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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). As with 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 the organ.

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 features.


Bar Text/Translation What happens Comment
1-5 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
6-12 Alleluia 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.
13-24 In omni loco dominationis benedic anima mea Dominum / In every place of His dominion bless the Lord, O my soul 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 modulation.
25 Alleluia Baritone solo with chorus =6-12
31-38 SINFONIA 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.
39-47 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.
48-62   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 (49.3-4). 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.
63-67 Alleluia Alto and tenor duet with chorus. =6-12, expanded with addition of extra soloist
68-95 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.
96-101 Alleluia Countertenor and baritone duet with chorus. =63-67
102-114 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 is employed.
115-126 Alleluia Tutti =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.

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