Giovanni Gabrieli (b.1554-7, d. 1612), In ecclesiis from
Symphoniae Sacrae II, 1615
At the turn of the seventeenth century Giovanni Gabrieli held one of the
most important musical jobs in Europe, that of Director of Music at St Mark's
Church, Venice. Since the 1420s the best musicians of the day had been employed
at this, the city's principal church. Venice was rich, being the centre of
trade (in silk and spices, for example) between the Eastern and Western worlds.
Its elite, sophisticated citizens enjoyed the ostentatious pageantry made
possible by copious wealth, the prestige of military victories and a tradition
of processing through the streets.
Giovanni Gabrieli's predecessors at St Mark's included Adrian Willaert
(c.1480-1652, who had brought to Venice the Netherlandish polyphonic style,
initiated by Josquin des Près (c.1445-1521) around the turn of the sixteenth
century; its high prestige and modernity ensured that cities wanted to employ
its practitioners, such as Willaert, who was born in Bruges (now in Belgium).
Taverner, pieces written in this style treat each voice part as being of
equal importance, rather than the more traditional approach of having one voice
singing a slow cantus firmus, with other parts providing fluent, yet
unimportant, contrapuntal accompaniments.
Another of Giovanni's predecessors was his uncle, Andrea Gabrieli
(?1510-1585). Both Andrea and Giovanni had known Orlande de Lassus
(c.1532-1594) during their travels in Germany and his music represents an
important staging post on the stylistic road to the motet In ecclesiis.
Lassus was a master of the Netherlandish polyphonic style, but adapted it to a
more harmonic, rather than polyphonic, idiom. Like the Gabrielis, he wrote for
double choir (SATB-SATB) and responded to his text in the more homophonic
fashion of a madrigal composer.
Both Gabrielis followed Lassus' style: their music is polychoral and is
infused by madrigalisms. The particular polychoral style the Gabrielis pursued
is known as cori spezzati: pezzati means 'piece'
andspezzati 'split' (thus, cori spezzati indicates a work for split,
spaced or divided choirs). Giovanni Gabrieli's output represents the high
watermark of cori spezzati. Looking at bars 119-124 we can see that the choir
sing 'Alleluia' one bar before the soloists, who, positioned elsewhere, create
an echo effect that is quite different from the normal practice of alternating
sections of the choir antiphonally: the alternation is immediate rather than
verse-by-verse. In effect, Gabrieli has three 'choirs' at play in In
ecclesiis, the soloists, the chorus, and the instruments, all supported by
However, Giovanni added a new element to his work: continuo. The organ plays
throughout in In ecclesiis, allowing the composer to use more expressive
solo ornamentation of the type described by Caccini in Le nuove musiche
(1602). This can be seen particularly clearly in bars 85 to 95, on the word
vivificanos (give us life). There are intricate, virtuosic rhetorical figures
growing in intensity and exuding the liveliness which the words, which seem
ideally suited to this kind of treatment, demand. At this time sacred music did
not lag behind secular music as a conservative genre, and the stylistic
innovations created by the birth of opera (elsewhere in Italy, in Florence and
Mantua) are readily apparent.
Harmonically Giovanni Gabrieli is a little more adventurous than Lassus, but
not as daring as Monteverdi (see page 353). Tonally, the music oscillates
between F major and A major/minor, finishing in the latter, although there is a
striking move from F major to D major in bar 102, and it even descends a
tritone (B-flat – G – E) in bars 108-109. The form of this work is sectional
but a great crescendo is effected, running from the opening to its conclusion.
It is not unified by any attempt at tonal progression, but by the recurrent
triple-time refrain, which was first used by Giovanni in O magnum
mysterium, from the 1587 publication Concerti.
Some of the same features can be seen in the work of one of Giovanni
Gabrieli's pupils, the German Heinrich Schütz, who studied with him from
1609-1612. Schütz's Herr, unser Herrscher, based on Psalm 8, has a
continuo basis to its polychoral texture, and, like In ecclesiis, employs
instruments. However, Schütz absorbed less of Gabrieli's response to the new
monodic style: whereas Gabrieli distinguished himself by writing independent
instrumental parts, Schütz merely doubled the voices.
The Latin text is non-liturgical and the often-repeated Alleluias indicate
that a feast not far from Easter may have been responsible for the motet's
composition. Since this extract is long, a complete harmonic scheme is not
provided, although attention is drawn to important points and stylistic
||In ecclesiis benedicite Domino
/ In the congregations bless ye the lord
||Countertenor solo in a minor mode.
