In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Giovanni Gabrieli

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biography
  • Thematic Catalogues and Work-Lists
  • Modern Editions
  • Source Studies

Music Giovanni Gabrieli
David Bryant
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0210


Giovanni Gabrieli (b. c. 1554/7–d. 1612) is generally regarded as the supreme representative of large-scale Venetian ceremonial music for voices and/or instruments during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and was also one of the most celebrated keyboard players of his day, occupying the role of organist at the Venetian ducal chapel from 1585 until his death. Foremost among his teachers and mentors was undoubtedly his uncle Andrea Gabrieli, likewise organist at St Mark’s; he was also in close contact with Orlando di Lasso during his period of service to Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria between 1574 and 1579. Perhaps due to the elitist, exclusive nature of his service to the Venetian state, the bulk of his large-scale ceremonial music was printed in a limited number of monumental retrospective editions, published in 1587 (Concerti di Andrea, & di Gio. Gabrieli, 6–16 voices), 1597 (Sacrae symphoniae, 6–16 voices), and posthumously in 1615 (Symphoniae sacrae [. . .] liber secundus, 6–19 voices; Canzoni et sonate, 3–22 voices). Heir to the 16th-century Venetian musical tradition (as testified by his work as editor of Andrea’s unpublished materials), his memory was by no means obscured by Claudio Monteverdi’s subsequent thirty-year tenure as maestro di cappella. Gabrieli’s compositions circulated widely in northern and central Europe, where their popularity was perhaps furthered by his many pupils (among them Melchior Borchgrevinck, Hans Nielsen, Mogens Pedersøn, Alessandro Tadei, Christoph Cornet, Christoph Kegel, Johann Grabbe, Christoph Clemsee, and the celebrated Heinrich Schütz, all sent to Venice at the expense of their courtly patrons); the many surviving manuscript sources are probably but a fragment of what originally existed. Though few Italians can be unequivocally identified as pupils of Gabrieli, his works are known to have been frequently cited, paraphrased, or reworked by younger northern Italian (above all, Venetian) composers. In general, knowledge of Gabrieli and his milieu has much improved in recent decades, thanks to significant research not only on his biography, his works, and their sources, and the immediate context of his activities at St. Mark’s, but also on the social and economic aspects of daily musical life in what was one of the largest, richest, and most commercially oriented cities on the Italian peninsula. The Venetian musical phenomenon includes, on the one hand, regular or occasional musical activities in the city’s many churches and private palaces (which, together, provided significant earnings for large numbers of musicians, whether or not salaried members of the ducal cappella) and, on the other, the auxiliary trades of music printing and instrument making. Central, too, has been the question of Gabrieli’s and his contemporaries’ music as sound, in terms of both the particular interaction among musical composition, performing forces, space, and the specific liturgical and ceremonial requirements of the Venetian ducal basilica (a question which has engaged generations of researchers) and with regard to the performance of polychoral (and non-polychoral) music elsewhere in the city.

General Overviews

Winterfeld’s and Benvenuti’s pioneering studies (Winterfeld 1834, Benvenuti 1931–1932), in German and Italian, respectively, provide much useful data, though in a context partially determined by their authors’ overriding interests in national culture. The most recent English-language monographs, Kenton 1967 and Arnold 1986, are now dated, though important achievements in their day. Like other publications of their period, these volumes are based on few musical sources indeed in comparison with what is discussed in Charteris 1996 and other studies by the same author (see Thematic Catalogues and Work-Lists and Source Studies), and they suffer from the limited availability of archival documentation as subsequently used to shed light on questions of function and performance practice. Arnold 1974 and Canguilhem 2003 (in French) are short and readable guides to the composer and his music, while Grove Music Online (Bryant 2001) and Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Fenlon 2005) contain good summaries of life and works, and compact bibliographies and work-lists. Baroncini’s Italian-language monograph (Baroncini 2012) is the most comprehensive study to date.

