Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Overview
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (3 February 1525 or 2 February 1526 – 2 February 1594) was an Italian Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

 composer of sacred music
Religious music
Religious music is music performed or composed for religious use or through religious influence.A lot of music has been composed to complement religion, and many composers have derived inspiration from their own religion. Many forms of traditional music have been adapted to fit religions'...

 and the best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School
Roman School
In music history, the Roman School was a group of composers of predominantly church music, in Rome, during the 16th and 17th centuries, therefore spanning the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras. The term also refers to the music they produced...

 of musical composition. He had a lasting influence on the development of church music, and his work has often been seen as the culmination of Renaissance polyphony
Polyphony
In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

.

Palestrina was born in the town of Palestrina
Palestrina
Palestrina is an ancient city and comune with a population of about 18,000, in Lazio, c. 35 km east of Rome...

, which is near Rome, then part of the Papal States
Papal States
The Papal State, State of the Church, or Pontifical States were among the major historical states of Italy from roughly the 6th century until the Italian peninsula was unified in 1861 by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia .The Papal States comprised territories under...

.
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Encyclopedia
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (3 February 1525 or 2 February 1526 – 2 February 1594) was an Italian Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

 composer of sacred music
Religious music
Religious music is music performed or composed for religious use or through religious influence.A lot of music has been composed to complement religion, and many composers have derived inspiration from their own religion. Many forms of traditional music have been adapted to fit religions'...

 and the best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School
Roman School
In music history, the Roman School was a group of composers of predominantly church music, in Rome, during the 16th and 17th centuries, therefore spanning the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras. The term also refers to the music they produced...

 of musical composition. He had a lasting influence on the development of church music, and his work has often been seen as the culmination of Renaissance polyphony
Polyphony
In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

.

Biography


Palestrina was born in the town of Palestrina
Palestrina
Palestrina is an ancient city and comune with a population of about 18,000, in Lazio, c. 35 km east of Rome...

, which is near Rome, then part of the Papal States
Papal States
The Papal State, State of the Church, or Pontifical States were among the major historical states of Italy from roughly the 6th century until the Italian peninsula was unified in 1861 by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia .The Papal States comprised territories under...

. Documents suggest that he first visited Rome in 1537, when he is listed as a chorister at the Sta Maria Maggiore
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major , known also by other names, is the largest Roman Catholic Marian church in Rome, Italy.There are other churches in Rome dedicated to Mary, such as Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, but the greater size of the...

 basilica. He studied with Robin Mallapert
Robin Mallapert
Robin Mallapert was a French musician of the Renaissance, probably a composer, who spent most of his life in Rome. He is best known as the teacher of Palestrina....

 and Firmin Lebel
Firmin Lebel
Firmin Lebel was a French composer and choir director of the Renaissance, active in Rome. While relatively little of his music survives, he was notable as one of the likely teachers of Palestrina....

. He spent most of his career in the city.

Palestrina came of age as a musician under the influence of the northern European style of polyphony, which owed its dominance in Italy primarily to two influential Franco-Flemish composers, Guillaume Dufay
Guillaume Dufay
Guillaume Dufay was a Franco-Flemish composer of the early Renaissance. As the central figure in the Burgundian School, he was the most famous and influential composer in Europe in the mid-15th century.-Early life:From the evidence of his will, he was probably born in Beersel, in the vicinity of...

 and Josquin des Prez
Josquin Des Prez
Josquin des Prez [Josquin Lebloitte dit Desprez] , often referred to simply as Josquin, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance...

, who had spent significant portions of their careers there. Italy itself had yet to produce anyone of comparable fame or skill in polyphony.

From 1544 to 1551, Palestrina was organist of the principal church (St. Agapito) of his native city, and in 1551 he became maestro di cappella at the Cappella Giulia
Cappella Giulia
The choir "Cappella Giulia," officially named the Reverend Musical Chapel "Julia" of the Sacrosanct Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican, is the choir of St...

, the papal choir at St Peter's
St. Peter's Basilica
The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter , officially known in Italian as ' and commonly known as Saint Peter's Basilica, is a Late Renaissance church located within the Vatican City. Saint Peter's Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world...

