The Music of the Lagoon

This article was previously published in the special edition, VENICE (July 2019).

"In every home, someone is playing a musical instrument or singing. There is music everywhere." – Anon, Seventeenth Century

It is very hard to walk along the narrow alleys or through the bright, little squares of Venice without hearing, in your mind, the most beautiful music. Be it from the forest of bell towers or the lilting song of the gondoliers, the city in the lagoon seems to sing a thousand melodies, all of which are harmonised by the gentle lapping of the green-blue waters against ancient walls.

Long before Vienna rose to musical capital of Europe, Venice was nurturing a generation of great composers. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Claudio Monteverdi and the uncle/nephew team of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli developed a rich and unique style of church music specifically for services at the spectacular Basilica di San Marco. In fact, it was the architecture itself that helped shape the innovative sound of the Gabrielis’ music: the resonant acoustic of San Marco encouraged them to take standard religious brass and choral music in an intricate and polyphonic new direction by utilising San Marco’s unusual arrangement of two opposing choir lofts to create phrases that hung in the air and mixed to create a new and wholly Venetian sound.