Some of the most important forms of keyboard music have their
origin in the 16th century, in particular the prelude, the toccata
and the fugue. In Italy, in the mid-16th century, crucial developments
in keyboard composing took place. Among the composers who were
responsible for the evolution of keyboard music was Andrea Gabrieli.
For that reason a disc which is completely devoted to his keyboard
oeuvre is of great importance. It also sheds light on a part
of Gabrieli's oeuvre which is not that well-known.
Andrea Gabrieli was born in Venice and was educated as an organist.
In 1557 he applied for the position of organist of San Marco,
as the successor to Girolamo Parabosco. He failed, and Claudio
Merulo was appointed, who would then develop into one of the
main musical personalities in Venice in the next 25 years. In
the early 1560s Gabrieli came into contact with Orlandus Lassus.
In 1562 Lassus' employer, Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria, went to
Frankfurt to attend the coronation of Emperor Maximilian II.
In his retinue were both Lassus and Gabrieli. But his heart
apparently was in Venice. In 1566 he was appointed as organist
of San Marco - alongside Merulo - and he resisted an attempt
by Lassus to make him return to Bavaria to enter the service
of Duke Albrecht. Little is known about him as a person, but
in his liner-notes Glen Wilson includes a quotation which suggests
Gabrieli was a demanding teacher.
This disc presents a survey of the various genres in vogue at
the time. It doesn't include all genres to which Gabrieli contributed.
Wilson has omitted that part of his oeuvre intended for the
organ. Therefore the Intonazioni which were to be played
before a vocal piece, indicating the pitch to the singers, are
missing. Instead we get two preludes here, which also can be
played at the organ. This kind of piece was originally improvised,
and it doesn't surprise me that they were mostly not printed.
That’s certainly thre case with the two played here which
have both come down to us in manuscript. The other free form
with improvisational origins is the toccata. Venice was
the main centre of toccata writing, and Gabrieli played an important
role in the development of this form. The two toccatas on this
disc are in three contrasting sections.
The toccata has roots in the ricercar, one of the main
forms of keyboard music at the time. Two types of ricercar are
known in music history, the imitative and the non-imitative.
The former is the kind of ricercar used in Italy and developed
by Gabrieli into a piece on a single theme. In addition he deployed
various techniques which were to become a standard part of the
fugue in the baroque era, like inversion and diminution. Gabrieli
also wrote ricercars on vocal subjects. The Ricercar sopra
Pour ung plaisir is an example; it is based on a chanson
by Thomas Crecquillon. Here he only uses themes from this chanson,
unlike in the canzonas on vocal models, like the Canzona
Frais et gaillard, again on a chanson by Crecquillon. In
this the upper voice of the vocal original is treated according
to the diminution technique which was so popular in Italy. Part
of it involves the breaking up of the longer notes in fast passages
and the addition of ornaments. The madrigals Anchor che col
partire by Cipriano de Rore and Io mi son giovinetta
by Domenico Ferrabosco are treated the same way. Lastly Wilson
plays two independent pieces, the Ricercar arioso and
the Canzon ariosa which may have a vocal character but
are not based on vocal models.
The interest of this programme lies in the range of forms on
display here. Moreover Wilson has ordered the pieces in such
a way that there is a maximum of variety. That is also due to
the alternating use of two different instruments. Most pieces
are performed on a harpsichord, but it is nice to hear a spinet
as well, which was a common instrument but is not often used
in recordings. Both instruments are built after Venetian models
of the 16th century. "Their soft iron single-stringing produces
a more vocal sound than that usually associated with later types
of Italian harpsichords", Glen Wilson states.
And he is right: the sound of the instruments suits the music
very well. He is also an excellent guide through Gabrieli's
oeuvre, and brings out the idiosyncracies of his music convincingly.
He plays brilliantly but never in an exhibitionist way. The
tempi are well-chosen, and the counterpoint is allowed to blossom.
Nobody interested in early keyboard music should miss this disc.
Johan van Veen