A VENETIAN CORONATION 1595 Gabrieli Consort & Players / Paul McCreesh. Virgin

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A Venetian Coronation 1595 Gabrieli And Players Paul Mccreesh Virgin

A VENETIAN CORONATION 1595

Grand ceremonial music for the coronation of Doge Marino Grimani by Andrea & Giovanni Gabrieli

Gabrieli Consort & Players / Paul McCreesh

Music and Ceremony at St Mark’s

The Basilica of St Mark served a dual function as both private chapel of the Doge and principal church of the State, and as such figured prominently in Venetian political life. With its own distinctive liturgy, a minutely detailed ceremonial, sumptuous mosaic decoration, works of art and magnificent music, the Basilica not only reflected vividly the worldly glories of the Serenissima Repubblica but also served to illustrate a complex fusion of political and religious ideology. Differing ranks of feasts called for specific types of music: in particular, the formal appearance of the Doge at Mass and Vespers on thirty or so days each year required the exposition of the great golden altar-piece, the Pala d’oro, the presence of instrumentalists and the performance of elaborate music. Every few years a major event would demand yet more lavish celebration: the signing of a treaty, a naval victory, the end of a plague, the visit of a prince or ambassador, or the coronation of a Doge. These festivals are frequently described in Venetian histories and, even judged by Venetian standards of opulence, would be of quite stupendous extravagance. This recording recreates one such event, the Coronation Mass of Doge Marino Grimani celebrated on the morning of 27 April 1595.

The Venetian Coronation Rite

Venice’s meritocratic form of government, and the role of the Doge as primus inter pares, led to a coronation ritual that differs substantially from most other European rites. After a complex system of balloting by 41 senior statesmen the election of a new Doge was heralded by the ringing of bells. If the choice proved popular, widespread rejoicing would often follow.

The official coronation ceremonies were tripartite. The Doge entered St Mark’s where he received the Ducal banner and was presented to the people; he was then carried around the Piazza San Marco, throwing specially minted coins to the crowds, and finally he was crowned with the Ducal berretta on top of the Scala dei Giganti in the courtyard of the Ducal palace. These formalities, although performed in the presence of the St Mark’s clergy, were essentially secular and it was only with the actual coronation Mass, celebrated in the Basilica the next morning, that the new Doge’s appointment was solemnised.

The election of Marino Grimani (1532-1605) was welcomed with particular enthusiasm by revellers who ripped up stalls in the Piazza to fuel a huge bonfire. Grimani responded to this popular support by rewarding the populace with ample gifts of wine, bread and money. He was also particularly fond of ceremonial life, and the numerous state festivals he devised during his reign form the background to the extraordinary musical riches of the period, and especially to the works of Giovanni Gabrieli (1553-1612).

The Cappella Marciana

In 1595 St Mark’s maestro di cappella was Baldassare Donato, a sound administrator if a somewhat insipid composer, who had spent his entire life in the service of the Basilica. Giovanni Gabrieli served as one of the organists, and composed much large-scale festival music. The Cappella Marciana comprised some sixteen singers with an instrumental ensemble of cornetts, sackbuts and a few string players, often greatly augmented by freelance players. The Doge’s own piffari e trombone and retinue of fanfare-trumpeters were also present at major events, contemporary descriptions mentioning up to twenty-four trumpeters and drummers. In addition to the Basilica’s two famed organs it was customary to hire additional chamber organs. The Introit was usually sung by the Cappella Marciana, but all other plainchant was sung by a separate body of clerics.

There were at least seven areas around the altar area from which musicians performed, including the two organ galleries and the pulpitum magnum cantorum or bigonzo by the screen. The division of forces into two, three or four spacially separated vocal and instrumental ‘choirs’ is one of the most characteristic features of Venetian sacred music. The musicians almost certainly faced inward towards the altar and the Doge’s seat, the main aim being to tickle the ears of the dignitaries rather than to fill the Basilica with washes of sound. Much of the music bears this out; even in the very grandest polychoral pieces there are still elements of chamber music in the interplay between voices and instruments.

The Music

It is difficult to date so much of the Venetian repertoire, especially sacred music which was often published in large, retrospective and sometimes posthumous collections. There is evidence that music remained in repertoire some decades after composition, stile antico polyphony rubbing shoulders with motets and concerti in a more up-to-date style.

