St. Mark's Cathedral

The heart of the Venetian musical culture was the great 11th-century cathedral of Saint Mark.  Like Venice itself, St. Mark's was independent:  its clergy, including the musicians, were more directly responsible to the Doge than to any outside ecclesiastical authority.  Most of the exalted civic ceremonies of Venice took place in the Cathedral and in the vast "piazza" which it faced.  Thus, most Venetian music was conceived as a manifestation of the majesty of both State and Church, and was designed to be heard on solemn and festive occasions when that majesty was publicly displayed with every possible array of sound and pageantry.

Music in the cathedral of St. Mark was supervised by officials of the State, and no pains or expense were spared to keep it worthy of Venice's high traditions.  The position of choirmaster at the Cathedral was the most coveted musical post in all Italy.  There were two organs, and the organists, chosen after stringent examination, were always renowned artists.  Choirmasters in the 16th century were Willaert, Rore, Zarlino, and Donati; organists included Andrea Gabrieli and his nephew, Giovanni Gabrieli.

Venetian music was characteristically of full, rich texture, homophonic rather than contrapuntal, varied and colorful in sonority.