Giovanni Gabrieli’s unique achievement was the unification of two opposing styles that had been developing throughout the Renaissance: the local Venetian technique involving antiphonal masses of sound and the international technique of interwoven melodic strands.
Having assimilated both traditions, he resolved their conflicts in his Symphoniae sacrae of 1597 and especially of 1615; in so doing, he crossed the border between Renaissance and Baroque and penetrated well into the new territory.
To allow full appreciation of these works, the choirs must not be widely separated: The optimum situation is that depicted in the frontispiece of the tenor part of the fifth volume of Praetorius’s Musae Sioniae (1607, inset; click to enlarge), with one choir on the floor and the other two in balconies on their right and left. The impact must come not from the juxtaposition of masses of sound, but from clarity of texture.
This according to “Texture versus mass in the music of Giovanni Gabrieli” by George Wallace Woodworth, a contribution to Essays on music in honor of Archibald Thompson Davison (Cambridge: Harvard University Department of Music, 1957, pp. 129–138.
Today is the 400th anniversary of Gabrieli’s death! (His birth date is not known.) Below, Green Mountain Project performs his Magnificat à 14, which was published posthumously in 1615.