2014-02-23 Notes from the Bench

“Missa Brevis” by Andrea Gabrieli”

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

Andrea Gabrieli (1532-1585) was an Italian composer, organist, and teacher of the late Renaissance era who was an important figure within the musical traditions of Venice and the Basilica of San Marco, where he was an organist and resident composer. Gabrieli was a prolific composer, writing sacred and secular music, works for voices and instruments. A significant amount of his sacred music was composed while he was at San Marco, and was written to reflect the grandeur of the ceremonies taking place there and exploited the rich resonance created by the space. The “Missa brevis,” or “short Mass,” is a setting of the ordinary texts of the Mass written in a less elaborate, concise manner. Andrea Gabrieli hesitated to publish his own compositions; most of his works were published posthumously by his nephew, Giovanni Gabrieli.

During the sixteenth-century, San Marco, the chapel of the doge or chief magistrate of the Venetian Republic, was at the center of urban life and musical culture in Venice where elaborate festivals, religious devotions, and ceremonies all took place there in and around the basilica.  The internal affairs of San Marco, including musical matters, were administered by the nobility of Venice, who often ignored or rejected the various mandates from Rome. A music position at San Marco was one of prestige. Those employed at the basilica enjoyed the opportunities for creativity and innovative liberties in the composition and performance of sacred and ceremonial music. The music traditions of San Marco were internationally renowned and influenced the developing traditions in the northern Italian and southern German city-states.

There are few known details of Gabrieli’s professional and personal life. Church documents are the few surviving sources that provide us some limited information. Gabrieli was likely a native of Cannaregio, a northern suburb of Venice. As a youth, he was a pupil of Adrian Willaert (1490-1562), the maestro di cappella of San Marco, and would have had opportunities to sing under Willaert’s direction. Gabrieli served as the organist for the church os San Geremia in Cannaregio and the court of Duke Albrecht in Bavaria in Munich before being appointed to the post of second organist of San Marco in 1564, a position he held for the remainder of his life.

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