musica Dei donum
Andrea GABRIELI (1532/33 - 1585): "Keyboard Music"
Glen Wilson, harpsichorda, spinetb
rec: June 5 - 7, 2009, Monreale (Sicily)
Naxos - 8.572198 (© 2010) (72'15")
Anchor che co'l partire (after De Rore)a ;
Canzon ariosab ;
Canzona Frais et gaillard (Crecquillon)b ;
Canzona Qui la dira (after anon)a ;
Canzona Susanne un jour (after Lassus)b ;
Capriccio sopra il Pass'e mezzo anticoa ;
Io mi son giovinetta (after D. Ferrabosco)a ;
Praeambulum 1. tonia [01:28];
Praeambulum 4. tonia [02:15];
Ricercar 4. tonia ;
Ricercar ariosob ;
Ricercar del 1° tuonoa ;
Ricercar del 1° tonob ;
Ricercar del 1° tuono alla quarta altaa ;
Ricercar del 3° tuonoa ;
Ricercar sopra Pour ung plaisir (after Crecquillon)b ;
Toccata 1. tonia [03:38];
Toccata del 9° tonoa ;
Toccata del 10° tuonoa 
 Girolamo Diruta, Il Transilvano, 1593;
Andrea Gabrieli,  Intonationi d’organo di Andrea Gabrieli et di Gio: suo nipote … libro primo, 1593;
 Ricercari … composti et tabulati per ogni sorte di stromenti da tasti … libro secondo, 1595;
 Il terzo libro de ricercari, 1596;
 Canzoni alla francese et ricercari ariosi, tabulate per sonar sopra istromenti da tasti … libro quinto, 1605;
 Canzoni alla francese per sonar sopra istromenti da tasti … libro sesto, 1605
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 completety 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 of 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 about 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 of 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 which is 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 praeambula (preludes) here, which also can be played at the organ. This kind of pieces were originally improvised, and it doesn't surprise that they were mostly not printed, like the two played here which both have 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 also roots in the ricercar, one of the main forms of keyboard music at the time. Two forms 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 demonstrative 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 (© 2011)