Giovanni Gabrieli

Canzoni et Sonate (1615), C. 195-214

    Description by "Blue" Gene Tyranny

    Gabrieli's exciting 17 canzoni and four sonati of the posthumous 1615 edition were intended "per sonar con ogni sorte de instrumenti con il basso per l'organo" (to be played on all sorts of instruments with the organ bass). Only a few of these pieces were specifically orchestrated by the composer, and the organ bass may have a spinet, harpsichord, lute, guitar, cittern, chittarone, small harp, positive or regal organ added to it or played in dialogue with it, each instrument playing a different accompaniment or playing each with its own choir.

    Decisions about orchestration must be made by referring to the nature of the music to be played. Primarily, bravura passages should be given over to brass instruments, contrasted with diminutions (quiet parts) in other instruments, or where no contrasts are intended, instruments of the same family should be used for a more uniform surface. For example, the Canzon Prima à 5 (canto, alto, quinto, tenore, and basso, plus the organo), which has no wide contrasts or bravura writing, would be performed by five strings, five shawms, five woodwinds, or five brass (three cornets and two trombones), and so on. These are all possibilities that are preferable to an instrumentation consisting of instruments from different families.

    However, where there are multiple voices in overlapping ranges (even if there are still no vivid contrasts), it is a good idea to have contrasting timbres by assigning various families. For example, for Canzon IX à 8, with its skipping triplet rhythms and spectacularly polyphonic although brief coda, the following fascinating instrumentation has been used (highest to lowest): (1) violin and alto recorder, (2) violin and alto recorder, (3) chalemie, (4) viola, (5) bass recorder and epinette, (6) viola and lute, (7) alto krummhorn, and (8) cello and krummhorn.

    These canzoni and sonati clearly demonstrate the essence of G. Gabrieli's mature style: the extensive use of imitation in the form of echoing choirs, quick alteration of different forms of the harmonic minor as one form of simple chromaticism played over standard root progressions, vigorous, surprising rhythmic changes, and the frequent use of fanfare-like repeated notes and chords, as in the heroic Canzon XIV à 10, usually orchestrated for two groups, each consisting of violin, two cornets (or trumpets), and two trombones, plus the organ continuo.

    Sonata XVIII à 14 is one of the few orchestrated by the composer: two choirs, each having two cornets (or trumpets) and three trombones, and a third choir with four trombones with organ. He gives unique material to each choir, which gives it a character from which it rarely deviates: the first, sombre ascending modulations; the second, thrilling flashy runs and faster dotted rhythms (charge!); and the third, the lowest range/slowest moving notes with occasional calls.

    By contrast, after establishing in successive order the unique characters for the five choirs of mixed string, brass, and winds of Sonata XX à 22, the choirs blend in magnificent harmonic resonances, and unfold into a masterpiece of rhythmic invention.


    1. Canzon Prima à 5
    2. Canzon 2 à 6
    3. Canzon 3 à 6
    4. Canzon 4 à 6
    5. Canzon 5 à 7
    6. Canzon 6 à 7
    7. Canzon 7 à 7
    8. Canzon 8 à 8
    9. Canzon 9 à 8
    10. Canzon 10 à 8
    11. Canzon 11 à 8
    12. Canzon 12 à 8
    13. Canzon 13 à 8
    14. Canzon 14 à 10
    15. Canzon 15 à 10
    16. Canzon 16 à 12
    17. Canzon 17 à 12
    18. Sonata 18 à 14
    19. Sonata 19 à 15
    20. Sonata 20 à 22
    21. Sonata 21

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2014 Tactus TB 550702
    2011 Classics & Jazz / Universal / Universal Classics & Jazz
    2007 Harmonia Mundi 1951688
    1996 Tactus 550701