Our first record of Giovanni Gabrielli is the appearance of his madrigal Quand'io ero giovinetto in 1575, but it is likely that in the preceding years he was taught by his uncle Andrea Gabrieli . Like his uncle, he moved from Venice to Munich to work in the service of Duke Albrecht. The Duke's death in 1579 led to a return to Italy - in 1584 he acted as organist at St Mark's in Venice and the following year he began playing at the Scuola Grande di S Rocco, where he continued part-time for the rest of his life. When his uncle died, Gabrielli took responsibility for composing for St Mark's, as well as editing Andrea's works for publication.
Compositions written to fulfil this obligation were collected in the Sacrae Symphoniae of 1597, a work which achieved significant popularity in Germany and Austria. Many musicians of the region were sent by their employers to study with Gabrielli and numerous German composers wrote works with similar titles. Among them was Gabrielli's pupil Heinrich Schütz .
Unlike his uncle, Giovanni kept sacred and secular composition very separate. His style in madrigals was a release from the narrow remit he allowed himself for church music. In later years he was influenced by Claudio Monteverdi, and was one of the first composers to use basso continuo (as opposed to the earlier basso seguente) in purely instrumental works.