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Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi Da (1526–1594)

PALESTRINA, GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DA (15261594)

PALESTRINA, GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DA (15261594), Italian composer. Giovanni Palestrina was one of the most important composers of vocal music in sixteenth-century Italy. His name was synonymous with the Roman polyphonic style of composition that came to embody the musical goals and aesthetic ideals of the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent. The Palestrina style (stile del Palestrina) is characterized by a perfect sense of balance and equilibrium, a seamless marriage between intelligible text setting and rich vocal sonorities. Stress and accent follow the natural rhythms of the words, melodic motion and dissonance are carefully controlled, and his harmonic language is one of the finest expressions of the socalled old church modal system that would soon be superseded by modern tonality. As the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (16851750) serves as the model for the study of tonal counterpoint, the rules of counterpoint that have been gleaned from Palestrina's music have been used to teach modal counterpoint to the present day.

Although the name by which he is known comes from the town of his birth (Palestrina, near Rome), he almost always signed letters with his given name "Giovanni Petraloysio." His birthdate cannot be definitively documented, but since the eulogy written at the time of his death in 1594 gives his age as sixty-eight, it can be safely ascribed to 1526.

Palestrina's first appointment was as organist of San Agapito in his hometown, on 28 October 1544. On 1 September 1551 he became magister cantorum (leader of the boy choir school) of the Cappella Giulia at St. Peter's in Rome, and he assumed the position of magister cappellae (leader of the chapel) in 1553. A year later he published the first book of polyphonic masses ever printed in Rome.

Palestrina was hired by the Sistine Chapel on 13 January 1555, but shortly thereafter the new pope, Paul IV, decided to reinstate the rule of celibacy for anyone working there, and Palestrina and two other married singers were forced to leave. On 1 October 1555 we find Palestrina as maestro di cappella of San Giovanni in Laterano, but he resigned in 1560. He then returned to the place of his early training, San Maria Maggiori, and subsequently became director of the Seminario Romano.

During this period, the musical policies resulting from the Council of Trentin particular the removal of "impure" or secular elements from the liturgy and the emphasis on intelligibilityproved to be both a challenge and a stimulus to Palestrina and his contemporaries. Palestrina's reputation as the savior of polyphonic church music is likely somewhat exaggerated; nonetheless, at least some of his compositions (perhaps the famous Missa Papae Marcelli or Pope Marcellus Mass ) were performed for Cardinal Vitellozzi, one of the overseers of the reform, to see if the words could be easily understood. His music was also frequently sung in the papal chapel.

Palestina's reputation was such that Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II invited him to act as imperial choirmaster in Vienna in 1568, but he declined the offer. Palestrina returned to the Capella Giulia as choirmaster in April 1571 and remained there until his death. This was a time of personal upheaval for the composer; in addition to losing his two sons and a brother to the plague, his wife Lucrezia died in 1580, although he married Virginia Dormoli, the wealthy widow of a furrier, a year later. Nonetheless, the reign of Pope Gregory XIII (15721585) was particularly rich for the production of sacred music. In 15771578, Palestrina became deeply involved in the revision of the plainsong repertoire from the Roman Gradual and Antiphoner, a project that he never completed. Palestrina also assumed an active role in his new wife's businesses, successfully investing in real estate and even selling altar wine out of his family vineyard.

Palestrina was among the most prolific composers of his age. His more than 300 motets, 140 madrigals, 104 masses, 72 hymns, 68 offertories, and 35 Magnificats far surpassed the output of his contemporaries. His followers included such masters as Tomás Luis de Victoria and Annibale Stabile, and his preeminence was well recognized during his lifetime. An anthology of vesper psalms composed by six notable composers was dedicated to him in 1592, complete with an effusive testimonial about his accomplishments. His compositions were often reprinted during his lifetime, and he was the first composer of the sixteenth century to appear in a complete nineteenth-century edition.

