Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi Da (1526–1594)

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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and his harmonic language is one of the finest expressions of the socalled old church modal system that would soon be superseded by modern tonality.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 .


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

Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da

views updated May 23 2018


Foremost composer of Renaissance vocal polyphony of the Roman school; b. Palestrina, Italy (whence the name by which he has been known ever since), probably at the end of 1525; d. Rome, Feb. 2, 1594. He may have been a chorister of the Palestrina cathedral, for after its bishop, Cardinal della Valle, had been made archpriest of the basilica of St. Mary Major, Rome (1534), the young boy was transferred to that choir and was singing as a full member in 1537. He returned home when his voice changed in 1539 but began his higher musical education in Rome in 1540. At that time the new St. Peter's was being built, and the city was full of great Renaissance artists, architects, and sculptorsa stimulating environment for the rising musician. In 1544, his training finished, he was appointed organista e maestro di canto of the cathedral of Palestrina, a post that lasted seven years, during which time he married a fairly wealthy girl. When the reigning bishop of Palestrina, Cardinal del Monte, became Pope Julius III (1551), the young composer returned to Rome, this time as master of the Julian choir.

The Early Phase of His Work. His first volume of Masses, dedicated to Julius and containing the famous engraving of the Pope receiving the music from Palestrina's hands, was published in 1554. Four of these Masses are earlier compositions, but the fifth Ecce Sacerdos Magnus, was a new work in the Pope's honor. Julius' illadvised reward was to appoint him to the pontifical choir, an exclusive and proud body of singers, who were not pleased to have the newcomer forced upon them. This appointment, moreover, meant that Palestrina had to give up his Julian choirmastership. Even more unluckily, Julius III died within three months, and his successor, Marcellus, within 23 days of election. The next pope, Paul IV, a reformer, soon found two reasons to dismiss Palestrina from his new position: he was married, and he had recently published a book of madrigalsboth were against the rules for Church musicians. The young man, however, had the perspicacity to obtain a papal pension that was to last for the rest of his life, even though he had been a member of the choir for only a few months.

The music at the Lateran Basilica had deteriorated since the departure of lasso for Antwerp in 1555, and in October of the same year Palestrina easily obtained this post (his impressive Lamentations setting was composed there; see tenebrae). Although the pay was small, he had his pension and also a wine-selling business. Indeed, so sure was he of his financial position that he could afford to leave the Lateran over a monetary squabble concerning his eldest son; he did not accept another position until March 1561, when he became choirmaster at St. Mary Major, the basilica of his childhood. A few years later, restlessness overtook him, and an opportunity to direct music in the fabulous Villa d'Este during the summer of 1564 turned his thoughts to court employment. Also, the new Roman seminary had offered him the directorship of music with free living, education for his family, and leisure to pursue his courtly career; not surprisingly, that he relinquished the position at St. Mary Major. These years, however, remained indecisive, and after an offer from Emperor Maximilian of Vienna had been lost through Palestrina's own cupidity, he turned his attention to ecclesiastical work. His one friend during all these courtly contacts was the Duke of Mantua, to whom he sent many compositions during 20 years. In 1571 he again accepted the mastership of the Julian choir, and from this time on he was exclusively a church musician. His good fortune, however, was darkened by a series of personal sorrows. The ever-present Roman plagues and pestilences killed his son Rodolfo in 1572, his brother Silla a year later, his second son Angelo in 1575, and finally his wife, whom he had deeply loved, in 1580.

During this long, checkered period, Palestrina published several collections: the first book of motets in 1563, the second book of Masses (which included the Missa di Papa Marcello ), in 1567, and more motets in 1569.

The Later Phase. His style changed notably at this time: the number of vocal parts began to increase. In 1572 he increased the number of vocal parts in the motets from the usual four and five to between five and seven parts. In 1575 he increased the number again to eight vocal parts. The style of composition, too, rapidly matured. The early canonic writing which featured Netherlandish technique gave way to a more serene style where contrapuntal and homophonic writing were integrated into a unique fluency, and the madrigalism of the earlier works almost disappeared. His sorrows had enabled him to produce some of his more poignant works, such as the Improperia and some of the Lamentations as well as many of the larger motets. From 1577 he was engaged partly in an abortive effort to revise the Gradual, whose plainsong had become so full of errors that it was impossible to construct a unified liturgy. This herculean task was abandoned after a few years, and nothing more was done about it for another four decades. The Medicean edition, as it was called when finally published, had little or no connection with Palestrina's work (see chantbooks, printed editions of).

