The Venetian School of composition played a significant role in the evolution of musical style in Europe in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries, a role maintained in Italy – not just in Venice – well into the eighteenth century. Its foundations were laid by the Netherlander, Adrian Willaert, who became maestro di cappella at St Mark's, Venice, in 1527. The School's first major Italian composers, Andrea Gabrieli (c. 1510-86) and Claudio Merulo (1533-1604), were pioneers of the distinctive, often flamboyant, cori spezzati writing in which groups of singers and instrumentalists were deployed to exploit the spatial possibilities of buildings such as St Mark's.
Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1553-1612), Andrea's nephew, was the most celebrated Venetian composer of the next generation. He worked in Munich in the 1570s before returning to Venice c. 1580, and was appointed to the now prestigious post of Organist of St Mark's in 1585. During the following quarter of a century he wrote a large number of sacred and secular works. Many appeared in his Sacræ Symphonæ (1597) in which he explored and developed an extended range of emotion and a new feeling for sonority and brilliance. The celebrated Sonata pian' e forte (1597) is, in effect, a 'double choir' instrumental work while In ecclesiis, a motet for voices and instruments published posthumously in 1615, is his best-known choral work. His pupils from all over Europe included Heinrich Schutz, arguably the most important German composer of the seventeenth century.