Masterworks MS 7071
This record is a first, all right, and also a last. There were
many moments along the way when we doubted both our wisdom and our endurance. Yes, it was unforgettable and
glorious and satisfying and exciting and all those things. But it was also frustrating and time-consuming and exhausting and
maddening and all those things. Not that we are faint of heart. Mr. Biggs' ten-year quest to record Handel, Bach, Haydn and
Mozart on organs they had actually played, and his pilgrimages to record each country's music on its own historic organs has
taken us into very unlikely and trying places: freezing cathedrals requiring layers of sweaters and batteries of electric
heaters, fortified Swiss hilltops needing a safari of equipment-carrying porters, dim Spanish cathedrals with antique hand-pumped organs that doubled as pigeon roosts, and even
elegant deer and peacock-adorned country estates in Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest. It has further meant working at
hours when decent God-fearing creatures are asleep in order to avoid those twin
afflictions - traffic and tourists.
Despite this commando training, we were ill-prepared for
the rigors of Venice. Not only is it remote from the U.S.A., but, thanks to its aquatic situation, access is difficult. Cut off from
most of Europe by either the Adriatic or the Alps, it is further protected by the Macaroni Curtain, a spiky and impregnable
bureaucracy known as Italian customs. Despite a year of preparation and negotiation, we collided repeatedly with this
blockade in a saga that approaches opera buffa.
The recording was further complicated by our bringing choruses from America, recording equipment from
Switzerland, brass players from Germany and an organ from Austria. We countered bureaucracy with deceit, resistance with guile,
hesitation with aggression and were thus able to overcome both customs and the Church, who, it must be said, had rented
us her body but not her heart. I sing the sinewy heroes of this two-pronged assault: Engineer Hellmuth Kolbe, boring from
without, and Sylvio Cerutti of CBS Italiana, undermining from within. Masters of bluff and brinkmanship, we salute you!
The blame for all this sturm und drang must, in candor, be
placed squarely on E. Power Biggs' shoulders. His involvement with Gabrieli goes back twenty years, long before the musical
public was even aware of the familiar Sonata Pian e Forte for brass and one violin. While collaborating on a recording of
Gabrieli brass canzonas some years ago in Cambridge, our enthusiasm for the music so carried us away that we resolved
on the spot to make San Marco's famous acoustics resound once again to the aural pageantry of Giovanni Gabrieli's music.
Now we are five years older and less cocky, perhaps, but we are also three glorious
LP's richer, and that counts for something, after all.
But what is the music on this record and how did Gabrieli arrive at this distinctive style? The composer's genius is
probably best expressed through his many motets for single, double or triple choir, each one supported by an instrumental group
or an organ-a technique that is virtually peculiar to Venice. Both Gabrieli and Monteverdi, writing in the early 1600's,
culminate a style that began a century earlier when San Marco's unique interior layout induced the imported Flemish
maestro da capella Adriaan Willaert to develop the antiphonal use of
cori spezzati, or separated choirs.
By mid-century, the composer and San Marco organist Andrea Gabrieli further refined and strengthened Willaert's
style so that when his nephew Giovanni joined him as organist in 1584, the music of Venice had not only lost its Flemish
polyphonic character but had taken on a more vertical, chordal style that was very emphatic in its voice leading in order to
meet the need for clarity in the reverberant acoustics of the building. The chromatic complexity of the contemporary
madrigalists Luzzaschi and Gesualdo would have produced chaos in that rich six-second echo, so the development turned
perforce from harmony to rhythm, retaining the inherited antiphonal exploitation. This period was Venice's musical zenith.
She was the cynosure of European musical life. Musicians and laymen came from everywhere to marvel at the richness of the
music and the vast resources of singers and instrumentalists that produced it.
The music may have a religious format and rationale, but it is very secular in feeling and expression, shorn of all false
piety, coming as it did from a cosmopolitan and sophisticated city-state whose relations with Rome and the Pope were
usually strained. Don't be fooled by the liturgical titles. The pieces were written just as often for state and ceremonial occasions
as for Mass. In contrast to the scholarly and often dull Germanic recreations of this music, we have tried to retain the
dramatic and exuberant feeling, very self-assured, that leaps off every page of music and from colorful descriptions of the
life of the period.
Being somewhat ambivalent on the subject of "authenticity"
we hired musicians who were equally at home on modern and antique instruments. We then mixed purity with common
sense and used our ears as referees. Some pieces sounded very beautiful on the zinks and old trombones, while some needed
the extra power and brilliance that would set the basilica's acoustics ringing. Being doctrinaire in this matter is often self-defeating, we have found.
In addition to the logistics and other temporal problems of the recording, we found that being the first to record Gabrieli
on his home ground, in his very choir lofts, had unique difficulties of its own. With the sixty-foot separation of the two
galleries and the resultant time lag, ensemble was a major problem, and communication was no picnic, either, especially
considering the tri-lingual nature of our operation.
We have tried as well as we could to recreate the musical goings-on in the San Marco of Gabrieli's day. Of course, it is
not the same as actually standing there in that exotic, Byzantine building dating from 1100, bathing in the golden haze of its
ancient mosaics and lapped in unduplicatable sound and splendor, but we think you'll love the taste you get and that you'll
be glad to make the closer acquaintance of one of history's great composers.
A project of this complexity is always the work of many people. So much is owed to some that we feel they must be
mentioned here. Thanks in abundance to: Hellmuth Kolbe and Sylvio Cemtti already mentioned above; to tireless,
cheerful, musical Vittorio Negri, to Gregg Smith and his Singers and to George Bragg and the Texas Boys Choir, both of whom
journeyed far and worked devotedly; to Denis Stevens who produced our scores and instrumental material, and above all
to E. Power Biggs, the prime mover and shaker of the project, and one of Nature's noblemen.
Director of Masterworks