Depressed by his losses of both family and fortune, Palestrina turned to religion and offered himself for the priesthood. He received the tonsure and even a benefice, but within a few months he was quietly married to a rich widow who brought with her a prosperous furrier's business. Palestrina, ever a resourceful businessman, switched comfortably from the wine trade to furs, and life began afresh. Whereas publication of his works had been sporadic between 1563 and 1575, three volumes were produced in the year 1581 and another in 1582. Indeed, these last 13 years saw the publication of 16 different collections, comprising more than 400 compositions. After his death, his son Iginio published many volumes of Masses and motets, but some of the finest works, because of changing musical fashion, remained in manuscript. Glorious Masses like Assumpta Est Maria and Ecce Ego Joannes, and motets, such as Salve Regina and O Sacrum Convivium, had to wait for three centuries before gaining wide currency.

Evaluation. Palestrina's position at the end of his century was rather like that of Bach after his death. Both composers used a conservative technique, a style virtually reflecting a past age, although in a strikingly individual and compelling manner. But the new music was already emerging, and it is small wonder that their music was abandoned as being old-fashioned. There is no doubt that Palestrina deliberately adopted a restrained manner of composing in order to produce a more remote and less modern style than that of his contemporaries. Even the madrigals, both secular and spiritual, are restrained to a point where they may be compared unfavorably with those of lesser contemporaries, although they contain much good music. Some of the early church music is a little unsure and derivative, but the works of his middle period, and certainly his later compositions are ideal for liturgical use. They possess those qualities of serenity and impersonality that are essential for divine worship.

Palestrina's coffin bore the title Princeps Musicae. It could be argued that composers such as morales, Lasso, and victoria were perhaps more adventurous, and that Lasso and many others were more effective in the secular field. No one, however, would seriously deny Palestrina the title Princeps Musicae Sacrae.

Bibliography: Opera omnia, ed. f. x. haberl, 33 v. (Leipzig 18621903), see pref. by Haberl; Le Opere complete, ed. r. casimiri et al. (Rome 1939), there are innumerable performing editions of his most popular items. Biography. g. baini, Memorie Storico-critiche della vita e delle opere , 2 v. (Rome 1828), a curiosity. m. bobillier, Palestrina, 2 v. in 1 (Paris 1906). f. raugel, Palestrina (Paris 1930). h. coates, Palestrina (New York 1938; repr. 1949), best biog. Technical. a. cametti, "Le case di G. P. da Palestrina in Roma," Rivista musicale italiana 28 (1921) 419432; "Rubino Mallapert, maestro di G. P. da Palestrina," ibid. 29 (1922) 335347; "G. P. da Palestrina e le sue alleanze matrimoniali," ibid. 30 (1923) 489510. r. casimiri, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina Nuovi documenti biografici, 2 pts. (Rome 191822), pamphlet; Il codice 59 del'archivio musicale lateranense, autografo di inedite e dieci tavole fototipiche (Rome 1919), pamphlet. h. k. andrews, An Introduction to the Technique of Palestine (London 1958), the only complete study of Palestrina's technique of composition. k. g. fellerer, Palestrina (Regensburg 1930). k. jeppesen, The Style of Palestrina and the Dissonance, tr. m. w. hamerik (New York 1927). g. reese, Music in the Renaissance (rev. ed. New York 1959). p. h. lÁng, Music in Western Civilization (New York 1941). l. bianchi and g. rostirolla, Iconografia palestriniana (Lucca 1994). b. bujic, "Palestrina, Willaert, Arcadelt, and the Art of Imitation," Recercare 10 (1998) 105131. j. roche, "The Praise of it Endureth For Ever: The Posthumous Publication of Palestrina's Music," Early Music 22 (1994) 631639. n. o'regan, "The Performance of Palestrina: Some Further Observations," Early Music 24 (1996) 144154.

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Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da

views updated May 23 2018

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

December 27, 1525
Palestrina, Italy
February 2, 1594
Rome, Italy


The Italian musician Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was the foremost composer of the sixteenth century. His sacred works represent one of the great achievements of Renaissance music. The Renaissance was a cultural movement which began in Italy in the mid-1300s. It was initiated by scholars called humanists who promoted the human-centered values of ancient Greece and Rome. Humanist ideals were soon influencing the arts, literature, philosophy, science, religion, and politics in Italy.

