Andrea Gabrieli

From New World Encyclopedia

Andrea Gabrieli (c. 1533 – 1586) 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.

His many sacred madrigals, secular vocal compositions, and instrumental pieces made him a musical figure known for his mature character and his gratifyingly productive life. Within his lifespan, Gabrieli identified his goals and slowly expanded his world of relationships and issues.


Details on Gabrieli's early life are sketchy. He was probably a native of Venice, and may have been a pupil of Adrian Willaert at St. Mark's there. He is known to have been organist in Cannaregio in 1557, at which time he competed unsuccessfully for the post of organist at St. Mark's. In 1562 he went to Germany, where he visited Frankfurt am Main and Munich; while there he met and became friends with Orlando di Lasso. In 1566 he 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 contemporary 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 (1586).

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 are not known, but since his position at St. Mark's was filled at the end of 1586, and a large amount of his music was published posthumously in 1587, it is presumed that he died in 1586.


Gabrieli was a prolific and versatile composer who 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 one hundred motets and madrigals, as well as a smaller number of instrumental works.

His early style is indebted to Cipriano de Rore, and his madrigals are representative of mid-sixteenth 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 his strongest influence.

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 sixteenth 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 that was unique and 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 a good deal of the music after his uncle's death.


The legacy of Andrea Gabrieli is in his pioneering efforts to gain a new musical direction rather than to meekly endorse the then current Netherlandish style of complex contrapuntal styles with a continuous imitative counterpoint. He brought to Italy and Germany a simpler style of music with strophic lines accompanied by a homophonic four part texture that had a set rhythmic pattern under a simple melody. This became the Italian frottola form which was known as a national genre.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bradshaw, Murray C., and Degrada, Francesco. Andrea Gabrielli and the early history of the toccata. Firenze: L.S. Oischki. 1987.
  • Gabrielli, Andrea, and Merritt, A. Tillman. Complete Madrigals. Madison, WI: A-R Editions. 1981.
  • Reese, Gustave. Music in the Renaissance. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1954. ISBN 0-393-09530-4
  • Sadie, Stanley, ed. "Andrea Gabrieli." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Vol 20. London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1980. ISBN 1-561-59174-2
  • Wolf, Johannes. Music of earlier times; vocal and instrumental examples (13th century to Bach). New York: Broude Bros. 1955.

External Links

All links retrieved July 26, 2023.


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