Appropriating Gabrieli

One of the characteristics of the new piece, and something I haven’t tried before, is that it needs to make reference to other music – specifically, early music. To this end, I’m looking at ways of incorporating aspects of a motet by Giovanni Gabrieli.

I’m at a slight disadvantage, in that I don’t have the full source: I came across this piece several years ago, when I was editing a recording of a performance. But I didn’t copy the whole score; I transcribed the notes, without text, so that and a title is all I have now. I’m reasonable convinced that this is it (Thanks, Michael Norris!), and from that I deduce that the text is Psalm 7, but that’s where it stops. As reference material, I’d prefer now to have the whole thing, but I’ve got the part which struck me when I first heard it, which is the harmonic effects arising from the relationships between the parts.

(Here are the notes:)

So the question is how to use this material in my own piece. At this point, the options are open – I haven’t yet settled on how things fit together, although I’m leaning towards a fairly open notation, seeing where else I can go with some of the approaches I used in The stars like years.

Of course, ‘harmonic’ has a slightly different meaning in the context of sixteenth-century music. It’s not functional harmonic progression – the harmony is a side-effect of the voice-leading, and the polyphonic relationships between the parts. Extracting the chords from the points of consonance gives a progression which preserves the flavour of the original, but what happens between those points is much more interesting. In particular, some of the passing note/suspension action produces a high level of dissonance, and the voice-leading generates some interesting major/minor ambiguities, so that the perceived tonal centre moves about quite a bit.

On a more abstract level, the real interest is in the relationships between the parts – how the music arrives at, and departs from, the structural points. I think that’s the part which is useful to borrow from. At the same time, nearer the surface, the style of ornamentation, both as written in Gabrieli’s motet, and also more generally from sixteenth-century performance practice, could be a useful point of reference.

The other aspect which interests me is the texture. As far as I can remember, the Gabrieli motet treats each line of the text differently, and the texture moves between imitative polyphony and passages of rhythmic unison, through various gradations between those two states. That’s also something I can use. (That raises questions of synchronisation if the notation is rhythmically free, but that’s probably another post.)

If one end of the continuum is direct quotation from Gabrieli, the opposite pole would be to use these technical ideas in a new context. I suspect I’ll end up somewhere in between.

EDIT: With a bit more digging, I’ve found the text. It’s not Psalm 7 – it’s a composite of various sacred texts (including several psalms). Many thanks to my esteemed brother, the music librarian.

And if you’re on Spotify, here’s a proper recording.

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