. His first published compositions, a book of Masses
Mass (music)
The Mass, a form of sacred musical composition, is a choral composition that sets the invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy to music...

, had made so favorable an impression with Pope Julius III
Pope Julius III
Pope Julius III , born Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte, was Pope from 7 February 1550 to 1555....

 (previously the Bishop of Palestrina) that he appointed Palestrina musical director of the Julian Chapel. This was the first book of Masses by a native composer: in the Italian states of his day, most composers of sacred music were from the Low Countries, France, Portugal, or Spain. In fact the book was modeled on one by Cristóbal de Morales
Cristóbal de Morales
Cristóbal de Morales was a Spanish composer of the Renaissance. He is generally considered to be the most influential Spanish composer before Victoria.- Life :...

: the woodcut in the front is almost an exact copy of the one from the book by the Spanish composer.

During the next decade, Palestrina held positions similar to his Julian Chapel appointment at other chapels and churches in Rome, notably St John Lateran
Basilica of St. John Lateran
The Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran , commonly known as St. John Lateran's Archbasilica and St. John Lateran's Basilica, is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope...

, (1555–1560 – a post previously held by Lassus) and Sta Maria Maggiore (1561–1566). In 1571 he returned to the Julian Chapel and remained at St Peter's for the rest of his life. The decade of the 1570s was difficult for him personally: he lost his brother, two of his sons, and his wife in three separate outbreaks of the plague (1572, 1575, and 1580, respectively). He seems to have considered becoming a priest at this time, but instead he remarried, this time to a wealthy widow. This finally gave him financial independence (he was not well paid as choirmaster) and he was able to compose prolifically until his death.

He died in Rome of pleurisy
Pleurisy
Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleura, the lining of the pleural cavity surrounding the lungs. Among other things, infections are the most common cause of pleurisy....

 in 1594. In keeping with the custom of that time, Palestrina was buried on the same day he died, in a plain coffin with a lead plate on which was inscribed Libera me Domine. A five-part psalm for three choirs was sung at the funeral.

Music and reputation


Palestrina left hundreds of compositions, including 105 masses
Mass (music)
The Mass, a form of sacred musical composition, is a choral composition that sets the invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy to music...

, 68 offertories
Offertory
The Offertory is the portion of a Eucharistic service when bread and wine are brought to the altar. The offertory exists in many liturgical Christian denominations, though the Eucharistic theology varies among celebrations conducted by these denominations....

, at least 140 madrigals
Madrigal (music)
A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition, usually a partsong, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Traditionally, polyphonic madrigals are unaccompanied; the number of voices varies from two to eight, and most frequently from three to six....

 and more than 300 motet
Motet
In classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.-Etymology:The name comes either from the Latin movere, or a Latinized version of Old French mot, "word" or "verbal utterance." The Medieval Latin for "motet" is motectum, and the Italian...

s. In addition, there are at least 72 hymn
Hymn
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification...

s, 35 magnificat
Magnificat
The Magnificat — also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary — is a canticle frequently sung liturgically in Christian church services. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn...

s, 11 litanies
Litany
A litany, in Christian worship and some forms of Jewish worship, is a form of prayer used in services and processions, and consisting of a number of petitions...

, and four or five sets of lamentations
Lamentations (music)
The Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet have been set by various composers.-England:Thomas Tallis made two famous sets of the Lamentations. Scored for five voices , they show a sophisticated use of imitation, and are noted for their expressiveness. The settings are of the first two lessons for...

. His attitude toward madrigals was somewhat enigmatic: whereas in the preface to his collection of Canticum canticorum (Song of Songs) motets (1584) he renounced the setting of profane texts, only two years later he was back in print with Book II of his secular madrigals (some of these being among the finest compositions in the medium). He published just two collections of madrigals with profane texts, one in 1555 and another in 1586. The other two collections were spiritual madrigals, a genre beloved by the proponents of the Counter-Reformation.

Palestrina's masses show how his compositional style developed over time. His Missa sine nomine seems to have been particularly attractive to Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

, who studied and performed it while writing the Mass in B minor. Most of Palestrina's masses appeared in thirteen volumes printed between 1554 and 1601, the last seven published after his death.

