Although these two related Venetian
composers (uncle and nephew) are usually coupled together, each
earned his own place in the development of music. Towards the end
of the sixteenth century Venice was at the height of its
prosperity, with the cathedral of St Mark's at the hub of its ceremonial and sacred occasions.
The Gabriclis were among the first Italians to hold important
positions there, following the eminent Franco-Flemish composer
Adrian Willaert. who was Maestro di Capella there from 1527.
The young Andrea Gabrieli was probably
one of Willaert's pupils. Certainly he sang in St Mark's, was
organist at the church of San Geremia. and travelled as part of
Duke Albrecht's retinue, meeting Lassus in Germany. He became
Maestro di Capella at St Mark's in 1 555, gaming a reputation as a
composer, organist, and teacher. He remained there until his
His madrigals were lighter and more
pastoral than those of his peers, and he decorated his themes with
rhythmic patterns. He was also responsible for evolving a style of
sacred music appropriate to the performing requirements of St
Mark's, as well as suited to the Venetian love of pomp, using
several choirs (cori spezzati, or "spaced choirs") placed
around the galleries of the church and often accompanied by groups
of instruments such as violins and violas, cornetts, trumpets,
trombones and bassoons, and the organ. Such polychoral or
"antiphonal" works are typical of, although not exclusive to,
Venetian music of the time.
Giovanni came to be regarded as Italy's
greatest exponent of High Renaissance music. Taught by his uncle,
he followed very much in Andrea's footsteps,
including service in Duke Albrecht's court and a post at St Mark's
as organist from 1585 until his death in 1612.
Giovanni was the earliest known composer
to use the word "concerto", in a volume he published in 1587
entitled Concerti that contained a variety of works by
himself and Andrea. Although he was primarily an organist, many of
his most important instrumental compositions were ensemble works.
His motet In ecclesiis for 14 voices plus instruments is
one of the greatest polychoral works of the time, even using the
Baroque-oriented concept of soloists. Giovanni also used the
"dialogue" technique — an aspect of the Venetian tradition — in
which an independent instrumental accompaniment was set to
contrast against the vocal lines.
Giovanni's work, and in particular his
teaching of composers such as the German Heinrich Schutz, had
considerable impact across the Alps in Austria and Germany. Both
Andrea and Giovanni were important to the music of the Italian
High Renaissance; Giovanni, especially, with his more expressive
style of composition and foward-lookmg techniques, provides a link
between the Renaissance and Baroque eras.