Sample 13 Mark Answer – In Ecclesiis

Image © Christ Church Cathedral Choir

Gabrieli’s In Ecclesiis was written at a time when Venice was an extremely wealthy and powerful city state. How are both its splendour and creativity reflected in the music? (13 marks)

Much of the splendour of In Ecclesiis derives from the location in which it was intended to be performed – the piece was written for St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, a large, grand building with many galleries. Gabrieli exploits this layout, writing for a large ensemble, including four soloists and an AATB chorus (cori spezzati), a sinfonia made up of six players (which is used independently at the section beginning in bar 31) and a basso per l’organo, with the intention that each group would be placed on a different gallery, creating a resonant sound (the echo of the building is also exploited by the use of silence, such as in bars 123 and 127). This architecture is also the reason behind Gabrieli’s use of antiphony, which is seen most prevalently in the ‘alleluja’ choruses (for example, in bar 6-10). As such, the use of the ensemble in this way highlights the celebratory nature of the text.

The splendour and creativity of the piece can also be seen in Gabrieli’s use of the conventions of the seconda prattica, which were relatively new at the time. While the long, sustained vocal lines are reminiscent of plainsong – part of the prima prattica – the use of melisma (such as in the solo alto and tenor in bars 46-52) embellishes the melody, and also increases the technical demands of the vocal parts, resulting in the need for professional performers. Other elements of the piece are also elaborate, for example the sinfonia, which uses imitative counterpoint (most notable in bars 32-33) and some more complex rhythms, such as the semiquavers in bars 37-37 (the vocal parts become similarly rhythmically demanding, using demisemiquavers at bars 116-117). Finally, much of the piece’s splendour can be seen in the grand tuttis on the word ‘Deus’ (bars 102 and 107) and in the final two bars.

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