In Ecclesiis – Revision Notes

This piece (another from the Applied category) was written by Gabrieli to be performed in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. The cathedral is a very large performance space, with several different balconies. Gabrieli’s orchestration makes use of these balconies, and of the acoustics of the setting.

Structure

The structure of the piece is essentially in rondo form, with the B section (the ‘alleluja’ chorus) returning in between each of the others. The full structure is:

  • Section A – bars 1-5
  • Section B – bars 6-12
  • Section C – bars 13-24
  • Section B1 – bars 25-30
  • Sinfonia – bars 31-38
  • Section D – bars 39-61
  • Section B2 – bars 62-67
  • Section E – bars 68-94
  • Section B3 – bars 95-101
  • Section F – bars 102-118
  • Section B4 – bars 119-end

Texture

A key feature of this piece is the use of antiphony – the different vocal and instrumental groups – the soloists, the chorus and the sinfonia – would each be placed on different balconies around the cathedral (the term for this is cori spezzati, literally ‘split chorus’), and so the use of antiphony between them would create an acoustic effect which filled the entire space (similarly to modern day surround sound). This is used mostly in the chorus sections, beginning in bar 6.

Another key texture used is monody – a solo voice with a continuo accompaniment. This is first seen in the countertenor solo in section A. Other textural features include polyphony with imitation (bars 10-11), chordal homophony and imitative counterpoint in the sinfonia section (bars 31-38) and free counterpoint in the alto and tenor duet (section D, bars 39-61). The texture is fuller in the chorus sections, with a full tutti on the word ‘Deus’ (bar 109) and in the final two bars.

Harmony and Tonality

As is typical of Renaissance music, there is not a clearly defined key. Instead, Gabrieli uses a variety of tonal centres, including A in the opening, C going into D (section B) and C going into G (section C). There are also some inflections of the Aeolian mode.

The harmony is non-functional, although there are some cadences (an imperfect cadence in E minor in bar 20, a perfect cadence in A in bars 33-34, and a plagal cadence in A at the end). Other features of the harmony include a circle of fifths in bars 17-19, tertiary chords in bars 102-103 and false relations in bar 102.

Rhythm and Metre

Like the tonality, the metre is somewhat ambiguous, as it does not adhere to the bar lines (a typical Renaissance feature). There is a juxtaposition of the two main time signatures, 4/2 (in the solo sections) and 3/4 (in the chorus), as well as some more unusual time signatures, such as the 3/1 bar in bar 281. Like many of the other pieces, the rhythms are generally relatively simple, but some demisemiquavers appear towards the end of the piece (bars 116-117). There are also breves in the 4/2 sections. Dotted rhythms are used in the sinfonia section.

Instrumentation

There are four solo singers – a countertenor, a baritone, an alto and a tenor, as well as an AATB chorus (there is no soprano section, as all performers at this time would have been male). There is also an instrumental group called the sinfonia, which is made up of three cornets, two trombones and a viola, and a basso per l’organo (which acts as a continuo). Each of these groups would be placed on a different balcony within St. Mark’s Cathedral.

The parts, particularly the solo vocal parts, are relatively technically demanding (especially due to the breath control required to sustain the long melismatic passages), meaning that professional performers would be required.

Melody and Word Setting

The long, sustained vocal lines are reminiscent of plainsong (part of the prima prattica – ‘first practice’ – whereas this piece is part of the seconda prattica – ‘second practice’). There is some repetition (such as bars 4-5) and development (bars 17-18) of the motifs used in the vocal and instrumental parts. The interval of the 4th becomes more important from section D (the alto and tenor duet).

There is some use of melisma (bars 10-11, for example), which helps to ensure that the stresses in the word setting reflect the natural inflections of Latin speech. Additionally, the grand tutti on ‘Deus’ (‘God’), could be considered word painting.

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