The Kyrie, Gloria and Sanctus are performed in settings by Andrea Gabrieli (c.1533-1585), Giovanni’s uncle and a previous organist at the Basilica. The four-choir Gloria may date from the Mass of the Japanese Princes in 1585. The more expansive settings of Kyrie and Sanctus are a masterful blend of poised polyphony and the rich sonorities of three contrasted choirs. The Communion motet O sacrum convivium, probably the earliest work included here, is altogether more intimate, at once restrained and ecstatic.

Giovanni Gabrieli’s compositions also feature prominently, including a brilliant setting of the collect for St Mark, Deus qui beatum Marcum, in classic cori spezzati style. The festive motet Omnes gentes, one of the few four-choir pieces written before the new century, is included as a final motet of praise. The text, from Psalm 46, refers in passing to the Ascension, but as this Psalm occurs in the office for all three major feasts of St Mark, Venetians may well have viewed this work as suitable for any festival of state rejoicing. Giovanni Gabrieli’s canzonas and sonatas are a landmark in instrumental music: extensive, elaborately scored works of a wide expressive range. The four instrumental pieces included here from the 1597 Sacrae Symphoniae well illustrate this variety from the brilliance of Canzona 9, with its virtuosic, concerto-like treble parts, to the solemn and sombre Canzona 16 with its dozen sackbuts.

There is no extant Venetian trumpet music, but judging from concordances between the few surviving sources of early trumpet music the repertoire seems to have been pan-European. The fanfares and sonata are taken from a contemporary tutor by the Italian trumpeter Cesare Bendinelli and a manuscript compiled by the Danish court trumpeter Magnus Thomsen. Organ toccatas and intonations by both Gabrielis punctuate the service at various points. There are also descriptions of both St Mark’s organs playing together, but again no music survives. Following the widespread sixteenth-century practice of organ intabulation, Andrea Gabrieli’s motet Benedictus Dominus Deus sabaoth has been transcribed for two organs in florid style. The chant is taken from a number of Venetian sources, including a previously inaccessible sixteenth-century Gradual from the Basilica’s treasury. The pronunciation system is based on current research into contemporary linguistics, the Venetian dialect having a marked effect on vocal colour, especially in the chant.

The Reconstruction

The sequence of music in this recording takes the form of a liturgical reconstruction, not only incorporating the texts and ceremonial procedures of the Venetian rite but also reflecting the musico-liturgical practices of the era. In northern Italy it was customary to suppress certain items of the liturgy in order to place greater emphasis on extra-liturgical music. Most often the official text was said by the celebrant in secreto at the High Altar. This practice was never sanctioned by the official (Roman) authorities but in Venice, more than anywhere else, it allowed music to take an ever-increasing importance in services – at St Mark’s there was even a rule allowing priests to be fined if they interrupted the music! Certain points in the Mass were considered particularly suited to musical elaboration with toccatas, motets, sonatas and canzonas, especially the Gradual, Offertory, Elevation, Agnus Dei, Communion, Post-communion and Deo gratias. It is not yet clear how much of the official text was spoken, sotto voce, under such music, and in any case there seems to have been considerable flexibility in practice. In Venice, the Agnus Dei was frequently omitted, and it is quite possible that almost all the chant items from the preface onwards were covered by the multiplicity of musical substitutes.

The coronation Mass was celebrated with its own unusual and hybrid liturgy, that of a Mass of the Holy Trinity with the collect of the Feast of St Mark. Venetian liturgical sources are always complex, and research is constantly developing. If some decisions regarding minor aspects of the reconstruction are conjectural, it is nonetheless based on a thorough interpretation of all the major Venetian sources.

In any case such details are relatively unimportant – the reconstruction is of necessity speculative in terms of the actual music performed on that April morning almost four hundred years ago. More interesting is the possibility of recreating something greater than the sum of the individual pieces, and of putting all the music into a richer, more colourful and more dramatic perspective. We may have lost our ability to respond to religious and civic ritual so beloved of renaissance Venice, but in reconstructing such events we can perhaps rediscover something of the artistic and spiritual riches of this great city at the zenith of her powers.

Virgin 6026782

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