Giovanni Gabrieli, publ. 1615
Arguably Gabrieli’s most famous work is In ecclesiis, a motet of fourteen parts and Basso per l’organo. Following delivery from the plague in 1577, a mass of the Holy Trinity was celebrated in the Church of the Redeemer on the Giudecca. Every year thereafter, a procession headed by the Doge made its way to the Church of the Redeemer to hear low mass, then returned to Saint Mark’s for high mass to celebrate the event. In ecclesiis seems to have been conceived as part of this latter service.
Published posthumously in Gabrieli’s 1615 Sacrae symphoniae (“Sacred Symphonies”), the motet is written for three groups: the first comprising soloists, while the second is designated capella or chorus. Its function seems strictly to participate in the alleluia refrain. The third group comprises cornettos, trombones and violino (we would call it a viola), while the basso per l’organo plays throughout as a rudimentary continuo part.
(Quintus) In ecclesiis benedicite Domino.
In the churches bless ye the Lord.
(Octavus) In omni loco dominationis benedic anima mea Dominum
In all His dominions praise the Lord, my soul.
(Sinfonia — instruments)
(Altus, tenor) In Deo salutari meo et gloria mea
In God [is] my salvation and my glory
Deus auxilium meum et spes mea in Deo est.
God my aid and my hope is in God, and my hope is in God.
(Quintus, octavus) Deus meus Deus noster te invocamus
My God, our God, we invoke Thee
te adoramus te laudamus, libera nos salva nos vivifica nos.
we adore Thee, we praise Thee, free us, save us, make us to live.
(Tutti) Deus adiutor noster in aeternum.
God our help eternal.
The work is unusual in several aspects. First, the list of voices and instruments is quite specific; Gabrieli knew exactly which instruments should take part. Second, the solos accompanied only by organ were unusual for Saint Mark’s, although not for the Baroque as a whole. Whether or not singers were stationed in different parts of the church, it is clear that the composer wanted to emphasize the antiphonal aspects of the work. And finally, despite the absence of tempo indications, the sectioned structure of the work is clear from the layout of the lyrics above, and it demands pauses and changes in tempo if the words are to be understood.
The work’s effect is all the more stunning as Gabrieli builds the tension inexorably from the beginning. It slackens a little toward the end, only to return with majestic, awe-inspiring chords on the words Deus! Deus! (“God! God!”) and the extended flourishes on in aeternum (“forever”) before ending triumphantly with a final alleluia.