Giovanni Gabrieli’s massive, double-choir, sixteen-part madrigal Udite, chiari e generosi figli
is a vocal pièce de résistance, with a text full of references to nautical mythological figures; this mythology would have been readily comprehensible to any educated Venetian. Gabrieli sets the work for fourteen voices, supporting them below with basso continuo and above with a lone ‘cornetto muto’. The eight singers of the first choir take the role of Tritons, calling on the citizens of Adria to listen to Poseidon, King of the Oceans (here Adria is an allusion to Venice, rather than the town which sat between the mouths of the rivers Po and Adige). Triton himself was the son of Poseidon, and dwelt in a golden palace at the bottom of the sea. ‘Gradita’ (literally ‘chargers’, or white horses) refers to Triton’s practice of riding sea horses or other monsters. The Tritons (part human, part fish) would, at the command of Poseidon, blow on a trumpet made out of a shell and soothe the waves. The second choir takes the role of Sirens. In mythology, these were sea nymphs who had the power of charming all who heard them with their singing. Ulysses avoided their wiles by tying himself to the mast of his ship and by filling the ears of his companions with wax. When Jason and the Argonauts sailed by, the Sirens sang in vain, surpassed by Orpheus and his lyre; finding someone who was unmoved by their songs, they threw themselves into the sea, and were metamorphosed into rocks. Amphitrite was one of the fifty Nereids (another was Thetis, mother of Achilles) and was the mother of Triton. Gabrieli’s madrigal is a magnificent, large-scale composition, full of word-painting and dramatic contrasts, climaxing in a remarkable sixteen-part final chorus which urges the Venetians to be bold and proud.
from notes by Robert King © 1998