Palestrina remained in memory far more prominently and persistently than any of his contemporaries. His compositions became a permanent part of the repertoire of the Sistine Chapel, a most unusual practice at that time. His carefully wrought counterpoint became identified with stile antico (old style)as opposed to the stile modern (modern style)that came to be associated with notions of purity and spirituality. By the eighteenth century, Palestrina's reputation was based less on a detailed familiarity with his music than his mastery of counterpoint. The preface to Johann Joseph Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum (1725), the most important eighteenth-century treatise on Renaissance counterpoint, exemplifies the awe and devotion that Palestrina's music inspired. Palestrina, the master of counterpoint, is "the celebrated light of music . . . to whom I owe everything I know of this art, and whose memory I shall never cease to cherish with feelings of deepest reverence" (Fux, The Steps to Parnassus, p. 16).

See also Music ; Reformation, Catholic ; Victoria, Tomás Luis de .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Fux, Johann Joseph. Steps to Parnassus: The Study of Counterpoint. Translated and edited by Alfred Mann with John St. Edmonds. New York, 1943. Translation of Gradus ad Parnassum. Vienna, 1725.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Pope Marcellus Mass. Norton Critical Score. Edited by Lewis Lockwood with introduction. New York, 1975. Authoritative edition of one of Palestrina's most celebrated masses, with informative introduction to the composer and works.

Secondary Sources

Boyd, Malcolm. Palestrina's Style. London, 1973.

O'Regan, Noel. Institutional Patronage in Post-Tridentine Rome: Music at SS. Trinità dei Pellegrini, 15591650. London, 1995.

. "Palestrina, A Musician and Composer in the Market-Place." Early Music 22 (1994): 551572.

Owens, Jessie Ann. Composers at Work: The Craft of Musical Composition, 14501600. New York, 1997. Fascinating description of the working methods of Renaissance composers, including a discussion of Palestrina's letters and manuscripts.

Wendy Heller, Mark Kroll

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Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

The Italian composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (ca. 1525-1594) was one of the greatest masters of Renaissance music and the foremost composer of the Roman school.

Born Giovanni Pierluigi, the composer is known as Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina from the name of his birthplace, a hill town near Rome. It is assumed without historical evidence that Giovanni was a choir singer at the church of St. Agapit in 1532, when he was but 7 years old. When the bishop of Palestrina, Cardinal della Valle, was transferred to the basilica of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome in 1534, the 9-year-old chorister may have followed him, but the earliest cathedral record naming Giovanni carries the date 1537. Except for a brief return to his birthplace, Giovanni served at S. Maria Maggiore until his nineteenth birthday. During this formative period he probably trained with one of the Franco-Flemings in Rome: Robin Mallapert, Firmin Le Bel, or Jacques Arcadelt.

In 1544 Palestrina was summoned to his native town as organist and singing master of the local church. During the following half dozen years he married, fathered the first of his three sons, and began composing. Most important for his future career was the attention accorded his music by the new bishop of Palestrina, Cardinal del Monte. When he became Pope Julius III in 1550, one of his first acts of the following year was to appoint Palestrina choirmaster of the Julian Chapel of St. Peter's.

By 1554 Palestrina had published his first book of Masses and dedicated it to Pope Julius, who rewarded him with a coveted assignment to the Pontifical (Sistine) Choir at St. Peter's. By custom all singers of this choir were unmarried, and they were admitted only after rigorous examination. Since the Pontiff had ignored both traditions, Palestrina's designation was viewed with little enthusiasm. When Pope Julius died a few months later, Paul IV dismissed the composer but awarded him a small pension for his services. He also approved Palestrina's appointment as choirmaster at the church of St. John Lateran, where Roland de Lassus had been active only the year before.

Palestrina conducted the chorus at St. John Lateran from 1555 until 1560. But stringent economies and political intrigues made it difficult for him to achieve his artistic aims. After a particularly unpleasant incident about food and lodging for his choirboys, Palestrina left his post without notice. Such bold behavior did not seem to affect adversely his future career, for he became choirmaster at S. Maria Maggiore in 1561. Working conditions in this basilica were considerably better than at the Lateran, and Palestrina remained reasonably content for the next 5 years.

In 1566 Palestrina became music director of the newly formed Roman Seminary. Although he received a smaller salary than at S. Maria Maggiore, he was in part compensated by permission to enroll his sons Rodolfo and Angelo at the institution. What seems to have been initially a suitable arrangement did not, however, work out to his satisfaction, for he left the seminary very soon thereafter. For the next 4 years he was music director for Cardinal Ippolito d'Este II, an outstanding patron of the arts.

