Andrea Gabrieli (1532/1533 –
August 30, 1585) was an Italian composer and organist of the
late Renaissance. The uncle of the somewhat more famous
Giovanni Gabrieli, he was the first internationally renowned
member of the Venetian School of composers, and was
extremely influential in spreading the Venetian style in
Italy as well as in Germany.
Details on Gabrieli's early life are sketchy. He was
probably a native of Venice, most likely the parish of S.
Geremia. He may have been a pupil of Adrian Willaert at St.
Mark's in Venice at an early age. There is some evidence
that he may have spent some time in Verona in the early
1550s, due to a connection with Vincenzo Ruffo, who worked
there as maestro di cappella – Ruffo published one of
Gabrieli's madrigals in 1554, and Gabrieli also wrote some
music for a Veronese academy. Gabrieli is known to have been
organist in Cannaregio between 1555 and 1557, at which time
he competed unsuccessfully for the post of organist at St.
In 1562 he went to Germany,
where he visited Frankfurt am Main and Munich; while there
he met and became friends with Orlande de Lassus, one of the
most wide-ranging composers of the entire Renaissance, who
wrote secular songs in French, Italian, and German, as well
as abundant Latin sacred music. This musical relationship
proved immensely fruitful for both composers: while Lassus
certainly learned from the Venetian, Gabrieli took back to
Venice numerous ideas he learned while visiting Lassus in
Bavaria, and within a short time was composing in most of
the current idioms, including one which Lassus entirely
avoided: purely instrumental music.
In 1566 Gabrieli was chosen
for the post of organist at St. Mark's, one of the most
prestigious musical posts in northern Italy; he retained
this position for the rest of his life. Around this time he
acquired, and maintained, a reputation as one of the finest
current composers. Working in the unique acoustical space of
St. Mark's, he was able to develop his unique, grand
ceremonial style, which was enormously influential in the
development of the polychoral style and the concertato
idiom, which partially defined the beginning of the Baroque
era in music.
His duties at St. Mark's
clearly included composition, for he wrote a great deal of
music for ceremonial affairs, some of considerable
historical interest. He provided the music for the
festivities accompanying the celebration of the victory over
the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto (1571); he also composed
music for the visit of several princes from Japan (1585).
Late in his career he also
became famous as a teacher. Prominent among his students
were his nephew Giovanni Gabrieli; the music theorist
Lodovico Zacconi; Hans Leo Hassler, who carried the
concertato style to Germany; and many others.
The date and circumstances
of his death were not known until the 1980s, when the
register containing his death date was found. Dated August
30, 1585, it includes the notation that he was "about 52
years old"; his approximate birth date has been inferred
from this. His position at St. Mark's was not filled until
the end of 1586, and a large amount of his music was
published posthumously in 1587.
Gabrieli was a prolific and versatile composer, and wrote a
large amount of music, including sacred and secular vocal
music, music for mixed groups of voices and instruments, and
purely instrumental music, much of it for the huge, resonant
space of St. Mark's. His works include over a hundred motets
and madrigals, as well as a smaller number of instrumental
His early style is indebted
to Cipriano de Rore, and his madrigals are representative of
mid-century trends. Even in his earliest music, however, he
had a liking for homophonic textures at climaxes,
foreshadowing the grand style of his later years. After his
meeting with Lassus in 1562, his style changed considerably,
and the Netherlander became the strongest influence on him.
Once Gabrieli was working
at St. Mark's, he began to turn away from the Franco-Flemish
contrapuntal style which had dominated the music of the 16th
century, instead exploiting the sonorous grandeur of mixed
instrumental and vocal groups playing antiphonally in the
great basilica. His music of this time uses repetition of
phrases with different combinations of voices at different
pitch levels; although instrumentation is not specifically
indicated, it can be inferred; he carefully contrasts
texture and sonority to shape sections of music in a way
which was unique, and which defined the Venetian style for
the next generation.
Not everything Gabrieli
wrote was for St. Mark's, though. He provided the music for
one of the earliest revivals of an ancient Greek drama in
Italian translation: Oedipus tyrannus, by Sophocles, for
which he wrote the music for the choruses, setting separate
lines for different groupings of voices. It was produced at
Vicenza in 1585.
Evidently Andrea Gabrieli
was reluctant to publish much of his own music, and his
nephew Giovanni Gabrieli published much of it after his