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Sonata Pian’e Forte

The Renaissance was a period of time that marked the rebirth of

learning, science, and the arts, incorporating in them humanism and new
artistic ideals. Beginning in the 15th Century in northern Italy, it eventually
spread throughout Europe, and cities like Naples, Genoa, and Venice became
the centers of this new age. European intellectuals became more interested
in the world around them, which led them to explore new continents. While
at the same time, they looked to the works of ancient scholars, particularly
ones of ancient Greece and Rome. During this Renaissance, Michelangelo
created sculptural and painted masterpieces like David and The Last
Judgment, Da Vinci painted many works of art like the famous Mona Lisa and
The Last Supper, and many other inspired artists—such as Donatello,
Raphael, Botticelli, and Titian—produced some of the most well-known and
respected arts the world has ever seen. However, one aspect of the
Renaissance most people would not normally think of is the music. At that
time, music was transitioning for the strict guidelines of Medieval times to
the flourishing standards of the Renaissance. Musicians like William Byrd,
Giovanni Palestrina, and Claudio Monteverdi composed a new style of self-
expression and freedom that had been seen before the Renaissance.
Giovanni Gabrieli was an Italian Renaissance composer who’s most famous
work—and one of the esteemed pieces of the time—was Sonata Pian’e Forte.
He was also the nephew of the famous composer Andrea Gabrieli. Published
in Venice 1597, Sonata Pian’e Forte was a part of the collection Sacrae
Symphoniae, also a notable achievement by Gabrieli. This piece followed the
newly-laid values of Renaissance art, while adding Gabrieli’s own specialties
and his expression of artistic freedom.

One important value of Renaissance music was the new interest in the
development of harmony. Music was influenced by the sculptures and
paintings of this time, which depicted a balanced structure, where the
components of space and body brought the art works into an equilibrium. In
music, harmony meant greater concern with the flow and progression of
chords. Many techniques were utilized to accomplish these ideas. For
example, chord progressions included cadences, which are usually a series
of chords that end a section of music. In Sonata Pian’e Forte’s measure 16—
also can be known as “bar” 16—there are perfect cadences from F to D and
G. These cadences bring a smoother transition from the initial F to the
following C Major, which is a direct reflection of the ideals of the
Renaissance: Harmony. Of course, there are other cadences, such as in the
measures of 37 to 38, where the melody changes from C to G and then
transposed to D Major. And in the very last bar, the triumphant chordal
passage ends with an imperfect cadence in G Major. Along with the cadences
that bring balance to the passages, another technique that is used to create
a blended texture instead of contrasting strands is the use of scalic figures,
or more commonly known as just scales. Musical scales are a series of notes
that ascend or descend the keys of an octave, usually following a specific
style (Major, minor, melodic, harmonic, natural…etc.) However, in Gabrieli’s
time, which was the late Renaissance, modes were just gradually beginning
to be replaced by the modern Major/minor key system. Modes are very much
alike modern scales, except they do not have a key signature and they were
founded by the Ancient Greeks, which Europeans later adopted, another
characteristic of Renaissance art. Sonata Pian’e Forte is a great
representation of its time: it incorporates both the modern key system and
the modal structures. There are hints of G minor at the beginning of the
piece, even though it is in the Dorian mode. As for the scales, examples can
be found virtually everywhere. Starting with measure 27, the introduction of
descending and ascending scalic figures are shown for 6 bars before finally
leading to a perfect cadence in D Major. Also, in the final section of the work
(from bar 71), the descending passage from measure 27 heard earlier is
recalled. These scalic figures bring a flow to the music, easily distinguished
by ear. It also brings out the harmony of this piece by adding keys and
modes. The final aspect of harmony that is created is done by the various
tutti’s in Sonata Pian’e Forte. A tutti means “all together”, where the piece’s
several voices will merge into one united voice to add a very rich sound to
the music. This is shown in bars 38 to 43, where there is only one melody,
one voice, and one harmony. The final tutti section starts from measure 71
and lasts until the end. This principle in the harmony and balance of art was
perfected exemplified by Gabrieli’s Sonata Pian’e Forte.

Musical texture was an essential part of the Renaissance as well. This

value was less paralleled by the other tangible forms of art; however, it was
a crucial value in Renaissance music. As new experimentation took place,
polyphony rose as one of the most popular ideas that composers used.
Polyphonic texture is the use of two or more voices in the music, commonly
executed by utilizing more choirs, or “Coros” (polychoral). (Take into account
that in this case, Coros/choirs are groups of instruments instead of vocal
choirs.) The transition of the main melody from one Coro to the other can be
found in measure 14, where Coro I “passes” the music onto Coro II, as the
former ends in chords while Coro II begins its voices in the piece. Giovanni
Gabrieli used this polyphonic concept in Sonata Pian’e Forte thoroughly, as
the piece was scored for two groups (Coro) of four instruments, meaning a
total of 8 different voices. This type of polyphonic texture is rarely seen even
after the Renaissance Period. In the first 36 bars, the texture is in free
polyphony, with each voice being of equal melodic importance. There is also
occasional imitation, though it rarely lasts for more than three or four notes,
often at the beginning of sections. For example, in the beginning of the
piece, “Trombone 3” imitates “Trombone 2” at a fifth below the latter.
Polyphony lasted throughout the Renaissance and into the Baroque Period,
later reviving in the Romantic and Impressionistic Period. It is still of use
today. The majority of Sonata Pian’e Forte was composed in polyphonic
texture, but little parts had homophony, one voice. In bars 47 to 48, the
melody is choral—composed of chords—and therefore homophonic and a
tutti. The next form of musical texture that Gabrieli composed in his piece is
a technique that he was particularly excellent at: cori spezzati. Cori spezzati
is literally “broken” choirs with one group starting and posing a “question”,
and the other group providing an “answer”. In Sonata Pian’e Forte, the two
choirs answer each other with brief phrases in antiphonal texture from bars
37 to 40. Antiphony is alternating responses in the music. This technique
also adds to the texture of not only Sonata Pian’e Forte, but also all of
Gabrieli’s works. Imitation, polyphonic and polychoral voices, cori spezzati,
and occasional homophony gives a Sonata Pian’e Forte special Renaissance
textural value that Gabrieli wanted to emphasize.

