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Harmonia Early Music

Harmonia Time Capsule: 1612

Let’s take a quick look back in time. . . . to the year 1612.

In June, Hans Leo Hassler succumbed to tuberculosis.  Before his untimely death, Hassler had served as chamber organist and then chapel master to the Elector Christian II of Saxony.  Hassler’s musical talent had earned him prior positions in the city of Nuremberg and the court of Rudolf II.

Like many German musicians of his day, Hassler sought musical training in Italy.  His studies took him to Venice, where he found himself steeped in the music of the “Venetian School,” a musical style characterized by sonorous multiple choirs and sensitivity to resonant space.  While in Venice, Hassler became friends with a young Giovanni Gabrieli.  Both studied under Giovanni’s uncle Andrea, an internationally renowned organist and composer.  The two also undertook a joint composition for Georg Gruber, a Nuremberg merchant who also lived Venice.

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Oddly enough, Giovanni Gabrieli passed away that same year.  After slowly relinquishing his musical duties at St. Mark’s Basilica and the Church of Saint Roch, he died of complications from a kidney stone.  Giovanni Gabrieli’s musical career had flourished within the city of Venice.  Following in his uncle’s footsteps, he took up the position of principal composer at St. Mark’s Basilica after 1586.

A year prior, Giovanni had taken over Claudio Merulo’s position as principal organist.  The platform of St. Mark’s Basilica made Giovanni’s name known throughout all of Europe.  Composers from other countries, particularly Germany, flocked to Venice in order to study with him.  As a result, Giovanni Gabrieli’s musical style greatly influenced the music of north Germany, including the compositions of Heinrich Schütz and Johann Sebastian Bach.  This influence was felt years after Giovanni’s death.

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Over in England in 1612, Robert Dowland, son of esteemed lutenist and composer John Dowland, was appointed court musician for King James I.  Robert Dowland is somewhat shadowed by his father, whose smash hit Lachrimae pavane became the basis for over a hundred different arrangements.  Nevertheless, Robert was himself a highly accomplished musician.  His anthology “A Musical Banquet” was the first of its kind to include songs in English, French, Italian, and Spanish.   It was published when Robert was only nineteen years old.

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Also in England, witch trials were being held in 1612.  The infamous Pendle Witch Trials are some of the best documented court proceedings in the seventeenth century.  Twelve people in the area of Pendle Hill in Lancashire were charged with the supernatural “murder” of ten others.  The majority of them were hanged.  Ironically, a number of the accused did consider themselves witches.  In rural areas, it was not uncommon for each village to have its resident witch: a person with great knowledge of the healing properties of herbs, a specialist in commonly occurring diseases, and someone who regularly served as a midwife.

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Music heard on this time capsule:

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Harmonia Early Music

Harmonia Early Music is a nationally syndicated weekly early music radio program, podcast and blog produced by WFIU Public Radio.

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