One of his most enduring works is the Missa Papae Marcelli
Missa Papae Marcelli
Missa Papae Marcelli, or Pope Marcellus Mass, is a mass by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. It is his most well-known and most often-performed mass, and is frequently taught in university courses on music...

 (Pope Marcellus Mass), which according to legend was composed in order to persuade the Council of Trent
Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was the 16th-century Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. It is considered to be one of the Church's most important councils. It convened in Trent between December 13, 1545, and December 4, 1563 in twenty-five sessions for three periods...

 that a draconian
Draconian
Draconian is an adjective meaning great severity, that derives from Draco, an Athenian law scribe under whom small offences had heavy punishments .Draconian may also refer to:* Draconian , a Death/doom metal band from Sweden...

 ban on the polyphonic
Polyphony
In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

 treatment of text in sacred music (as opposed, that is, to a more directly intelligible homophonic treatment) was unnecessary. However, more recent scholarship shows that this mass was in fact composed before the cardinals convened to discuss the ban (possibly as much as ten years before). It is probable, however, that Palestrina was quite conscious of the need for intelligible text, in conformity with the doctrine of the Counter-Reformation
Counter-Reformation
The Counter-Reformation was the period of Catholic revival beginning with the Council of Trent and ending at the close of the Thirty Years' War, 1648 as a response to the Protestant Reformation.The Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort, composed of four major elements:#Ecclesiastical or...

, and he certainly wrote in this manner from the 1560s until the end of his life. Palestrina's seemingly dispassionate approach to expressive or emotive texts could have resulted from his having to produce many to order, or from a deliberate decision that any intensity of expression was unbecoming in church music.

One of the hallmarks of Palestrina's music is that dissonances are typically relegated to the "weak" beats in a measure. This produced a smoother and more consonant type of polyphony
Polyphony
In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

 which we now consider to be definitive of late Renaissance music, given Palestrina's position as Europe's leading composer (along with Lassus) in the wake of Josquin (d. 1521). The "Palestrina style" now serves as a basis for college Renaissance counterpoint
Counterpoint
In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm and are harmonically interdependent . It has been most commonly identified in classical music, developing strongly during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period,...

 classes, thanks in large part to the efforts of the 18th century composer and theorist Johann Joseph Fux, who, in a book called Gradus ad Parnassum (Steps to Parnassus, 1725), set about codifying Palestrina's techniques as a pedagogical tool for students of composition. Fux applied the term "species counterpoint", which entails a series of steps whereby students work out progressively more elaborate combinations of voices while adhering to certain strict rules. Fux did make a number of stylistic errors, however, which have been corrected by later authors (notably Knud Jeppesen
Knud Jeppesen
Knud Jeppesen was a Danish musicologist, composer, and writer on the history of music....

 and Morris). If we attempt to apply his rules to Palestrina's own music, we will find ample instances in which they have been followed to the letter, as well as many where they are freely broken.

According to Fux, Palestrina had established and followed these basic guidelines:
  • The flow of music is dynamic, not rigid or static.
  • Melody should contain few leaps between notes. (Jeppesen: "The line is the starting point of Palestrina's style."
  • If a leap occurs, it must be small and immediately countered by stepwise motion in the opposite direction.
  • Dissonances are to be confined to passing notes and weak beats. If one falls on a strong beat, it is to be immediately resolved.

Much of the research on Palestrina was done in the 19th century by Giuseppe Baini
Giuseppe Baini
Giuseppe Baini was an Italian priest, music critic, and composer of church music.He was born at Rome. He was instructed in composition by his uncle, Lorenzo Baini, and afterwards by G. Jannaconi...

, who published a monograph in 1828 which made Palestrina famous again and reinforced the already existing legend that he was the "Saviour of Church Music" during the reforms of the Council of Trent
Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was the 16th-century Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. It is considered to be one of the Church's most important councils. It convened in Trent between December 13, 1545, and December 4, 1563 in twenty-five sessions for three periods...