Begins as choir master

Born Giovanni Pierluigi, the composer adopted the name of his native town, Palestrina, which is located near Rome. Little is known about his early life, though it is assumed that at the age of seven he was a choir singer at the church of Saint Agapit in Palestrina. Records show that he was a member of the choir at the basilica (church) of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome in 1537. Palestrina served at the basilica until his nineteenth birthday. During this time he probably received musical training from Jacques Arcadelt (c. 1505–1568). In 1544 Palestrina returned to his native town as organist and singing master at the local church. During the next six years he married, fathered the first of his three sons, and began composing. Most important for his future career was the attention given his music by the new bishop of Palestrina, Giovanni del Monte (1487–1555). Del Monte became Pope Julius III in 1550 (reigned 1550–55), and the following year he appointed Palestrina choirmaster of the Julian Chapel at Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

All singers in this choir traditionally were unmarried, and they were admitted only after rigorous examination. Since the pope had ignored these requirements, Palestrina's appointment was viewed with little enthusiasm. In 1554 Palestrina published his first book of masses (music that accompanies the Catholic communion service) and dedicated it to Julius. The following year he was promoted to singer in the pope's choir. When Julius died the following year, Pope Paul IV (1476–1559; reigned 1555–59) enforced the celibacy rule (the requirement that musicians be unmarried) as part of the Catholic Reformation (a reform movement within the Roman Catholic Church) and dismissed Palestrina from Julian Chapel. The pope then appointed Palestrina choirmaster at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, where he remained until 1560. For the next six years Palestrina held posts at various other churches. From 1566 to 1570 he was music director for Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este (1509–1572), an outstanding patron of the arts. In 1571 Palestrina was reappointed choirmaster at the Julian Chapel. Seven years later he was given the title of master of music at Saint Peter's, a position he held for the rest of his life.

Known as "Prince of Music"

Palestrina's works included the major types of late Renaissance music: masses, motets (vocal works based on sacred texts, sometimes accompanied by instruments), and madrigals (short vocal works based on poems). He wrote 105 masses and 250 motets, but madrigals played a small role in his compositions because he was primarily interested in sacred music. Using original techniques, he frequently adapted polyphony (two or more melodies forming harmony) to such traditional forms as plainsong (early Christian chants), hymns, and biblical texts. He often created as many as eight interwoven parts in counterpoint, or separate melodies sung above or below a main melody. Yet Palestrina had a carefully controlled, sensitive style that adhered closely to his chosen text and lacked the drama of music by other composers at the time. His religious compositions, especially the masses, were of such high quality that he was called the "Prince of Music." Palestrina's most famous mass was Missa Papae Marcelli, which he dedicated to Pope Marcellus II (1501–1555; reigned 1555) in 1555.

Palestrina is also known as the creator of the oratorio. It is a lengthy religious choral work that features recitatives (singing that resembles speaking), arias (vocal solos), and choruses without action or scenery. He composed oratorios for a Catholic group called the Oratorian congregation in Rome. The organization was founded by the Italian priest and reformer Philip Neri (Filiippo Romolo de' Neri; 1515–1595). Neri made friends easily, and in the late 1550s he began meeting regularly with some of them in his room, the "Oratory," at the church of San Girolamo della Carità. Neri dreaded formality and loved spontaneity. He gave his little groups a definite character with Scripture readings, short commentaries, brief prayers, and hymns. Palestrina set many of the scriptural texts to music, creating the "oratorio"—named for Neri's room, the Oratory—a form of musical presentation that is still popular today.

Did he "save" music?

Palestrina wrote his works during a period of change in the Roman Catholic Church. From 1545 to 1565, the church held a series of meetings called the Council of Trent. The purpose of the council was to initiate reforms at every level of religious life. A frequent topic of discussion was simplifying the music used in the liturgy, or church service. Some officials even suggested totally eliminating polyphonic music because it was too elaborate and secular, or nonreligious, and distracted from the solemnity of the worship service. In 1562 the council issued a canon, or church law stating that all secular matter must be removed from liturgical music. While music should be pleasing to the ear, it must also be simple and direct, having no embellishments that would interfere with an understanding of the text. Historians have speculated that Palestrina composed his masses to fit the reformers' requirements. An example is the Missa Papae Marcelli. According to one story, Palestrina "saved the art of music" with this work by dedicating it to Marcellus, who advocated reform. There seems to be no evidence that Palestrina deliberately modified his compositions, however, for scholars point out that he never showed any real interest in highly dramatic or experimental sacred music. It is known, though, that Palestrina's works were performed for, and approved by, Cardinal Carlo Borromeo (1538–1584). Borromeo was charged with making certain that liturgical music was free of secular tunes and unintelligible texts.

