Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da ca. 1525–1594 Italian Singer and Composer

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Palestrina, Giovanni
Pierluigi da
ca. 1525–1594
Italian singer and composer

Giovanni Palestrina was one of the outstanding singers of the Renaissance and a leading composer of sacred music. He wrote a great deal of music for Catholic services, including 104 Masses and 250 motets*. Although copies of Palestrina's sacred works spread widely during the 1500s, his most popular works were his Italian madrigals*.

Palestrina began his musical career as a choirboy in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. In 1551 he became master of choirboys there, and later he served as choirmaster at St. Peter's Cathedral. In 1555 Pope Julius III named Palestrina to the papal* choir, bypassing the rule that allowed the members of the choir to choose new singers. His time there was short lived, however, as Pope Paul IV had Palestrina and two other singers removed from the choir because they were married.

Palestrina began composing music as a young man, publishing his first book of Masses in 1554. His second publication was a popular book of madrigals, which he later said he was embarrassed to have written because they were not religious works. After Paul IV had him removed from the papal choir, Palestrina spent the rest of his life as chapel master for major churches and related institutions in Rome. In this role he produced music for the papal chapel and became, in effect, its official composer.

In addition to his reputation as a composer and singer, Palestrina was also a highly respected teacher. Those who wished to learn the art of Renaissance counterpoint (the interweaving of two or more melodies) used his style as a model. After his death Palestrina also became something of a mythical figure in the field of music. A legend from the 1600s claimed that he had prevented Pope Marcellus II from banning music in the 1500s. According to this story, Palestrina won over the pope by dedicating a unique Mass to him.

(See alsoMusic. )

* motet

sacred musical work for several voices, usually performed without instruments

* madrigal

piece of nonreligious vocal music involving complex harmonies, usually for several voices without instrumental accompaniment

* papal

referring to the office and authority of the pope

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Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da ca. 1525–1594 Italian Singer and Composer

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Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da ca. 1525–1594 Italian Singer and Composer