect both the virtuosity and sheer musicianship of the players for whom the works were written, and in the later works especially there is a harmonic audacity which pushes late Renaissance music-making to its very limits. It comes as no surprise that Gabrieli's most famous pupil, Heinrich Schutz, said of him in a preface to a set of his own Sacrae Symphoniae, which he dedicates to his teacher, 'But Gabrieli, immortal gods - what a man!'


Giovanni Gabrieli had taken the grand multi-choral style as far as it could go; it was the end of an era - the Venetian High Renaissance. Claudio Monteverdi had already ventured into opera with Orfeo in 1607 and his appointment as moestro di cappella of St Mark's was to usher in a very different sort of music-making; there is sadly no evidence to indicate that Gabrieli's music was ever played there again until his rediscovery this century.


The works represented on this, the second of three volumes of Gabrieli's complete instrumental ensemble music, contain many sides of Gabrieli's genius. The seemingly fanciful titles to the works contained in the 1597 Sacrae Symphoniae (Canzon Noni Toni, Duodecimi Toni, Septimi Toni and so on) do not refer (as has often been postulated with no real evidence) to the Church modes, but to melodic fragments based on various modes known to both Milanese and Venetian musicians, and which were possibly of both musical and emotional significance. More musicological study is needed to reveal their exact meanings but the eight toni referred to in the 1610 Concerti Ecclesiastici by Giovanni Paolo Cima certainly point the way for further research.


Recently found in the German regional library of Kassel, the opening Canzon a 12 is for three choirs unusually divided into three, four and five parts, with both bass lines in the latter. It contains virtually no music for each separate choir, integrating all voices into a rich yet spacious sonority unique in Gabrieli's instrumental works.


Seven high tessitura parts unfold remarkably cheerful and skilful counterpoint in Canzon V, while the two five-voice groups and 'coro grave' of four trombones in the Sonata XVIII are the vehicles for one of the very greatest works. Its dazzling chromatic intertwining and subtle wit have no superiors in the late Renaissance.


The four-part Canzon Seconda is one of three perfectly crafted miniatures included here from the four in Raverii's 1608 collection, and forms a total contrast with the stately formality of Canzon Primi Toni a 8. Both grandeur and virtuosity are married in the three-choir Sonata XIX, unlike the characteristic and lively rising theme of the largely through-composed six part Canzon II, while Sonata Octavi Toni a 12, with only two soprano voices on a plush underly of ten trombones, achieves the ultimate in rich solemnity and noble antiphony.


Dotted rhythms and battle-like figures feature in the two S.A.T.B. choirs of Canzon XII, while the angular intervals of the diminished fourth and fifth provide the material for the six voices of Canzon III.


The confident, bright major feel throughout the seven-part writing of Canzon VI points to a work conceived for a joyous rather than for a formal occasion; the three choirs of Canzon XVI conversely begin with strongly independent material linked by an instantly recognisable four-chord motif. When all the choirs eventually combine, they trade incisive cross-rhythms or animated chatter; only at the very end does everybody join in a coda of rare splendour.


Eric Crees 1999





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