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This fascinating transatlantic musical collaboration between the brass players of London’s Royal Academy of Music and New York’s Juilliard School presents enduring masterpieces by Giovanni Gabrieli and his Venetian contemporaries. Under the direction of Reinhold Friedrich, renowned trumpet soloist and Principal Trumpet of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, the players blend modern instruments and intellect with 16th-century technique and tuning to excel in this profoundly challenging repertoire. The beautiful acoustic of St Jude’s, Hampstead results in a gloriously sonorous soundscape; burnished waves of rich, warm trombones alternate with the brilliant, crystalline articulation of trumpets. Academy Principal Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, who produced the recording, states: ‘We’re hoping it will show Gabrieli as the composer of great intimate music as well as wonderfully grandiloquent Venetian polyphony.’ This remarkable recording features some of the most compelling and attractive instrumental music of the late Renaissance era and boasts performances worthy of Gabrieli’s extraordinary legacy and the reputation of these two outstanding institutions.
Although both Gabrielis had a cosmopolitan education, working and studying at different times with Lassus in Munich in addition to their local Venetian training, most of their compositions are, uniquely, associated with just one building. Indeed, it could be said that the architecture of San Marco is hardwired into their music, with its practice of cori spezzati (‘split choirs’) involving the placement of voices and instruments in different galleries throughout the church. If Andrea, who was organist at St Mark’s from 1566, developed an unmistakable Venetian ceremonial style, then it was Giovanni, appointed organist after his uncle’s death in 1585, who took particular advantage of the virtuosity of his players, as well as the sizeable forces at his disposal. Giovanni’s compositions range from three to thirty-three parts and were often written for voices, cornetts, violins, trombones and bassoons. The practicalities of performing cori spezzati called for distributed musical leadership, and the virtuoso cornettists who, as capo dei concerti, led the instrumental ensemble—Girolamo Dalla Casa, and from 1601 Giovanni Bassano—must be counted as a direct inspiration for the resplendent style of Giovanni Gabrieli’s music.
The close affiliation between Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli is apparent in publications that appeared after Andrea’s death. Their works appear side by side in Concerti … continenti musica di chiesa, madrigali & altro (1587) and Giovanni is described in the preface as ‘little less than a son’ to Andrea. Similarly, organ works by Giovanni are featured in Andrea’s Intonationi d’organo … libro primo (1593) and Ricercari … libro secondo (1595). In his later years, Giovanni Gabrieli’s reputation was international. He was so highly regarded that several north European princes sent their composers to Venice in order to learn from him. Most famously, Heinrich Schütz took leave from the Dresden court, studying with him for three years until Giovanni’s death in 1612. So it was in Germany that Giovanni’s influence was most strongly felt, and where his musical legacy was most obviously perpetuated. The first complete collection of Giovanni’s works was reprinted in Nuremberg in 1598 and 1601, and the fruits of Schütz’s Venetian sabbatical are clear in the polychoral works of his Psalmen Davids (1619), a publication that was heavily influenced by Giovanni’s compositional style.
Giovanni Gabrieli’s best-known instrumental music appeared in two publications: Sacrae symphoniae (1597) and the posthumous Canzoni et sonate (1615). Canzon noni toni a 12, from the 1597 collection, features three choirs of four ‘voices’ with irregular phrases and sequences. Sonata octavi toni a 12 and Canzon septimi toni a 8 (II) are for two equal choirs of instruments, whilst Canzon duodecimi toni a 10 (II) and Sonata pian e forte a 8 contrast high and low choirs. In the former, for two five-voice choirs, a recurring refrain is interspersed with florid solo passages, presaging the later development of the Baroque concerto; in the latter, for two four-voice choirs, Gabrieli pioneers the use of dynamics (loud and soft) to articulate his musical structure. From the 1615 collection comes Sonata XIX a 15 for triple choir, characterized by virtuosic, florid writing in the upper voices, and Sonata XX a 22 which, in twenty-two parts, is Gabrieli’s largest instrumental work. A slow theme is heard throughout Sonata XVIII a 14, a piece notable for its unusual ending. Harmonic peculiarities also appear in Canzon VIII a 8, in a refrain that occurs no fewer than fourteen times, and in the diminished intervals that characterize themes in Canzon III a 6 and Canzon V a 7. The more malleable expressive vocabulary of these canzons is also found in the final work of the 1615 collection: Sonata XXI, originally for three violins.
Venice may have been at the pinnacle of Italian musical life in the decades around 1600, but the combination of vocal and instrumental music in the liturgy at San Marco was not atypical of practice in other parts of the Italian peninsula. A musical network of pupil-teacher and professional relationships also facilitated the rapid spread of new ideas, so the conditions were in place for composers working elsewhere in Italy to produce works worthy of a place beside Gabrieli’s. Such a network can be demonstrated by the works of other composers featured on this album. Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) was another northern Italian organist and keyboard composer whose influence spread to Germany: J S Bach studied his works some sixty years after Frescobaldi’s death. Born in Ferrara (just over fifty miles from Venice), Frescobaldi became organist at San Pietro in Rome and returned there towards the end of his life, after six years as organist at the Florentine court of Grand Duke Ferdinando II de’ Medici from 1628. Frescobaldi’s canzons influenced the instrumental music of the violinist Giovanni Battista Buonamente (c1595-1642). Buonamente was born in Mantua, and during his teenage years there the post of maestro di cappella at the cathedral was held by Lodovico Viadana (c1560-1627). Viadana, who composed mostly sacred vocal music, was maestro di cappella at the convent of San Luca, Cremona, in 1602. Tiburtio Massaino (c1550-1609) was born in Cremona in the middle of the sixteenth century, returning there towards the end of the century, and was maestro di cappella at Lodi from 1600 to 1608. In 1609 Massaino returned to Piacenza—having spent some time there in the 1590s—to become maestro di cappella at the cathedral. Meanwhile, just thirty miles from Cremona, at the church of Madonna della Grazie in Brescia, worked Pietro Lappi (c1575-1630) as maestro di cappella and Cesario Gussago (fl1599-1612) as organist. Both composed instrumental and vocal music for church use, and Gussago wrote double-choir motets comparable to those of Gabrieli.