Palestrina was also consulted on musical matters by church officials. In a papal order of 1577, Palestrina and a colleague, Annibale Zoilo, were directed to revise the GradualeRomanum, the list of liturgical music used by the church. Their job was to purge all of the secular tunes that had accumulated over the centuries. Palestrina never did complete this laborious task. A new list, the Medicean Gradual, was released in the early seventeenth century. Although it is sometimes thought to be Palestrina's work, it was actually compiled by others. Since the Renaissance, Palestrina has been regarded as one of the foremost composers of sacred music. Yet his reputation suffered somewhat at the end of the nineteenth century, when his works were reduced to a set of composition "rules" by music teachers at academies and universities. Subsequent generations of young composers thus produced "Palestrinian" music that failed to meet the standards of free expression that the master achieved in his own compositions.

Orlando di Lasso

An important Renaissance composer was Orlando di Lasso (c. 1530–1594). He was born in Mons, a city in present-day Belgium. Lasso spent most of his career in Italy and at the chapel of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. A far more dramatic composer than his Italian contemporary Palestrina, Lasso wrote in every musical form and in a wide variety of styles.

Lasso was committed to the idea that music should heighten and convey the meaning of a text. Although he did not compose instrumental music, he excelled in all musical forms of his day—motets, masses, magnificats (music based on the song of Mary in the book of Luke from the Bible), madrigals, and songs. The most famous and admired composer in Europe in the late sixteenth century, Lasso was hailed early in his career as "prince of music" and "le divin Orlande" (divine Orlando). He was known for his talent for expressing the meaning of words in music. In fact, his music can be understood only in the context of the words that it so vividly presents. He accomplished this by a variety of means, sometimes through sudden changes in rhythm, melody, or harmony. Lasso rarely experimented with the latest musical trends, so by the end of his life, his style was overtaken by newer techniques. Nevertheless, he was the first great composer whose fame was spread by printed music. During his lifetime and soon after his death, more than six hundred publications featured his music. That is, between 1555 and 1595 a composition by Lasso appeared in print on the average of once a month in France, Italy, the Low Countries, or the German empire.

For More Information


King, Ethel M. Palestrina: the Prince of Music. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Theo. Gaus' Sons, 1965.

Web Sites

Boynick, Matt. "Palestrina, G. P." Classical Music Pages. [Online] Available, April 5, 2002.

"Palestrina, G. P." HyperMusic. [Online] Available, April 5, 2002.

Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da

views updated May 09 2018

Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da

Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da, great Italian composer; b. probably in Palestrina, near Rome, 1525 or 1526; d. Rome, Feb. 2, 1594. In his letters he customarily signed his name as Giovanni Petraloysio. He is first listed as a choirboy at S. Maria Maggiore in 1537, and it is likely that he studied with each of the maestri of the period, Robin Mallapert, one Robert, and Firmin Lebel. In 1544 he was appointed organist of the cathedral of S. Agapit in Palestrina, where his duties also included teaching music to the canons and choirboys. On June 12, 1547, he married Lucrezia Gori, with whom he had 3 sons, Rodolfo (1549–72), Angelo (1551–75), and Iginio (1558–1610). In 1550 the bishop of Palestrina, Cardinal Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte, was elected pope, taking the name of Julius III. On Sept. 1,1551, he appointed Palestrina maestro of the Cappella Giulia in succession to Mallapert; Palestrina dedicated his first book of masses to him in 1554. On Jan. 13,1555, the pope rewarded him by making him a member of the Cappella Sistina even though he was a married man; he was admitted without taking the entrance examination and without receiving the approval of the other singers. In Sept. 1555 Pope Paul IV dismissed Palestrina and 2 other singers after invoking the celibacy rule of the chapel, although he granted each of them a small pension. On Oct. 1, 1555, Palestrina became maestro di cappella of the great church of St. John Lateran, where his son Rodolfo joined him as a chorister. Palestrina’s tenure was made difficult by inadequate funds for the musical establishment, and he resigned his post in July 1560. From 1561 to 1566 he was maestro di cappella of S. Maria Maggiore. In 1562–63 the Council of Trent took up the matter of sacred music. Out of its discussions arose a movement to advance the cause of intelligibility of sacred texts when set to music. Palestrina’s role with this Council remains a matter of dispute among historians, but his Missa Pape Marcelli is an outstanding example of a number of its reforms. From 1564 he was also in charge of the music at the summer estate of Cardinal Ippolito II d’Esté in Tivoli, near Rome. He apparently took up a full-time position in the Cardinal’s service from 1567 to 1571. From 1566 to 1571 he likewise taught at the Seminario Romano, where his sons Rodolfo and Angelo were students. In 1568 the court of Emperor Maximilian II offered him the position of imperial choirmaster in Vienna, but Palestrina demanded so high a salary that the offer was tacitly withdrawn. In April 1571, upon the death of Giovanni Animuccia, he resumed his post as maestro of the Cappella Giulia. In 1575 his salary was increased to forestall his move to S. Maria Maggiore. In 1577, at the request of Pope Gregory XIII, Palestrina and Annibale Zoilo began the revision of the plainsongs of the Roman Gradual and Antiphoner. Palestrina never completed his work on this project; the revision was eventually completed by others and pubi, as Editio Medicaea in 1614. In 1580, having lost his eldest sons and his wife to the plague, he made a decision to enter the priesthood; he soon changed his mind, however, and instead married Virginia Dormoli, the widow of a wealthy furrier, on Feb. 28, 1581. In succeeding years he devoted much time to managing her fortune while continuing his work as a musician. In 1583 he was tendered an offer to become maestro at the court of the Duke of Mantua, but again his terms were rejected as too high. In 1584 he pubi, his settings of the Song of Solomon. In 1593 he began plans to return to Palestrina as choirmaster of the cathedral, but he was overtaken by death early the next year. He was buried in the Cappella Nuova of old St. Peter’s Church.

