Jacobus Gallus – monumenta artis musicae sloveniae

Astonishingly accomplished summations of the music of the prior century

Gallus was quite eclectic in his choice of 'raw' material, thematically basing his compositions on Gregorian chants, Protestant songbooks and secular songs. In the masses he followed a traditional composing technique, while adopting a more modern method for motets and madrigals. But although he drew inspiration from the works of others his compositions were original nevertheless, distinguished by characteristics not shared by his contemporaries. For example, although he initially learned polychoral technique from the Venetians, he ended by improving on it, using the formula in a variety of ways - composing for 2 or more choirs for four or more voices in a traditional cast of parts (the same categories of voices in all the choirs): having one choir sing higher than another: combining one choir of children's voices with others composed of male voices: arranging a double (duple) choir to sing in echo, or alternative choirs (in which arrangement one choir only sings at one time). It is also a peculiarity of his style that he never composed a piece for less than 4 voices.

Similarly, a particular device noted in the work of another composer and adopted by Gallus flowered abundantly at his hands - we may find the occasional double melodic leaps of the fourth (first descending then ascending) in Lassus, but in the works of Gallus this melodic progression is employed times without number.  In spite of his openness to the works of others, however, Gallus just as often did not hesitate in ignoring established musical opinion when it did not conform to his inspiration. Towards the end of the Renaissance polyphonic era, when musical theorists were advising the greatest possible independence between the different voices, Gallus had already begun composing the so-called harmonic music which used voices in such a way as to make them dependent on each other, most particularly on the soprano.  For this reason we may frequently find more than six sequential thirds or sixths between two voices. Indeed the composer's work became progressively more harmonic: the bass voice ceasing its melodic imitations, and almost always singing the fundamental note of the chord (in the final chord of a composition, the bass note was always the lowest). In many compositions Gallus abandoned modality and devised true harmonic concadence.
His originality was evident too in the melodic leaps he used, which were also not 'allowed' at that time but which he liked because they endowed his music with even greater pictorial qualities.

His compositions are also distinguished for their display of the diminished third, diminished fourth, augmented fourth; diminished fifth, augmented fifth, major sixth, diminished seventh, augmented seventh, augmented eighth (octave), tenth and twelfth: and he was also prepared to use the diminished fifth, the so-called 'diabolus in musica' as much melodically as well as harmonically: and one of the most important characteristics of Gallus' work was his use of the augmented second, evident in at least thirty compositions.
One in ten motets begin without the harmonic third, which is (usually) then sung by the tenor: another significant feature of Gallus' work. Later he was to reverse the importance given to the voices: no longer did the tenor lead, but rather the cantus, the soprano. Almost half of Gallus' compositions begin with the soprano, and the cantus firmus was also predominantly in this voice.

Only two motets end with the minor chord, fourteen (all for four voices) end without the third in the so-called 'open' chord. The remaining motets - 96% of the total - end with the major chord (it is a musical common-place, though disputed, that the positive emotions - joy, confidence, love, triumph - are expressed by 'major' music, and negative emotions, such as sorrow, fear, hate, are expressed by 'minor' music).

Gallus also loved using binary mensuration, which meant the music was sung at a faster pace. A third of his compositions has (part) ternary mensuration, and only three motets - Resonet in laudibus OM I - 44, 51 and 59 - are composed using ternary measure alone. When he passed from ternary mensuration to the binary, he frequently used the hemiolo. The composer's interest in the unusual conjunction of measures is evident also in his 'trioles', where three identical figures would fill a two-part measure.  Gallus also loved creating these 'confrontations' between music and word.  An example of the value that both music and text held for him is indicated by his emphasis on the importance on the quaver and the sixteenth note (fusi): he enhanced each figure with its own wording, often giving them four or even more together, something which his contemporaries never did.
Gallus was very much loved in his own lifetime and the period immediately following his death, and I hope that this brief description of his work may make him more familiar to people today.

Translated into English by Sonja Vadnjal


The available editions of his works are as follows:
1) Original edition of Gallus Masses [Selectiores Quædam Missæ, SQM], Motets [Opus Musicum, OM], Hamoniæ Morales [Madrigals, HM]), Prague, between 1581 and 1590
2) Moralia, [M], (Madrigals) on the part of Georg Handel (Georgius Handelius), I mate of the composer, Nüremberg, 1596
3) Bogardus, only Moralia, 1603
4) Josip Mantuani and Emil Bezecny, Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich [DTÖ], Vienna, 1899-1919, Opus Musicum
5) Paul A. Pisk, Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich [DTÖ], Vienna, 1935-1969, Selectiores Quædam Missæ
6) Ludvik Zepic, Dragotin Cvetko, Harmoniæ Morales, and Moralia, Ljubljana, 1966-1968
7) Allen B. Skei, Moralia, Madison, 1970
8) Edo Škulj, Monumenta Artis Musicæ Sloveniæ, Ljubljana, 1985-1996, The complete works of Gallus