In March 1571 Palestrina was appointed choirmaster at the Julian Chapel, where he stayed for the rest of his life. On at least two occasions attempts were made to lure him from Rome. In 1568 Emperor Maximilian had invited him to the imperial court at Vienna. And in 1583 the Duke of Mantua, an amateur musician of talent and frequent correspondent of the composer, invited Palestrina to his court. To both invitations the master set such a high price on his services that it might be assumed that he never seriously considered leaving the Eternal City.

Reforms in Music

Intermittently from 1545 to 1565 the Council of Trent considered the reform of Church music, even contemplating the ban of all polyphony from the liturgy. According to one report, Palestrina saved the art of music by composing the Missa Papae Marcelli according to the requirements of the council. But the role alleged to have been played by this Mass is undoubtedly mythical. Palestrina's reputation makes it likely, however, that he was consulted on decisions about music. We do know that his works were performed before, and approved by, Cardinal Borromeo, who was charged with securing a liturgical music free of secular tunes and unintelligible texts.

Palestrina's influence with the Roman hierarchy is also witnessed by a papal order of 1577. He and a colleague, Annibale Zoilo, were directed to revise the Graduale Romanum by purging the old tunes of barbarisms and the excrescences of centuries. Palestrina never did complete this laborious task, and the Medicean Gradual of the early 17th century, sometimes thought to be his work, is actually the labor of others.

His Works

Palestrina's voluminous works encompass the most important categories cultivated in the late Renaissance: Masses, motets, and madrigals. Of these three the madrigals played a small role, for his orientation was overwhelmingly on the side of sacred music. His 250 motets include settings of psalms and canticles, as well as exclusively liturgical items such as 45 hymns, 68 offertories, 13 lamentations, 12 litanies, and 35 Magnificats. Most of these compositions reveal the so-called Palestinian style, in which stepwise melodic movement dominates expansive leaps, and diatonic tones in both horizontal and vertical combinations are preferred to their chromatic counterparts.

Important as are the motets, they are decidedly secondary to the 105 Masses for which Palestrina was justly admired. He essayed various types: the archaic tenor cantus firmus Mass; the paraphrase Mass; the Mass erected on hexachord and other contrived subject; and the "parody" Mass, which elaborates a preexistent polyphonic model. True to his preferences Palestrina avoided secular models, opting for the tunes of the Church or at least tunes associated with sacred texts. He was not modern in the same way as his Venetian colleagues with their polychoral pieces. His fuller identification with the older Franco-Flemish masters, however, made him the representative of that illustrious group best remembered by posterity.

Further Reading

The best comprehensive study in English of the life and works of the composer is Henry Coates, Palestrina (1938). His style and historical importance are treated in Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance (1954; rev. ed. 1959), and Knud Jeppesen, The Style of Palestrina and the Dissonance (1927; 2d rev. ed. 1946). For general historical background, Donald Jay Grout, A History of Western Music (1960), is recommended.

Additional Sources

Cametti, Alberto, Palestrina, New York: AMS Press, 1979.

Coates, Henry, Palestrina, Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, 1979. □

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Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da

Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da (b Palestrina, nr. Rome, c.1525; d Rome, 1594). It. composer who took his name from his birthplace. Chorister at S. Maria Maggiore, Rome, in 1537. Studied in Rome c.1540. Organist and choirmaster, Palestrina, 1544. In 1550 the Bishop became Pope Julius III and in 1551 summoned Palestrina to Rome as choirmaster of Cappella Giulia, a nursery for Sistine Choir. The following year Palestrina published his first book of Masses. In 1555 a new Pope, Paul IV, dismissed Palestrina and two others from the Sistine Choir because they were married. Palestrina was appointed choirmaster of St John Lateran in 1555 in succession to Lassus. For this church he wrote his Lamentations. He resigned in 1560 over dissatisfaction with the way the choirboys were fed, becoming choirmaster of S. Maria Maggiore in 1561. He pubd. his first book of motets 2 years later. In 1567 he resigned to enter service of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, having become dissatisfied with the papal reforms of church mus. which rendered 2 of his masses unliturgical because they contained words foreign to the mass. In addition, others of his masses incl. secular songs, such as L'Homme armé. The cardinal kept a mus. establishment at his palace in Tivoli (the Villa d'Este). In 1571 Palestrina became dir. of the Cappella Giulia. Over the next few years he lost both his sons and his wife through epidemics and decided to become a priest. But after a few weeks he changed his mind and married again, his new wife being the rich widow of a fur merchant. Palestrina formed a partnership with one of the men in the business and made a fortune which enabled him in the last 13 years of his life to publish 16 colls. of his mus.