With his great contemporaries Byrd and Lassus, Palestrina stands as one of the foremost composers of his age. He mastered the polyphonic style of the Franco-Flemish school, creating works of unsurpassing beauty and technical adroitness. His sacred music remains his most glorious achievement. Highly prolific, he composed 104 masses, over 375 motets, 68 offertories, over 65 hymns, 35 Magnificats, over 140 madrigals (both sacred and secular), Lamentations, litanies, and Psalms. The first complete edition of his works, Giovanni Pier-luigi da Palestrina: Werke, was ed. by F.X. Haberl et al. (33 vols., Leipzig, 1862–1903). A new complete edition, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Le opere, ed. by R. Ca-simiri and his successors, began publication in Rome in 1939.


G. Baini, Memorie storico-critiche della vita e delle opere di G.P. d.R (Rome, 1828; reprint, 1966); C. von Winterfeld, J.P. v.P. (Breslau, 1832); F. Kandier, Über das Leben und die Werke des G.P. d.P....nach den Memorie storico-critiche des Abbate G Baini verfasst (Leipzig, 1834); G. Campori, Delle relazioni di Orlando di Lasso e G.P. d.P. coi principi estensi (Rome, 1870); P. Wagner, P. als weltlicher Komponist (Strasbourgh, 1890); A. Cametti, Cenni biografici di G.P. d.P. (Milan, 1894); G. Cascioli, La vita e le opere di G.P. d.P. (Rome, 1894); G. Félix, P. et la musique sacrée (1594–1894) (Lille, 1896); C. Respighi, G.P. d.P. e l’emendazione del Graduale romano (Rome, 1900); M. Brenet, P. (Paris, 1905; 3rd ed., 1910); J. Gloger, Die “Missa Prima.” Eine Studie über den Pstil (Leob-schutz, 1910); E. Schmitz, G.P. P (Leipzig, 1914; 2nd ed., 1954); K. Weinmann, Ps Geburtsjahr (Regensburg, 1915); R. Casimiri, II Codice 59 dell’ Archivio musicale lateranense, autografo di G.P. d.P. (Rome, 1919); Z. Pyne, P.: His Life and Times (London, 1922); K. Jeppesen, P.stil med saerligt henblik paa dissonansbehandlingen (Copenhagen, 1923; Ger. tr., 1925; Eng. trv 1927; 2nd ed., 1946, as The Style of P. and the Dissonance); A. Cametti, P. (Milan, 1925); K. Feilerer, Der P.stil und seine Bedeutung in der vokalen Kirchenmusik des 18. Jahrhunderts (Augsburg, 1929); idem, P. (Regensburg, 1930; 2nd ed., 1960); H. Coates, P. (London, 1938); J. Samon, P, ou La Poésie de l’exactitude (Geneva, 1940); E. Paccagnella, P: II linguaggio melodico e armonico (Florence, 1957); H. Andrews, An Introduction to the Technique of P. (London, 1958); E. Ferraci, P (Rome, 1960); S. Klyce, P and His “Missa Pape Marcelli“: An Analysis for Performance (diss., Ind. Univ., 1969); T. Day, P. in History (diss., Columbia Univ., 1970); L. Lockwood, Norton Critical Score ed. of the Pope Marcellus Mass (N.Y., 1975; includes background and analysis); A. Monterosso Vacchelli, La messa L’Homme armé di P.: Studio paleografico ed edizione critica, Voi. VII, Istituta et Monumenta (1979); J.-F. Gautier, P, ou, L’esthétique de l’âme du monde (Arles, 1994); M. Heinemann, G.P. d.P. und seine Zeit (Laaber, 1994); R. Stewart, An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Counterpoint and P.’s Musical Style (N.Y., 1994); L. Bianchi, P. nella vita nelle opere nel suo tempo (Rome, 1995); G Rostirolla, ed., Bibliografia degli scritti su G.P. d.P. (1568–1996) (1997).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

