Gabrieli à 2(2)

Jamie Savan – cornett

Adam Woolf – sackbut

John Ayers – electronics

Published in 1615 in a posthumous edition of Canzoni et Sonate, Sonata XX in 22 parts is the largest and most ambitious of Gabrieli’s instrumental works. The instrumental ensemble is divided into five choirs, each of which would have played from a different strategic location in the church for which this piece was almost certainly written, the basilica of St Mark’s, Venice.

Using a powerful computer and the latest in surround-sound technology, we perform this monumental work with just two period instrumentalists who play all twenty-two parts in a live multi-track recording. This is relayed in real time via ten speakers which are carefully positioned to emulate the spatial and antiphonal effect of the composition’s five choirs. Layering up two parts at a time in eleven passes allows us to explore the compositional process from the inside: this is polyphonic music that was conceived in terms of the controlled interaction of ‘horizontal’ melodic lines, rather than in terms of ‘vertical’ harmony. The result of such a compositional method is that every part is rewarding and interesting to play and listen to in its own right. Although the whole is in many senses greater than the sum of its parts, this piece has much more impact when understood in terms of the subtle interaction of individual lines, much of the detail of which is lost during a conventional performance. We have chosen to present the 22 parts of this Sonata in an order which shines a different light on the composition of each choir: either from the top down, or the bass part up, from inside parts to outer parts, and from outer parts to inner.

In order to cover the extended ranges of all 22 parts, we play a variety of intruments of the sixteenth / seventeenth century ‘brass’ family: treble, mute (alto), and tenor cornetts; tenor and bass sackbuts. A complete pass of the Sonata takes eight minutes, and a complete performance of Gabrieli à 2(2) lasts around an hour and a half, at the end of which the Sonata can be heard in its full glory. The audience is encouraged to move around the room as the piece develops: in this way they can appreciate fully the three dimensional, spatial aspect of the composition.

My Co-Performers:

Adam Woolf has a busy and varied international career, specialising in performance on historical trombones of all kinds and covering a repertoire spanning 600 years. In addition to freelancing, Adam is a member of His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts, principal trombone with Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s English Baroque Soloists and Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, and co-founder of the Caecilia-Concert. In 2010 Adam’s sackbut method, ‘Sackbut Solutions’, became the first such book to be published, and his solo CD, ‘Songs Without Words’, was released as the first commercial recording to focus solely on the sackbut as a solo instrument. Adam teaches a Masters course in historical trombone at the Conservatoire of Music in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

John Ayers‘s diverse practice bridges the worlds of acoustic, electronic, popular and improvised music. He performs as a multi-instrumentalist and producer with contra-pop ensemble Guessmen, whose work has been described by critics as “a music of staggering depth and imagination”; their eclectic output has been played on BBC Radio 2, 3 and 6. He also plays clarinet in the improvising ensembles My Little Pop Group and Fan Eater. John graduated from Newcastle University with a BA in music and MA in music technology in 2000. John returned to Newcastle University in 2004 to become the music studios manager for the School of Arts and Cultures, where he continues to play a facilitating role to emerging musicians.


22 February 2012: Culture Lab, Newcastle University. Part of the Newcastle Early Music Festival.

31 October 2012: National Centre for Early Music in York as part of the Illuminating York Festival.

20 February 2013: Durham Cathedral.


We made a studio recording of the 22-part Sonata in August 2012. We plan to make this available in 5.1 surround sound very soon. In the mean time, here is a stereo mix, downloadable as a high quality WAV file:


Some comments from audience members at the premiere of Gabrieli à 2(2) at Newastle University’s Culture Lab on 22 February 2012, as part of the Newcastle Early Music Festival:

“A sublime performance: I am proud to share the same planet as you!”


“An amazing experience – like witnessing the restoration of an old tapestry from the individual threads… Seeing and hearing it all come together was almost transcendental!”


Future plans

Future plans for this project include the exploration of different performing spaces, including cathedrals, concert halls, and ‘unloved’ industrial spaces.

We made a 5.1 surround-sound studio recording of this project in August 2012. Further details about the release will be posted here!

For further information about Gabrieli à 2(2), please email jamie [dot] savan [at] gmail [dot] com.