Gabrieli, Schütz, and the Development of the Baroque

Venice at the end of the 16th century was a cultural melting pot: the city of the doges was Europe’s preeminent port, and merchants from across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia gathered to trade. Musicians were an international bunch, as well: the late Renaissance saw the tremendous influence of Burgundian and Low Country composers, including Josquin de Prez and Guillaume Dufay, who were great influences on Palestrina and his contemporaries, Tomás Luis de Victoria and Orlando de Lassus. Palestrina remained in Rome, Victoria returned to Spain (although he made regular trips back to Italy), and the Franco-Flemish de Lassus ended his career in Munich; however, his connections with Italy were still strong, as Andrea Gabrieli traveled to Germany to study with him in 1562.

Choir lofts at St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice

Choir lofts at St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice

The work of Giovanni Gabrieli (c.1554/1557-1612), Andrea’s nephew and student, represents the culmination of the Venetian polychoral style of the late Renaissance and early Baroque. Developed in the 1540s for the dual choir lofts in St. Mark’s Basilica (because of the distance and reverberation between the two sides of the church, it was impossible for a divided choir to sing in unison) this unique style made a virtue out of necessity by giving opposing choirs successive, often contrasting phrases. This idea of different groups singing in alternation eventually evolved over many successive generations into musical forms such as the chorale cantata, the concerto grosso, and the sonata.

Giovanni Gabrieli

Giovanni Gabrieli

As the organist and principal composer at St. Mark’s in the late 1580s and 1590s, Gabrieli was at the forefront of musical development. He was the first composer to specify particular instruments in his scoring, including brass choirs—an orchestration also prominent in Heinrich Schütz’s “Uppsala” Magnificat, which City Choir will perform on May 19. (The piece is written for double chorus and a soloists’ ensemble accompanied by trombone choir.) Gabrieli also included dynamics in his compositions, and developed his famed “echo” effects. The addition of a basso continuo to the St. Mark’s musical arsenal after 1603 marked a further step in the Baroque cantata’s evolution. Gabrieli’s innovations became wildly popular throughout Europe, and musicians from across the continent made the pilgrimage to Venice to study with him.

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) was one such composer. Exposed to polyphonic and polychoral music through the influence of de Lassus and others, Schütz journeyed to Venice to study with Giovanni Gabrieli from 1609-1612. Gabrieli is the only person Schütz ever referred to as being his teacher, and the admiration was likely mutual, as Gabrieli bequeathed a ring to Schütz.  

Schütz was a popular and very prolific composer, and his transportation of early Baroque music from Venice to Germany unquestionably affected the development of the German Baroque, culminating in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel.

Heinrich Schütz

Heinrich Schütz

Handel (1685-1759) and Bach famously share a birth year, and together they form the apotheosis of Baroque composition, built on the firm foundation of Venetian polychoral technique. Mozart was inspired and his musical development shaped by both composers, but he had a special affection for Handel. Mozart particularly admired Handel’s Messiah, and quoted extensively from it. City Choir audiences will be able to hear one of these examples for themselves at the Baroque and Beyond concert. The choir will perform “And With His Stripes,” a chorus from Messiah, followed by Mozart’s Requiem. Listen carefully to the fugue that ends both the first and last movements of the Requiem—the melody is clearly borrowed from Handel!

© Emily Hantman Tsai, April 2019

ehantmantsai@gmail.com