GABRIELI: Music for Brass, Vol. 3 (Eric Crees/ London Symphony Brass/ Mike Purton) (Naxos: 8.554129)
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Music for Brass Volume3
Any real understanding of Giovanni Gabrieli's music is impossiblewithout some appreciation of its context within the Venice of the sixteenthCentury. As the main trading post between East and West, Venice was a rich andprosperous city; guarded by a powerful naval fleet, it contained some of thefinest art and architecture and successfully exported items of the most superbquality, including books, cloth and glass. Venetians enjoyed political stabilityand felt genuinely privileged, with a deep pride in the quality of their ownstandard of living and their ability to impress foreign dignitaries. This wasreflected in the ceremonial aspects of public life in which all strata ofsociety were involved and where the religious was always healthily mixed withthe 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 r??le was asmuch caretaker and guardian a, head of state; they usually began around themagnificent Piazza and would then proceed into the Byzantine Basilica of StMark itself. They were of the utmost importance to the community, beinggoverned by a careful protocol dating back to the fifteenth century whichensured the greatest degree of solemnity and pomp; one of the most importantcustoms was that at least six silver trumpets should play at such events,ensuring the necessity of instrumental music to accompany all greatcelebrations in, and of the Most Serene Republic.
Into this splendour came Giovanni Gabrieli; his exact date of birth isnot clear, but it was some time between 1553 and 1556: the unclear handwritingin his obituary indicates that he was either 56 or 58 at the time of his deathin 1612. He was born into a musical family: his uncle Andrea (c. 1510-1586) hadworked and studied in Munich and was appointed to St Mark's in 1566 asorganist, quickly becoming a celebrated composer, especially of ceremonialmusic, thus continuing a tradition of formal music-making going back to thethirteenth century and one which became particularly important following theappointment of the Flemish musician Adrian Willaert (c. 1490-1562) as Directorof Music in 1528.
We know, apart from almost certainly having lessons with Andrea, thatGiovanni Gabrieli 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. Hedeputised as organist and composer following the resignation of the previousincumbent, Claudio Merulo (1533-1604), who in 1591 became organist to theSteccata Chapel in Parma for a higher salary. In the same year he becameorganist of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, apart -time post. He was to holddown both positions until his death in 1612 from a kidney-stone complaint whichhad troubled him for over six years.
Giovanni Gabrieli's time as a colleague of his uncle was unfortunatelyshort-lived, as Andrea died at the then extremely ripe age of 76, the yearafter his nephew's appointment. The need for a successor to continue his grandstyle of composition must have been in the minds of the authorities when theygave Giovanni the job; they were not to be disappointed. Immediately he beganto edit and publish his uncle's Concerti, often written for corispezzati or divided choirs of voices and instruments, which was greatly toinfluence his own compositional style; Giovanni's genius was to realise thefull potential of their spatial technique and to carry it even further. As thenew principal composer of St Mark's, he was granted permission to hirefreelance singers and players to enlarge the virtuoso ensemble alreadyestablished permanently in 1567, and he embarked on a series of choral andinstrumental works which utilised not only the galleries of the Basilica, butalso special platforms which were erected for important festivities,accommodating as many as five separate groups.
It would be easy to think of Gabrieli as just a composer of specialeffects, but the range and expression of his compositions is remarkable. At notime is Gabrieli a formulaic composer and he was constantly experimenting withevery aspect of musical technique. Even a cursory examination of his two maincollections, the 1597 Sacrae Symphoniae and the purely instrumentalposthumously published 1615 Canzoni e Sonate will reveal that no twoworks are really similar. Sonority is especially important - groups ofcontrasting high and low voices are common and he may even surprisingly,dispense with alto and tenor voices altogether. There is both mastery ofintricate counterpoint and yet immensely impressive block chords; part-writingand complex rhythms reflect both the virtuosity and sheer musicianship of theplayers for whom the works were written and in the later works especially thereis a harmonic audacity which pushes late Renaissance music making to its verylimits. It comes as no surprise that Gabrieli's most famous pupil HeinrichSch??tz (1585-1672) said of him in a preface to a set of his own SacraeSymphoniae which he dedicates to his teacher "But Gabricli, ye mortalgods - what a man!"
Giovanni Gabrieli, however, had taken the grand multi-choral style asfar as it could go: it was the end of a great era, the Venetian HighRenaissance. Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) had already ventured into operawith Orfeo in 1607 and his appointment as maestro di cappella ofSt Mark's was to usher in a very different sort of music-making; there is sadlyno evidence to indicate that Gabrieli's music was ever played there again untilhis modern rediscovery.
This is the third and final volume of the world premiere recording ofGabrieli's complete instrumental ensemble canzonas and sonatas, again bringinga veritable cornucopia of musical splendours. The seemingly fanciful titles tothe work, contained in the 1597 Sacrae Symphoniae (Canzon Noni Toni,Duodecimi Toni, Septimi Toni etc.) do not refer, as has often beenpostulated with no real evidence, to the Church modes on which they might bebased, but to melodic fragments based on various modes known to both Milaneseand Venetian musicians which were possibly of both musical and emotionalsignificance. More musicological study is needed to reveal their exact meaningsbut the eight toni referred to in the 1610 Concerti Ecclesiastici byGiovanni Paolo Cima certainly point the way for further research.
A grand opening tutti in the Canzon in f'cho Duodecimi Toni precedesan ingenious exploration both within and between the two five-part choir, ofevery aspect of echo effect; the single ten-part grouping of Canzon XV eschewsantiphony in favour of a strongly argued contrapuntal development of theopening rising theme. A high semiquaver duet over ascending faux-bourdon orfirst-inversion chords forms an extraordinary coda.
The conservative five-voice Canzon Prima has deft harmonic andrhythmic touches which point towards the imagination of the later works while CanzonDuodecimi Toni ?á 10 No. 2 genuinely prefigures the baroque concerto grossowith its repeated ritornello and virtuoso episodes for the two soloists over asimple harmonic background.
Canzon Quarti Toni is surely the most lavish piece in the 1597collection: fifteen voices in three choirs, lying almost exclusively in thealto to bass registers, trade rich exchanges which eventually lead to taxingpassage-work for the first voices in each group. Canzon