Giovanni Gabrieli

From Wind Repertory Project
Giovanni Gabrieli


Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554/1557 – 12 August 1612) was an Italian composer and organist.

He was one of the most influential musicians of his time, and represents the culmination of the style of the Venetian School, at the time of the shift from Renaissance to Baroque idioms. While not much is known about Gabrieli's early life, he probably studied with his uncle, the composer Andrea Gabrieli; he may indeed have been brought up by him, as is implied in some of his later writing. He also went to Munich to study with the renowned Orlando de Lassus at the court of Duke Albrecht V; most likely he stayed there until about 1579. By 1584, he moved to Venice, where he became principal organist at Saint Mark's Basilica in 1585, after Claudio Merulo left the post; following his uncle's death the following year he took the post of principal composer as well.

Gabrieli's career rose to further acclaim 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, and second only to San Marco itself in splendor of its musical establishment.

Though Gabrieli composed in many of the musical forms current at the time, he clearly preferred sacred vocal and instrumental music. He used 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 from the left, followed by a response from the musicians to the right (antiphon). While this polychoral style had existed for decades— Adrian Willaert may have made use of it first, at least in Venice—Gabrieli pioneered the use of carefully specified groups of instruments and singers, with precise directions for instrumentation, and in more than two groups. The acoustics were such in the church—and they have changed little in four hundred years—that instruments, correctly positioned, could be heard with perfect clarity at distant points. Thus instrumentation which looks strange on paper, for instance a single string player set against a large group of brass instruments, can be made to sound, in San Marco, in perfect balance.

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