Sacred Music of the Renaissance(s)

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Despite being born nearly 350 years apart, jazz legend Duke Ellington and Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli have more in common than it might seem.

Both Ellington and Giovanni were pivotal influences on the music of the Renaissances taking place during their lives (Harlem Renaissance and Italian High Renaissance, respectively). As well, in the latter portion of their careers both wrote “sacred” music. 

Much of Gabrieli’s music was written to match the acoustics of the halls for which it was composed. His reverent motets and dazzling sonatas would have echoed from the mosaic-covered vaults of Saint Mark’s Basilica and other Venetian churches in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. 

On December 21 Early Music Seattle presents a holiday concert celebrating Gabrieli’s masterful arrangements. They may not have access to the unique layout of Venice’s San Marco church—with its two choir lofts facing each other, which enabled Gabrielli to create striking spatial effects—but certainly the vaulted ceiling and custom-built acoustic reflector of Town Hall’s Great Hall will amplify the effects of dialogue and echo that permeate Gabrielli’s work. 

In much of Gabrieli’s composition, precision is key. Some of his pieces were even written such that certain instruments could be heard clearly from among the entire orchestra. We’re excited to hear how the state-of-the-art acoustics in the Great Hall complement these pieces of musical canon. 

Just as Gabrieli’s compositions were written for large, carefully arranged ensembles, Ellington’s sacred concerts also relied on collaboration—featuring jazz big band, gospel choir, tap dancers, and more. These concerts were no small undertaking, and have rarely been performed live because of the immense number of musicians required. 

Earshot Jazz has been presenting works from Ellington’s three sacred concerts for 30 years, performing pieces which Duke himself considered to be some of his most important creations. They’ll do so again on December 28. Ellington released three albums in his sacred concert series—the first recorded in 1965 and the last recorded in 1973, just six months before his death. Despite the somewhat somber quality of the third concert, Ellington remained proud of his sacred performances, even referring to them as “the most important thing I’ve ever done.” 

Now, after so many decades (or centuries), these two musicians have one more thing in common—their music will be on Town Hall’s stage this month!

Join Early Music Seattle and Earshot Jazz for concerts featuring compositions from two of the most groundbreaking musical minds of their times. Tickets are on sale now.

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