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Giovanni Gabrieli

Maestro of Venetian Renaissance music

Man (Gabrieli?) with a lute, by Annibale Caracci

If Titian represented the summit of Renaisssance art in Venice, Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554 – 1612) achieved the same heights in music. He was the nephew and most important student of Andrea Gabrieli.

After his uncle's death in 1586, Giovanni published his works (which Andrea had neglected) and took over his position as organist at St Mark's, continuing in the Venetian School's innovative use of the basilica's exceptional accoustics and spaces, experimenting with different polyphonic harmonies, using multiple choirs and groups of instruments to respond, echo and play off each other (notably in his In Ecclesiis, using four different groups of musicians and singers) creating a sumptuous, richly textured new music that was the envy of Europe.

Venice's great scuole were becoming centres for music as well; Gabrieli took on the position of organist at the most prestigious of them all, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, where traveller Thomas Coryat heard a performance in the early 17th century, which he described in his Crudities:

so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so superexcellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like...I was for the time even rapt up with St Paul in the third heaven.

Gabrieli published his uncle's works as well as his own. In 1597, he produced the Sacrae Symphoniae, which includes his most frequently played work, the Sonata pian’e forte, an eight-part composition for two four-part groups of wind instruments that was one of the very first compositions to employ dynamics (notation for the style and volume of the notes to be played). Later works looked forward to opera (and to Monteverdi, his successor at St Mark's), with purely instrumental sections and others for soloists accompanied by a simple basso continuo.

His tomb survives in the floor of the church of Santo Stefano.

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Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: PD Art