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Sonata pian e forte

Giovanni Gabrieli (c1553-1612)

Sacrae Symphoniae - Sonata pian e forte

It was not until 1597 that 16 of Giovanni Gabrieli’s own instrumental compositions; 14 canzonas and two sonatas, were printed. Although he may have intended violinists to take part in some of these Sacrae Symphoniae, they could all have been performed on brass instruments alone, and in fact, Giovanni specifies that the Canzon del duodecimi toni should be played by two choirs of cornetts and trombones. In this piece the first two parts in the score are given solo material which looks forward to the concerto style of the seventeenth century. Similarly forward looking, though more sober in character, is the Sonata pian e forte, which has gained its place in musical history as the earliest known piece in which the composer distinguished between loud and soft passages in the score. In fact, recent research suggests that this distinction should go to the Canzona in Echo by Antonio Banchieri, which was published in Venice during the previous year, but as Banchieri’s compositions reveal his familiarity with Gabrieli’s earlier music, we cannot be certain which, if either, of the two was the first to think of marking dynamics in the score.

John Humphries

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