Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594).

Palestrina was, in the renaissance, one of the most important religious music composers. He was born in 1525 in Palestrina, north of Rome, and from a very early age he studied music. In 1537 he became a choir boy in Santa Maria Maggiore church, in Rome, and in that city he studied until 1540, at which point he returned to his homeland to become the city’s choir master. In 1550 Julius the II becomes pope, and Palestrina is requested to become master to the choir of the Giulia Chapel. A year after, he publishes his first mass book, but in 1555 pope Julius II dies, and Palestrina is dismissed on the grounds that he was married. He then succeeds to Roland de Lassus as a chapel master in St John of Latron, and in 1561 returns to Santa Maria Maggiore. In 1567 he enters the service of cardinal Ipolito d'Este, and becomes chapel master of the Sistine Chapel in 1571. After his wife’s death, he married again, this time to the daughter of a wealthy fur trader, and becomes soon very rich by being successful in his father-in-law's business, fact that allowed him to publish his works until the end of his life.

Palestrina also composed several profane madrigals, like the famous song "L'homme armé" (odd enough, part of a mass...), but it really is in religious music that Palestrina outstands. Although not having the inventivity of William Byrd, for instance, he is the most perfect example of renaissance polyphony, and the formal sharpness and beauty of his writing give his works a divine allure, besides the fact that the intricacy of these formal structures doesn't keep the text, generally in latin, from being understood. In fact, it was one of the rules regarding church music original from the Trento Council that the latin texts set in music for services should always be intelligible.

 

Reccomended Recordings:

"Missa Papae Marcellis": The Tallis Scholars, Phillips.

"Missa Assumpta est Maria": Conjunto Herreweghe, Ricercare.

 

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