. The 19th century proclivity for hero-worship is predominant in this monograph, however, and this has remained with the composer to some degree to the present day. Hans Pfitzner's
Hans Pfitzner
Hans Erich Pfitzner was a German composer and self-described anti-modernist. His best known work is the post-Romantic opera Palestrina, loosely based on the life of the great sixteenth-century composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.-Biography:Pfitzner was born in Moscow, Russia, where his...

 opera Palestrina
Palestrina (opera)
Palestrina is an opera by the German composer Hans Pfitzner, first performed in 1917. The composer referred to it as a Musikalische Legende , and wrote the libretto himself, based on a legend about the Renaissance musician Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, who saves the art of contrapuntal music ...

 shows this attitude at its peak.

It is only recently, with the discovery and publication of a great deal of hitherto unknown or forgotten music by various Renaissance composers, that we have had the means to properly assess Palestrina in historical context. Though Palestrina represents late Renaissance music well, others such as Orlande de Lassus
Orlande de Lassus
Orlande de Lassus was a Franco-Flemish composer of the late Renaissance...

 (a Franco-Flemish composer who also spent some of his early career in Italy) and William Byrd
William Byrd
William Byrd was an English composer of the Renaissance. He wrote in many of the forms current in England at the time, including various types of sacred and secular polyphony, keyboard and consort music.-Provenance:Knowledge of Byrd's biography expanded in the late 20th century, thanks largely...

 were arguably more versatile. 20th and 21st century scholarship by and large retains the view that Palestrina was a strong and refined composer whose music represents a summit of technical perfection, while emphasizing that some of his contemporaries possessed equally individual voices even within the confines of "smooth polyphony." As a result, composers like Lassus and Byrd as well as Tomas Luis de Victoria
Tomás Luis de Victoria
Tomás Luis de Victoria, sometimes Italianised as da Vittoria , was the most famous composer of the 16th century in Spain, and one of the most important composers of the Counter-Reformation, along with Giovanni da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso. Victoria was not only a composer, but also an...

 have increasingly come to enjoy comparable reputations.

Palestrina was famous in his day, and if anything his reputation increased after his death. Conservative music of the Roman school continued to be written in his style (which in the 17th century came to be known as the prima pratica
Prima pratica
Prima pratica refers to early Baroque music which looks more to the style of Palestrina, or the style codified by Gioseffo Zarlino, than to more "modern" styles. It is contrasted with seconda pratica music...

) by such students of his as Giovanni Maria Nanino
Giovanni Maria Nanino
Giovanni Maria Nanino was an Italian composer and teacher of the late Renaissance. He was a member of the Roman School of composers, and was the most influential music teacher in Rome in the late 16th century...

, Ruggiero Giovanelli, Arcangelo Crivelli, Teofilo Gargari, Francesco Soriano
Francesco Soriano
Francesco Soriano was an Italian composer of the Renaissance. He was one of the most skilled members of the Roman School in the first generation after Palestrina....

 and Gregorio Allegri
Gregorio Allegri
Gregorio Allegri was an Italian composer of the Roman School and brother of Domenico Allegri; he was also a priest and a singer. He lived mainly in Rome, where he would later die.-Life:...

. It is also thought that Salvatore Sacco may have been a student of Palestrina, as well as Giovanni Dragoni
Giovanni Dragoni
Giovanni Andrea Dragoni was an Italian composer of the Roman School of the late Renaissance, a student of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and a prominent composer and maestro di cappella in Rome in the late 16th century...

, who later went on to become choirmaster in the church of S. Giovanni in Laterano.

Palestrina's music continues to be regularly performed and recorded, and to provide models for the study of counterpoint. There are two comprehensive editions of Palestrina's works: a 33 volume edition published by Breitkopf and Härtel, in Leipzig Germany between 1862 and 1894 edited by Franz Xaver Haberl
Franz Xaver Haberl
Franz Xaver Haberl was a German musicologist, friend of Liszt, Perosi, and Singenberger, cleric, and student of Proske....

, and a 34 volume edition published in the mid twentieth century, by Fratelli Scalera, in Rome, Italy edited by R. Casimiri and others.