The phrase is in 2 distinct parts, consisting of long notes in the first half
and quicker note values in the second
||Note how the modal melodic line is
chant-like in its characteristics, a common feature that is found throughout
the motet. It follows the general shape of plainchant, written mainly in long
notes and punctuated with
||Countertenor solo with chorus. The
harmonies of the Alleluias move from the dominant of C major for the first
phrase, and an immediate repeat up a tone, achieved by launching into the new
key via its dominant.
||Alleluias – F major, moving back to
the tonic of a minor. Like the opening phrase, this is in two parts – initially
a punctuating triple time, a joyous interpolation, followed by a more serene
Alleluia in which quaver movement provides a quasi-contrapuntal effect.
||In omni loco dominationis benedic
anima mea Dominum / In every place of His dominion bless the Lord, O my
||Baritone solo – similar intent to the
opening and made up of two distinct phrases. Note the step-wise modulations In
omni loco, a typically Gabrielian feature – a minor – C major (13-14); F major
– a minor.
||This cyclical modulation is, by
18th-century standards, quite crude and plays on the relationship of the minor
third: a minor moves to its dominant and then into G major with a 6-5
suspension (13-14), establishing that as the dominant of C. From there it is a
simple matter of modulating to F and a sequential repeat of exactly the same
||Baritone solo with chorus
||Multipartite structure in which
verset-like material is juxtaposed (a typically Venetian feature). 34.3-38 is
an extension of 31-32.2, modifying the figuration with antiphonal quaver
movement. Harmonically, not much happens.
||Note how the texture remains
relatively simple, even in the spicy dotted section between 32.3 and 34, which,
although sounding complex, is, in fact, quite straightforward. A typical
'madrigalistic' feature is the 3-4-3 suspension (e.g.33.3-34). From here
onwards, the instruments become an integral part of the texture.
||In deo salutari meo et gloria mea.
Deus auxillium meum et spes mea in Deo est. / God is my help and my hope is
in God; in God my saviour and my glory
||Alto and tenor duet. Some 'shock'
harmonies occur through these bars – note the sudden B major chord at bar 41,
approached from an a minor 7 chord. Also note how this changes in the next
beat, with the sudden D-natural in the tenor. We are provided with touches of g
minor (43), approached from its dominant but immediately discarded with an A
major chord (44), which forms the dominant of the d minor, etc.
||This is a more complex and certainly
the longest individual passage in the motet. The tireless harmonic meandering
and strong juxtaposition of unrelated keys might sound harsh to our ears, but
in fact is not unusual for music of this period, and unifying factors, such as
strong perfect cadences (41.4-42/45.4-46, etc.) do provide tonal reference
points. Note how the tenor part is almost a mirror image of the alto, Gabrieli
retaining melodic interest. This might be seen as canonic dovetailing, but in
reality is little other than simple antiphonal imitatio.
||The harmonic rhythm slows in an
anticipation of the end of this particular section. More unrelated keys are
visited, D major (48.1-2), G major (48.3), F-sharp (49.1-2) and B major/minor
||Note how, as the harmonic rhythm
slows, the instrumental figuration increases in its complexity, especially
between 57 and 62, where the instrumental parts wind themselves around the
voices in thirds.
||Alto and tenor duet with chorus.
||=6-12, expanded with addition of
||Deus noster te invocamus adoramus.
Libera nos, salva nos, vivificanos. / Our God, we call upon Thee, we praise
Thee, we worship Thee. Deliver us, preserve us, grant us life
||Countertenor and baritone duet. The
section opens with a decorated interpolation of the word Deus by the
countertenor, reflecting the melodic rhythm of the preceding section and acting
as a link to this section proper. Again the harmonic rhythm is slow-moving, but
now keeps within a more restrictive framework.
||Melodies remain fragmentary –
antiphonal imitation. Note the sudden change to triple time, perhaps
anticipatory of vivificanos (give us life), in which the music directly
reflects the meaning of the text. Note how the instruments (other than the
continuo) are tacet.
||Countertenor and baritone duet with
||Deus adiutor noster, in
aeternum. / O God, our help forever.
||Tutti. Mainly homophonic movement
with relatively confined and uncomplicated harmonic scheme
||Final section before the final
alleluia. Note the extended canonic melismas on aeternum in the solo parts –
this is the first point in the musical narrative in which complex counterpoint
||=63-67 – tutti with instruments
doubling choir at the octave to add strength and depth. Unusually, the solo
voices retain the least musical interest here.