  • Arnold, Denis. Giovanni Gabrieli. London: Oxford University Press, 1974.

    An informative and highly readable introduction to the composer, though superseded, in part, by subsequent decades of research.

  • Arnold, Denis. Giovanni Gabrieli and the Music of the Venetian High Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

    As the earliest study to make use of contemporary documentation, an important stimulus for subsequent research (though the paucity of historical data then available now represents one of the volume’s major limits). Biography, description of “service at St Mark’s,” and discussions of Gabrieli’s sacred, secular, and instrumental production. Despite sometimes inaccurate discussion of source materials and superficial treatment of compositional and performing practices, still the best full-length English-language exposition. First published in 1979.

  • Baroncini, Rodolfo. Giovanni Gabrieli. Palermo, Italy: L’Epos, 2012.

    This Italian-language study, based on a combination of documentary research and thoroughgoing analysis of individual compositions, is by far the most detailed discussion presently available of Gabrieli’s life, works, and social and cultural milieu. Of particular importance are Baroncini’s contributions in the areas of private patronage in Venice (pp. 50–67), the composer’s biography (pp. 69–199), the organization of the ducal chapel, and performance practice in St Mark’s (pp. 233–272).

  • Benvenuti, Giacomo. Andrea e Giovanni Gabrieli e la musica strumentale in San Marco. 2 vols. Milan: Ricordi, 1931–1932.

    Editions of vocal and instrumental music by both Gabrielis, prepared in accordance with transparently modern editorial principles (original note values, original clefs, and a detailed critical commentary), are preceded by a substantial historical introduction whose nationalistic tendencies stress the specifically Italian accomplishments of the Venetian (as opposed to the Flemish) school of composition.

  • Bryant, David. “Giovanni Gabrieli.” Grove Music Online. 2001.

    Authored for the 2001 printed edition of the New Grove Dictionary (Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. 9, edited by Stanley Sadie [New York: Grove, 2001]). Discusses biography, works, and Venetian milieu. Work-list based on Charteris 1996 (cited under Thematic Catalogues and Work-Lists), with subsequent additions. Bibliography be updated to September 2018. Available online by subscription.

  • Canguilhem, Philippe. Andrea et Giovanni Gabrieli. Paris: Fayard, 2003.

    A useful French-language introduction to Gabrieli, his musical production, and his Venetian milieu.

  • Fenlon, Iain. “Giovanni Gabrieli.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Personenteil 7. 2d ed. Edited by Ludwig Finscher, 349–364. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2005.

    A comprehensive and reliable German summary of life, works, and Venetian milieu. Bibliography to 1998. Work-list based on Charteris 1996 (cited under Thematic Catalogues and Work-Lists). Also available online.

  • Kenton, Egon. Life and Works of Giovanni Gabrieli. Musicological Studies and Documents 16. Rome: American Institute of Musicology, 1967.

    Kenton’s original intention of translating Winterfeld 1834 is maintained only in chapter 1. Winterfeld’s prevailing vision of Gabrieli as a composer of large-scale sacred polyphony is broadened to include other vocal and instrumental repertories. With a reasonably accurate thematic catalogue (superseded by Charteris 1996, cited under Thematic Catalogues and Work-Lists) and many detailed analyses of individual works (though inadequate knowledge of instrumental practice in performing large-scale ceremonial works sometimes mars understanding).

  • Winterfeld, Carl Georg Vivigens von. Johannes Gabrieli und sein Zeitalter. Berlin: Schlesinger, 1834.

    The earliest monograph entirely devoted to the then largely forgotten composer. Inspired by Gabrieli’s importance as a model for sacred polyphony in 17th-century Germany. Discusses only church music, and devotes an entire chapter to Gabrieli’s pupil Heinrich Schütz. Largely responsible for defining the characteristics of a specifically Venetian school of church music dominated by chordal harmony, instrumental color and cori spezzati technique, as opposed to the contrapuntal model of Palestrina.

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