New Music Friday: Canzona IV in G Major

Giovanni Gabrieli (1555?-1612), born in Venice, Italy, was introduced to music and was trained in his early years by his uncle, Andrea Gabrieli, who was employed at St. Mark’s Basilica. Later in life, he took further instruction from Orlando de Lassus in Munich, Germany. As it so happened, at roughly the age of 30, Giovanni returned to Venice and took up the post at St. Mark’s – where he also became principal composer. The church there was designed, architecturally, to allow ‘separation of performers’ into different locations (alcoves and balconies). This led Giovanni to begin writing music specifically for those situations, with performers being located in various places within the church. The music itself was ‘conversational’ — that is to say, picture yourself and 6 or 7 of your friends in alcoves and balconies in a massive stone church having a group conversation. The conversation would include important points (statements), questions, side comments, agreement points, points of disagreement, perhaps laughter, etc. Giovanni Gabrieli became notably adept at writing in this conversational style, and as a result, became one of the most prolific and important composers of the Italian Renaissance School in the 16th century. 

About Canzona IV in G Major

As stated in the above, Gabrieli’s Canzona IV in G Major is ‘conversational’. Dynamics need to be applied (brought out or subdued) in the order of importance of each voice at any given time. This means that faster-moving notes (16th and perhaps 8th notes), being more exciting and informing, would be brought forward, while longer notes (half notes, tied-over notes) would be enunciated with a bit less vigor and spunk. As the ensemble executes these ‘voicing’ guidelines, the music becomes more interesting. Be sure to listen carefully to the notes and passages with an ear toward tonality, and you’ll find passages in Major, Minor and even Modal tonal centers. Especially emphasize the ‘agreements’ — where all instruments, or a large majority, have the same rhythmic values. The more you explore these “contrapuntal” aspects, the more delightful comes the conversation, and the music!

About Robert D. McCashin

In addition to an extensive list of publications, Dr. Robert McCashin is a Professor Emeritus, having completed 43 years teaching at the university level. His former position was as Director of Orchestras and Professor of Conducting and Violin at James Madison University. During Dr. McCashin’s final 24 years (at JMU), he served as the music director and conductor for the Symphony, Opera Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra and Camerata Strings. In addition, he taught Graduate Applied Conducting, MM and DMA academic courses for conductors as well as applied violin & viola. Dr. McCashin is a string educator and an active writer/arranger in the string education field. He maintained a busy conference presentation schedule throughout his career, making presentations on conducting technique, string pedagogy and the math-science-physics & physiology of string playing. His works can be found through FJH Music Co. in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Tempo Press/Luck’s Music in Madison Heights, MI and Wingert-Jones/JW Pepper in PA. He is the Founder of, and Past President for the International College Orchestra Directors Association.


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