Perhaps one of the most exceptional values of this time of revival was
the stress on artists’ own freedom. With Copernicus’s discovery of
heliocentrism and Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation, the Catholic
Church—which was primarily the center of Medieval life—lost its grip on
society. And thus, a humanist spirit was born, taking its concept into the arts
of the Renaissance. In music, the main idea that developed from the
weakening of religion was an increased compositions of secular music, music
that is not adapted to sacred uses. (Of course, sacred music was still very
common, but it was decreasing in popularity.) Gabrieli was caught in this
sacred to secular transition, and it can be seen by his works that he
composed both types of music. Sonata Pian’e Forte is a Sonata, which is
normally secular music used during the Classical and Contemporary Periods
of music. But in this case, it is less religious than the pieces performed
during the Middle Ages; however, it is still somewhat “sacred”, as the piece
was published in the Sacrae Symphoniae collection, translated directly to
“Sacred Symphonies”. But the point is that this in-between Sonata was
composed during a time of experimentation and freedom, and it was written
how it was because Gabrieli felt this lack of restraint. In other words, if
Gabrieli had lived in the Medieval times, he would have composed this
Sonata Pian’e Forte strictly according to the Church. And if he had lived after
the Renaissance, during the Baroque Period in Europe, than the pieces he
would’ve written would be mostly all—if not totally—secular. This piece
shows the newly discovered artistic freedom from the Church, even though it
still contains traces of religious composition. Another form of artistic freedom
lies in the meters, defined as the rhythm and beats of the melody.
Nowadays, editors of Sonata Pian’e Forte will add their own interpreted
meters at the beginning of the piece. It is important to take into account that
Gabrieli did not include any meter or indication of rhythm in his piece. This
lack of a time signature did not hinder the sonata at all because the bars are
generally of equal length, with the exception of two longer bars (measures
30 and 44) that are notated in 3/2 meter, meaning 3 beats in a measure. In
fact, this lack of meter contributed to the representation of artistic freedom,
as Gabrieli—and all the other composers of the time—need not include a
specified rhythm so that the music can flow in whichever direction the
performers wish. Even today, meters are always seen in the beginning of
pieces. Syncopation, emphasizing a weak beat or a weak note, displayed a
rebellious nature of not following the patterns of the beats. All of Gabrieli’s
pieces, not only Sonata Pian’e Forte, reflect the important Renaissance moral
of artistic freedom.

Closely related to the concept of artistic freedom, expressional

techniques were used to create feelings and emotions to art. This value can
be seen with all of the Renaissance arts, from sculptures to poems to music.
Music was perhaps the leading form of art that involved the most expression
and intonation. Starting off with dynamics—words or symbols that indicate
how loudly or softly to play a piece—Gabrieli used plenty. Dynamics add
depth to music and it brings forth feeling not only in the performer, but also
to the audience. First of all, the mere title of the piece refers to the
alternating soft and loud dynamics used in this piece. This type of instruction
was never before seen; most pieces had no markings on them from the
composer to direct the volume of sound. In Sonata Pian’e Forte, bar 1, there
are two “P”s below the first notes. This stands for piano, meaning “play
softly”; while an “F”—forte—means to play loudly. Coro II begins with piano
in measure 14, and both choirs play forte altogether in measure 26. Other
markings of dynamics are in bars 31, 37, 40, and so on. Thus, these
dynamics create depth and realistic expression in Sonata Pian’e Forte, which
is one of the most well-known aspects of the Renaissance. Along with
dynamics, one special method that Gabrieli uses to create the feeling of
anticipation is suspension, which can also be found in various places of this
piece. For example, in measure 11 of Sonata Pian’e Forte, the piece seemly
stops and ends with a G Major chord. This is suspension, in which the music
seems to be suspended, creates a sense of anticipation by waiting for the
harmonies to resolve. And from bars 11 to 25, suspension is used frequently.
As well as dynamics and suspension, Gabrieli specified exactly which
instruments to use to perform this piece, making Sonata Pian’e Forte one of
the first pieces in which the composer gives detailed indication of the
instruments to use. Until the end of the 16th Century, musical instruments
had been used mainly to accompany vocals (Cantabile). But just before
1600, Italian composers began to write pieces for instruments alone. Gabrieli
wrote Sonata Pian’e Forte for two contrasting groups of instruments, and in
each group the three lower instruments are Sackbuts (the predecessor to the
modern trombone). In the first group, the top is written for the Cornett, while
the second group’s top part is written for Violino (similar to the modern
viola). These old instruments had been around for some time, and the wide
selection of which not only added to the composer’s own artistic freedom,
but it also encouraged using the different sounds to add expression (i.e. Rich
sounds can be used to create a feeling of confidence and power). Expression
was an influential part of the Renaissance arts, and it was written into
Sonata Pian’e Forte very nicely.
The Renaissance was a very bright time, filled with new explorations
and experimentations. In art, the rebirth of an interest in new techniques
formed, especially in music. Renaissance values were incorporated into
Giovanni Gabrieli’s Sonata Pian’e Forte. Principles found in Sonata Pian’e
Forte include harmony, texture, artistic freedom, and expression. And it was
these beliefs that created the bright reputation of the Renaissance.