views updated May 14 2018

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. □

Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da

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Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina



Training and Life.

The composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was born in the small village of Palestrina outside Rome and by the 1530s he was serving as a choirboy in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. By 1551 he had risen to the rank of the "master of the choirboys" and somewhat later Pope Julius III appointed him a member of the Capella Giulia at St. Peter's. Unlike the Sistine Chapel, the Capella Giulia's ranks of choristers were drawn from Italians and not from the numerous professional Flemish musicians who flourished in Italy at the time. Julius III had hired Palestrina without the customary vote of the other members of the choir, and his appointment remained controversial. Soon after his taking on the duties of a papal chorister, Palestrina released his first printed book of masses. This was the first Italian collection of masses to be dedicated to a reigning pope, and it was a sign of the rising status of native Italian musicians in Rome. In 1555, Palestrina lost his position after Paul IV cleared the Capella Giulia's choir of all married choristers. During the following years Palestrina found employment as master of choirs at a number of Rome's most important religious institutions, and by 1565 he had regular commissions to write music for the papal chapel, eventually becoming its official composer. In 1571 he returned to the Capella Giulia at St. Peter's and spent the rest of his life as choirmaster. When his wife died in 1580, Palestrina considered for a time entering the priesthood, although he decided to remarry instead. The composer died on 2 February 1594, and was buried at St. Peter's; his funeral was an important occasion attended by all of Rome's musicians and many dignitaries, too.


Although many of Palestrina's works were published while he was still alive, his son also supervised the printing of a number of works following the composer's death. Palestrina wrote an enormous amount of music for the Catholic Mass, and these compositions expressed the developing religious sensibilities of the Counter-Reformation. He produced more than 100 masses and about 250 motets. In addition, hymns, Magnificats, offertories, litanies, and lamentations make up his opus. While his religious works gave expression to the severe Catholic piety of the age, he was perhaps more revered for his madrigals, publication of which began in 1555. Later in life when Palestrina's own religious convictions had grown more serious, he was embarrassed by these early sensual creations. Besides his work as a composer, he was also an influential trainer of musicians and composers. While important on the late sixteenth-century musical scene, he attained an almost mythic status after his death. By the seventeenth century a legend credited Palestrina with "saving" music in the church during the reign of the severe pope Marcellus II (r. 1555). Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass was said to have so pleased the short-reigning pope that he gave up his plans to ban music in the church. More recent research, though, has dated this mass to around 1562, rather than 1555, thus undermining the legend of Palestrina's rescue of music.


In 1577, Pope Gregory XIII chose Palestrina and his colleague Annibale Zoila to sift through the church's bewildering variety of chants and responses. Palestrina was expected to reform the use of liturgical music along the lines necessitated by recent reforms in the Mass. The composer did not complete this enormous project before his death, although the work that he began helped to define the project as it was carried to fruition in the seventeenth century. At this time, too, Palestrina had an important role. Seventeenth-century composers recommended study of Palestrina's works to their students, who were interested in mastering the techniques of Renaissance counterpoint. His reputation as an authority on contrapuntal technique survived even into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As a result Palestrina was one of the first Renaissance composers to be granted significant modern scholarly attention.


L. Lewis and J. A. Owens, "Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina," in The New Grove High Renaissance Masters (New York: Norton, 1984): 93–156.

R. Sherr, "Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da," in Encyclopedia of the Renaissance (New York: Scribner, 1999).

Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da

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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.

Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da (1525–1594)

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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

Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da

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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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