Voices from the 17th Century: Gabrieli Epitaph

7

January
2011

At nearly sixty years of age, Giovanni Gabrieli died of a medical condition—kidney stones—that today would hardly bring about the same fate. Yet it may have been more common in early modern Europe before the development of an ideal surgical procedure.

He is remembered as an organist, who held the highly-coveted position at Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice (1585-1612), and a distinguished composer of works primarily for church use, both vocal and instrumental.

Gabrieli is not buried at Saint Mark’s, as you’d expect, but at another Venetian location—the convent church of Saint Stephen.

The epitaph on his tombstone gives us an idea of how much he was revered. The image above is of the tombstone as it appears today, a 1956 replica of the original worn out by time. However, the inscription remains the same.

Hic situs est / Joannes Gabrielius vir ad / laudem natus.
Ciendi / modos arte clarissimus. /
Cuius os cuius pectus / insiderant virtus et / gratiae.
Quique tuum heu / fuit Melpomene decus.
Cessate / cantus lugete organa. /
Mens vestra et vita periit.
Mense Augusti die XII.
Anno aetatis suae LVIII /
Anno hum. sal. MDCXII.

Giovanni Gabrieli, a man having been born toward praise, has been set down here, [a man] most illustrious in the art of stirring up styles, whose mouth, whose breast, virtue and the graces have sat on. Melpomene, ah, has been your decoration for each [thing]. Cease, [oh] chants; sorrow, [oh] organs: your mind—and life—has perished in the month of August, on day 12, in the year of his age 58, in the year of human salvation 1612.

(Translation: Robert Zaslavsky)

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(photo: Giovanni Dall’Orto)

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