Sources


  • Article "Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da", in: The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2
  • Benjamin, Thomas, The Craft of Modal Counterpoint, 2nd ed. Routledge, New York, 2005. ISBN 0-415-97172-1 (direct approach)
  • Coates, Henry, Palestrina. J. M. Dent & Sons, London, 1938. (An early entry in the Master Musicians series, and, like other books in that series, combines biographical data with musicological commentary.)
  • Daniel, Thomas, Kontrapunkt, Eine Satzlehre zur Vokalpolyphonie des 16. Jahrhunderts. Verlag Dohr, 2002. ISBN 3-925366-96-2
  • Johann Joseph Fux, The Study of Counterpoint (Gradus ad Parnassum). Tr. Alfred Mann. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1965. ISBN 0-393-00277-2
  • Gauldin, Robert, A Practical Approach to Sixteenth-Century Counterpoint. Waveland Press, Inc., Long Grove, Illinois, 1995. ISBN 0-88133-852-4 (direct approach, no species; contains a large and detailed bibliography)
  • Haigh, Andrew C. "Modal Harmony in the Music of Palestrina", in the festschrift
    Festschrift
    In academia, a Festschrift , is a book honoring a respected person, especially an academic, and presented during his or her lifetime. The term, borrowed from German, could be translated as celebration publication or celebratory writing...

     Essays on Music: In Honor of Archibald Thompson Davison. Harvard University Press, 1957, pp. 111–120.
  • Jeppesen, Knud
    Knud Jeppesen
    Knud Jeppesen was a Danish musicologist, composer, and writer on the history of music....

    , The Style of Palestrina and the Dissonance. 2nd ed., London, 1946. (An exhaustive study of his contrapuntal technique.)
  • Jeppesen, Knud; Haydon, Glen (Translator); Foreword by Mann, Alfred. Counterpoint. New York, 1939. Available through Dover Publications, 1992. ISBN 0-486-27036-X

  • Lewis Lockwood
    Lewis Lockwood
    Lewis H. Lockwood is an American musicologist.He taught at Princeton University from 1958 to 1980, and at Harvard University from 1980 to 2002. He is currently a Distinguished Senior Scholar at Boston University and the Fanny Peabody Research Professor of Music, Emeritus, at Harvard...

    , Noel O'Regan, Jessie Ann Owens: "Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da". Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed 7 July 2007), (subscription access)
  • Meier, Bernhard, The Modes of Classical Vocal Polyphony, Described According to the Sources. Broude Brothers Limited, 1988. ISBN 0-8450-7025-8
  • Morris, R.O., Contrapuntal Technique in the Sixteenth Century. Oxford University Press, 1978. ISBN 0-19-321468-7 (out of print; one of the first attempts at "direct approach", meaning Morris does away with Fux' five species).
  • Motte, Diether de la, Kontrapunkt. 1981 Bärenreiter-Verlag, Kassel. ISBN 3-423-30146-5 / 3-7618-4371-2 (this text is in German; great, though!)
  • Pyne, Zoe Kendrick, Giovanni Pierluigi di Palestrina: His Life and Times, Bodley Head, London, 1922.
  • Reese, Gustave
    Gustave Reese
    Gustave Reese was an American musicologist and teacher. Reese is known mainly for his work on medieval and Renaissance music, particularly with his two publications Music in the Middle Ages and Music in the Renaissance ; these two books remain the standard reference works for these two eras,...

    , Music in the Renaissance. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1954. ISBN 0-393-09530-4
  • Roche, Jerome, Palestrina. Oxford University Press, 1970. ISBN 0-19-314117-5
  • Schubert, Peter, Modal Counterpoint, Renaissance Style, 2nd edition. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-19-533194-3 (guidelines for writing and analyzing 16th-century music).
  • Stewart, Robert, An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Counterpoint and Palestrina's Musical Style. Ardsley House, Publishers, 1994. ISBN 1-880157-07-1
  • Stove, R. J.
    R. J. Stove
    Robert James Stove is an Australian writer, editor, composer and organist.-Biography:Born in 1961 in Sydney, but later resident in Melbourne, Stove graduated from Sydney University in 1985...

    , Prince of Music: Palestrina and His World, Quakers Hill Press, Sydney, 1990. ISBN 0-7316-8792-2 (biographical rather than musicological in nature; is wholly devoid of staff-notation extracts; but corrects some errors found in Z. K. Pyne and elsewhere).
  • Swindale, Owen, Polyphonic Composition, Oxford University Press, 1962. (Out of print, no ISBN available.)


External links



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