The expansive, majestic sonorities of Massaino’s Canzon No 33 echo the splendour of Gabrieli’s masterpieces. Written specifically for eight trombones, it was published in Alessandro Raverii’s Canzoni per sonare con ogni sorte di stromenti (Venice, 1608). This collection of thirty-six canzons for four to eight players also includes Gabrieli’s Canzon ‘La spiritata’ and Lappi’s Canzon undecima ‘La serafina’ which, like Gussago’s La bottana, uses two upper and two lower voices imitatively and in pairs. Although these three works are spritely, La spiritata and La serafina incorporate syncopated, dance-like sections in triple time, whereas La bottana—from Gussago’s Sonate a quattro, sei et otto, also published in Venice in 1608—remains in duple time throughout. Works by Frescobaldi also appear in the Raverii publication. However, Canzon terza a due canti, memorable for its striking chromaticism, was printed in Rome in 1628 and only later in Venice in 1634. Buonamente’s Sonata a 6 was published in his own Sonate et canzoni … libro sesto (Venice, 1636) and therefore likely to have been composed during his final post at Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi, where he was violinist in 1633 and maestro di cappella the following year. Like Viadana, he was known to write music inspired by popular music of the time, including the harmonic progression known as the romanesca. La bergamasca by Viadana is based on the chordal sequence of a rustic dance from Bergamo and can be found in his only instrumental publication, Sinfonie musicali (Venice, 1610).
This repertoire continues to be as captivating and challenging today as ever before. Venetian pitch of the time was higher than it is today and is standardized by contemporary historical performers as A=465Hz, approximately a semitone higher than modern concert pitch. Though performed and recorded here at A=440Hz in order to accommodate modern rather than historic brass instruments, this project was played in quarter comma meantone—a common historical tuning system—rather than in equal temperament. Suggested ornamentation was notated in the scores by a historically informed brass specialist—including examples from the extemporization treatises of Dalla Casa and Bassano, both directly associated with Gabrieli—in order to inspire the performers to improvise their own embellishments.
These processes result in a unique fusion of modern conventions with historical performance practices, mirroring the unique fusion of the old and the new in the music itself. This joint undertaking between two of the world’s leading music institutions is a fitting testament to the enduring masterpieces by Gabrieli and his northern Italian counterparts, from the height of the late Renaissance era.
Stephanie Dyer © 2017
There have been several outstanding Gabrieli recordings over the last forty or so years, on both old and modern instruments. The performances are characterized by a striking polarity between a ‘historical’ approach on sackbuts and cornetts at one end and the combined brass sections of major symphony orchestras on the other (who has not heard the Cleveland, Chicago and Philadelphia extravaganza on CBS Records?). The same canzon can almost seem like two different creations.
One of the primary artistic and educational motivations for this project has been to discover a ‘Third Way’, celebrating each school’s long-admired brass pedagogy and traditions of fine modern-instrument playing whilst also introducing aspects of ‘period style’—matters of balance, tuning, perspective, gesture, ornament and texture—which, in 2017, have become a part of any versatile performer’s creative armoury. Such is the friendship between these two transatlantic schools that we all waited eagerly to observe a thrilling process of discovery in each other’s company. This is precisely what happened: the players met and rehearsed in London, having been prepared beforehand for the challenges that this music uniquely throws up.
As a happy spectator, what I delighted in most—apart from the ‘product’ itself—was an exacting, evolving synergy between different players (American, British, Colombian, Chinese, Spanish, French and Italian), experiences and traditions towards a spontaneous ‘house style’. This included full exposure to the world of embellishment, meantone tuning to the organ, identifying appropriate tempo relationships, cadential and dynamic variety as well as relishing, together, how the virtuoso filigree of the liberated instrumentalist must never forfeit the long lines of vocal polyphony upon which Gabrieli builds his inscrutable edifices.
It was all guided by the astonishing, holistic direction of Reinhold Friedrich. Through a process of unyielding discovery, imagination and rigour—not to mention a call on stamina such as these students had rarely experienced—the various groups (always a deliberately changing mix of players from both institutions from piece to piece) were gently let loose to make their collective mark on the music. In a demanding and intensive recording schedule in the vast space of St Jude’s, Hampstead, these splendid works revealed their exotic wonders, from exquisite and intimate chamber mosaics to the most burnished and stupefying polychoral tapestries.
Apart from the remarkable students, I should like to thank President Joseph Polisi and Provost and Dean Ara Guzelimian from The Juilliard School and all those involved in the preparation, from both institutions, especially Mark David and Ray Mase, alongside the exceptional administrative teams at both schools and our fine recording and editing colleagues at Linn.
Jonathan Freeman-Attwood © 2017