Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was an Italian composer who belonged to the Renaissance period. Majority of his compositions were done for the sacred music genre. This renowned 16th century representative of Roman School of musical composition had great influence on the development of church music. He was among those fist Italian musicians to work on sacred music, especially, in a time when sacred music in Italy was mostly handled by the musicians from the Low Countries like France, Spain or Potugal. Palestrina was greatly influenced by Northern European polyphony style. He composed many motets and masses in Palestrina style of composition. He did not choose to compose in the same way as his Venetian colleagues composed their polychoral pieces. His composition style matched that of older Franco-Flemish masters, which made him the representative of that celebrated group. Read this biography to learn more about profile, childhood life, career and contributions of this great musician.
Giovanni Palestrina was born on 3rd February 1525 in Palestrina, near Rome. He went to Rome in 1537. There is only scanty information available about his early life and many of them are assumptions. One assumption is that he was assigned to sell his family farm products on the streets of Rome and used to sing songs while he walked around the streets. Once, while Palestrina was doing so, the choir master of Santa Maria heard his song and, impressed with the boy’s vocal talents, started training him in music. Later, Palestrina appointed chorister at the Santa Maria Maggiore basilica. Another belief was that he received his musical training from Claude Goudimel. However, this argument is now turned down because recent scholars researching Goudimal discovered that he had never been to Rome. Some others believe that Palestrina could also have been trained by Jacques Arcadlet and famous French musicians Robin Mallapart and Firmin Lebel were his fellows there. He remained in Rome during most of his career.
Childhood And Career
Palestrina worked as an organist in St. Agapito, the principal church in his home town, from 1544 to 1551. He became maestro di cappella in St. Peter’s papal choir. It was around this time that he published his first book of Masses which won great appreciation, notably from Pope Julius III. The Pope was so deeply impressed with Palestrina’s skills that he offered him the position of music director of the Julian Chapel. Palestrina’s book on Masses was the first ever book in his native, written on this subject.
Palestrina became the director of other chapels and churches in Rome and the most notable one among them is the position with St. John Lateran (he took up a post which was previously assigned to Lassus) from 1555-1560. He was not happy with his food and accommodation facilities offered for his choir boys and left the job. He then joined Santa Maria Maggiore in 1561. He was also appointed as music director in a newly formed seminary in 1566 but, with a salary lesser than what he received from Maria Maggiore. The only attractive part of this offer was that his sons were enrolled at the institution. He left this job after some time and then joined Cardinal Ippolito d'Este II as music director. He remained there for 4 years after which he returned to St. Peters and spent his remaining life there.
Palestrina had two sons, Rodolfo and Angelo, from his first marriage however, he lost both of them, along with his wife and brother, in 1570s to an epidemic, the Plague, that hit Rome during these years. He thought of becoming a priest but changed his mind and married a wealthy widow. This marriage benefitted him financially and he went ahead with his musical compositions for the rest of his life.
Palestrina died in 1594 in Rome as a result of acute pleurisy. He was buried in Rome on the same day of his death. He was given his last salutation with a five-part psalm.
- Palestrina was invited to the imperial Court of Vienna by Emperor Maximilian, 1568
- Palestrina was invited to the court of the Duke of Mantua, 1583
- Palestrina's works comprise the most important categories nurtured in the late Renaissance, which include music genres like Masses, motets, and madrigals.
- He played small roles in three of his madrigals.
He composed 250 motets which include settings of psalms and canticles.
- Other important liturgical items are hymns (45), offertories (68) and lamentations (13).
- His compositions are characterized by a stepwise melodic movement that dominates expansive leaps. Also, in this style of composition, diatonic tones in both horizontal and vertical combinations are preferred to their chromatic counterparts.