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Gabrieli, Giovanni (c1554/7-1612)
Portrait by Annibale Carracci (1560–1609)

Giovanni Gabrieli

born: c1554/7
died: 1612
country: Italy

We do not know for certain when or where Gabrieli was born. The record of his death from kidney stones, dating from 12 August 1612, gives his age as fifty-eight, which would suggest a birth date of around 1554. His father lived for a period in the parish of San Geremia in Venice, so it is possible that Giovanni was born in the city. Like his uncle Andrea, he spent some time—certainly between 1575 and 1578—at the court of Duke Albrecht V in Munich, where he worked as a musician under one of the most important composers of the mid-sixteenth century, Orlande de Lassus. By 1584 Giovanni was working in Venice, as temporary second organist at St Mark’s; this appointment was made permanent from 1 January 1585 and Giovanni held it until his death.

Like many of the St Mark’s musicians, however, Giovanni also worked to provide music in other Venetian institutions as a way of supplementing his salary: on 4 August 1585 he was also appointed organist to the Scuola Grande of San Rocco, a charitable confraternity of wealthy and pious laymen, for whom he played at Mass and Vespers on a number of occasions each year, and directed the sumptuous music for the annual feast of San Rocco (St Roche) on 16 August. For this festival Mass was celebrated before the doge at the church of San Rocco and followed by music in the lavishly decorated upper room of the scuola. The 1608 celebration of St Roche’s day was described in great detail by an English traveller, Thomas Coryat, who heard the music at the scuola directed, as we now know, by Gabrieli himself. Coryat’s much-quoted account tells of there being seven organs in the room, accompanying some twenty singers and an equal number of instrumentalists, performing together in ensembles of various sizes for around three hours. The music was, he says, ‘so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super-excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like’. It is possible, then, that as many of Giovanni’s grand instrumental and vocal works were written for the Scuola Grande of San Rocco as for St Mark’s.

from notes by John Whenham © 2012

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