Palestrina's mus. is marked by flowing, smooth lines and a rich beauty of sound in the way vv. are blended. He had neither the range nor the inventiveness of Byrd and Lassus, but the skill with which his sacred works are based on the secular madrigal gives his mus. special characteristics which are greatly admired. His works incl.:MASSES: 4 for 8 vv.; 22 for 6 vv. (incl. Missa Papae Marcelli and Hexachord Mass); 39 for 4 vv. (incl. Missa brevis, 1570); 29 for 5 vv. (incl. L'Homme armé).MOTETS: 6 for 12 vv. (incl. Stabat Mater); 56 for 8 vv.; 2 for 7 vv.; 34 for 6 vv.; 79 for 5 vv.; 67 for 4 vv.; 29 settings for 4 vv. from the Song of Solomon.CANTIONES SACRAE: 2 for 8 vv.; 4 for 4 vv.MAGNIFICATS: 35 on the 8 tones.OTHER WORKS: Hymns for 4 vv.; Offertories for 5 vv.; Lamentations for 4 vv.; Psalms for 12 vv.; Litanies; Antiphon; Sacred Madrigals for 5, 4, and 3 vv.; Secular Madrigals.

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Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da (1525–1594)

Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da (15251594)

Italian composer born in the town of Palestrina, east of Rome. He began his musical career as a choirboy and organist, and in 1551 was appointed by Pope Julius II as director of the Julian Chapel at Saint Peter's in Rome. His reputation as a composer grew with Masses that he wrote for performance in Rome, where Dutch and French composers had once dominated the scene. He became musical director of the Roman Church of Santa Maria Maggiore from 1561 until 1566, and then served as a court musician for the d'Este family at their palace in Tivoli, in the hills north of Rome. He returned to Saint Peter's in 1571, and remained in the service of the popes for the rest of his life. Palestrina was commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII to return church music to the traditional style of plainchant, in which different voices sung melodies in unison. But he found himself poorly suited to this antique form of music and instead became one of the most skilled composers of polyphonic (multi part) music of the Renaissance. He wrote exclusively vocal music: Masses, motets, hymns, madrigals, and other sacred music that exhibited a complete mastery of the difficult craft of counterpoint (the balanced setting of two or more lines of music under very strict rules of harmony). He provided a model for Italian composers of sacred music for a century after his death and was also an important influence on the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Palestrina remains a widely studied model for students of composition into the twenty-first century.

See Also: Byrd, William; Dowland, John; music

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Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (jōvän´nē pyārlōōē´jē pä´lāstrē´nä), c.1525–1594, Italian composer whose family name was Pierluigi; b. Palestrina, from which he took his name. Palestrina represents with Lasso the culmination of Renaissance music. In 1544 he was appointed organist at the cathedral in his native town. In 1550 the bishop of Palestrina became Pope Julius III and appointed (1551) Palestrina master of the Julian Chapel Choir. Palestrina's first book of masses appeared in 1554, dedicated to the pope. From 1555 to 1560 he was choirmaster of the Cathedral of St. John Lateran, for which he wrote his Lamentations, and from 1561 to 1566 he was choirmaster of Saint Mary Major. After several years in the private service of Ippolito II, Cardinal d'Este, he returned in 1571 to the Vatican to resume leadership of the Julian Chapel Choir. He was undisputed master of the mass, of which he wrote 105 for four, five, six, and eight voice parts. Best known is his Missa Papae Marcelli. He also wrote madrigals, motets, magnificats, offertories, litanies, and settings of the Song of Songs.

See biographies by E. M. King (1965), T. C. Day (1969), and J. Roche (1971).

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Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da

Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da (1525–94) Italian composer who spent most of his life in the service of the Church. Palestrina wrote masses, magnificats, litanies, and c.600 motets in four to eight or twelve parts. He also composed almost 100 secular madrigals. His works include Missa Papae Marcelli (1567). See also counterpoint

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