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30 August 2017

Andrea Gabrieli - composer

Father of the Venetian School

Andrea Gabrieli was the organist at the Basilica di San Marco in Venice
Andrea Gabrieli was the organist at the
Basilica di San Marco in Venice
The Venetian composer and organist Andrea Gabrieli, sometimes known as Andrea di Cannaregio, notable for his madrigals and large-scale choral works written for public ceremonies, died on this day in 1585.

His nephew, Giovanni Gabrieli, is more widely remembered yet Andrea, who was organist of the Basilica di San Marco – St Mark’s – for the last 19 years of his life, was a significant figure in his lifetime, the first member of the Venetian School of composers to achieve international renown. He was influential in spreading the Venetian style of music in Germany as well as in Italy.

Little is known about Andrea’s early life aside from the probability that he was born in the parish of San Geremia in Cannaregio and that he may have been a pupil of the Franco-Flemish composer Adrian Willaert, who was maestro di cappella at St Mark’s from 1527 until 1562.

In 1562 – the year of Willaert’s death – Andrea is on record as having travelled to Munich in Germany, where he met and became friends with Orlando di Lasso, who wrote secular songs in French, Italian, and German, as well as Latin.  There was evidence in the later work of Di Lasso of a Venetian influence, while Gabrieli took back to Venice numerous ideas he learned from Di Lasso.

In 1566 Gabrieli was chosen for the post of organist at St. Mark's, one of the most prestigious musical posts in northern Europe, and he retained this position for the rest of his life.

Giovanni Gabrieli published his uncle Andrea's  music after his death
Giovanni Gabrieli published his uncle Andrea's
music after his death
The acoustics of St. Mark's helped him develop a grand ceremonial style. In part, this was because his duties at St. Mark's included composing music for ceremonial affairs.

These included the festivities accompanying the celebration of the victory over the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and the music for the visit to Venice by a party of princes from Japan in 1585.

He was also renowned, towards the end of his career, as a teacher. His nephew, Giovanni, was a pupil, along with the music theorist Lodovico Zacconi and the German composer Hans Leo Hassler.

Andrea Gabrieli is reckoned to have written more than 100 motets and madrigals, which are pieces written for voices rather than musical instruments, and a smaller number of orchestral or instrumental works.

The church of San Geremia sits by the junction of the  Grand Canal and the Cannaregio Canal
The church of San Geremia sits by the junction of the
Grand Canal and the Cannaregio Canal
His music featured repetition of phrases with different combinations of voices at different pitch levels. In many ways, his music defined the Venetian style for future generation.

Little of his music was published during his own lifetime, apparently through his own reluctance, but it was preserved largely thanks to Giovanni, who recognised its importance and, after his uncle’s death at the age of about 52, of unknown causes, he took it upon himself to publish it.

Among the works Giovanni published was his Magnificat for three choirs and orchestra, almost certainly written to be performed in St. Mark’s, which is regarded as one of Andrea Gabrieli’s finest compositions.

The Ormesina Canal in the Cannaregio district
Travel tip:

The church of San Geremia, where Andrea Gabrieli probably played at some stage early in his career, is situated at the junction of the Grand Canal with the Cannaregio Canal, which is one of the main waterways of the city but which is often overlooked by tourists. The Ormesina and Sensa Canals, which run parallel with the Cannaregio Canal, are lined with good cafes and restaurants and interesting shops, but mostly they are the preserve of people living in the area.

The Basilica di San Marco
The Basilica di San Marco
Travel tip:

The original church on the site of the Basilica di San Marco may have been built in the ninth century, although the earliest recorded mention was dated 1084. It has been rebuilt several times, the present neoclassical church dating from a rebuilding of 1795-1806, for patrician Pietro Zaguri, by Giannantonio Selva. 

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