Gabrieli – Canzon a 12 (for 12 brass players in 3 choirs)

by Max Derrickson

Giovanni Gabrieli   (b in Venice, c1553-6; d inVenice, August, 1612)

Canzon a 12  (for 12 brass players in 3 choirs)
–          Choir I: 2 trumpets, 2 trombones
–          Choir II: 2 trumpets, 1 trombone
–          Choir III: 1 trumpet, 2 French horns, 1 trombone, 1 bass trombone)


In a lagoon that stretches into the storied Adriatic Sea rises the magical city of Venice, and at its heart stands the majestic St. Mark’s Basilica.  St. Mark’s was the center of the known Universe once upon a time, for centuries hosting visits from the world’s most important achievers, and sending off its mighty fleets to every corner of the globe.  Its almost mystical opulence, rivaling that of St. Peter’s in Rome, houses ancient treasures, including apparently the bones of St. Mark the Evangelist himself.  Inside, its walls are crammed with masterpieces of the Venetian High Renaissance, and above them the domed ceilings rise to the heavens sparkling with some 86,000 square feet of gold-leaf mosaics.  Just below the gold-twinkling heavens jut multiple choir lofts from which extraordinary music is offered.  Here is where Giovanni Gabrieli composed his greatest music, and, undoubtedly, it was for one of St. Mark’s special occasions that he composed his Canzon a 12.


[. . .]  His canzoni (roughly meaning “song,” derived from the French/Dutch chanson) are extraordinary pieces, as exciting today as they were four centuries ago.


Canzon a 12 was written for twelve brass instruments arranged in three distinct choirs meant to be placed in different lofts around the Basilica to create antiphonal effects.  The usual structure of these canzoni employed several short motifs  [. . .]