Sacrae symphoniae liber secundus

Giovanni Gabrieli, 1615

Two of Giovanni Gabrieli’s most influential collections were published in 1615, three years after his death. The Canzone e Sonate and the Symphoniae Sacrae in particular feature a distinct change in Gabrieli’s style, and include some of his most famous works such as In ecclesiis, the Sonata pian’e forte (“Loud and soft sonata”), and the polychoral Omnes gentes plaudite for sixteen voices Tomb of Giovanni Gabrieli
Tomb of Giovanni Gabrieli
(Wikimedia Commons)
in four choirs.

Given Gabrieli’s stature, the Symphoniae — intended as sequel to the 1597 collection of the same name — were one of the more notable titles among a list of dozens of sets of sacred music in a newer style, featuring voices and instruments together, published in the first three decades of the century. Whether specified in a title or not, the term concerto or concertato becomes somewhat blurred in meaning from the one specified by Viadana. More narrowly, smaller–scale concerted music was aimed at intimate and expressive music by reducing the number of singers, thereby coming closer to the ideals of monody.

In broader terms, on the other hand, it signified vocal music in which instruments were a conspicuous feature, whether they took the part of one or more missing singers, played the same parts as (i.e. ‘doubled’, colla voce) existing singers, or played otherwise independent parts. Obviously a continuo instrument was invaluable in such a circumstance. In more conservative Rome instruments were less popular, and a newer tradition took hold which latterly became known as the ‘colossal Baroque’, in which more prima pratica works by Palestrina et al. were arranged for a number of choirs — on special occasions, even dozens of choirs, with singers in every available niche throughout a church.

Despite his death just as the formal Baroque period was getting under way, Gabrieli like so many other composers of his time understood the changing sensibilities of his day and embraced them fully. Rather than avoiding or ignoring change, as older generations are sometimes apt to do, he led the way in adapting the polychoral practice to more homophonic textures and the supporting basso continuo technique. His admirers and pupils alike would ensure that his legacy was disseminated not only in Italy but throughout Europe.

⇐ Grandi, Motetti

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