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Born: Circa 1525 or 1526 in Palestrina, Italy (town near Rome)

Died: February 2, 1594. Rome of pleurisy

Alternate/ Birth Name: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Giovanni Pierluigi Sante

Palestrina, Rome

  • Mother: Maria Gismondi Pierluigi
  • Father: Sante Pierluigi
Siblings: Two brothers and one sister
  • Brother: Silla Pierluigi
  • Brother: Bernardino Pierluigi
  • Sister: Palma Pierluigi
Profession: Italian composer of the Renaissance.The most famous sixteenth-century representative of the Roman School of musical composition.

Education: Unfortunately Palestrina's history has fallen into vagueness in the cloak of time and has hidden many secrets of the great composer life. Though not much is known but references have been found and some new texts have recently been found which have cleared many doubts and facts on the platter for the history keepers. It is believed that Tomasso Crinello was young Palestrina's master but its authenticity can not be confirmed, though, he was surely trained in the Netherland manner of composition. Another reference found in manuscripts of the Vatican suggest that young Palestrina admitted in choir of Santa Maria Maggiore after one of the choirmaster got impressed with young lad's voice while he was singing on the streets to sell merchandise produced via the family business. It is said that he studied there from 1537 to 1541. Another connection in the same period reveals that Firmin Le bel also taught Palestrina around the same time.It is believed that Rubino who took the office until April 24, 1539 might have taught Palestrina at Maggiore. Also, another name, Maggiore has come up from the hat of history which has not much detail to it but he is said to have also been involved in Palestrina's education. Not until 1540 another name appears who seem to be have been involved in our musical hero's education is Firmin Le bel, who was the chaplain of Saint Bernardino filled the office in December 6. Apart from these it is said that Palestrina might also be in contact with Jacques Arcadelt (1514-60) choirmaster and composer in Rome from 1539 to 1549. Another the story originated in the nineteenth century about Palestrina education that Claude Goudimel (1505-72) was his principal teacher has now been definitively abandoned but according to recent study, Goudimel was never in Rome.

Childhood: Palestrina was born around 1525/1526 (exact date of birth register has not been found) in Palestrina, .He was still an infant when in 1527, Charles V carried out a military event known as the sack of Rome. During these times riches were reduced to beggars though it is believed that Palestrina didn't had to suffer. Probably it was an advantage to be of the mean estate probably because the providence shielded Sante. There family was in no way impecunious as they possessed a house, chestnut grove, vineyard and other property a well. It is believed that Palestrina showed early signs of musical genius and that her mother sold off some of her land for his education. A manuscript from Vatican mentions young Palestrina singing in the streets of Rome while offering for sale the products of his parents farm and that he was heard on such an occasion by the choirmaster of Santa Maria Maggiore, who, impressed by the boy's beautiful voice and pronounced musical talent, educated him musically.He was also placed in the choir of Saint Agapito, where he became aware of liturgical melodies. There are many vague references of Palestrina childhood and none provide substantial text on his Palestrina childhood.

First Break:October 23, 1544 became the choirmaster and organist of the cathedral of S. Agapito in his native town

Spouse: Lucretia Goris. Married on June 12, 1547

Children: Three Children. One daughter and two sons
  • Daughter: Aurdia Pierluigi
  • Son: Angelo Pierluigi
  • Son:Ridolfo Pierluigi
Musical Journey:

There are 32 volumes of Palestrina's collected works that were published by Breitkopf & Härtel between 1862 and 1907. It becomes very difficult to ascertain he dates for Palestrina work but the works listed is as per genre.

1 Masses
2 Motets
2.1 Four voices
2.2 Five voices
2.3 Six voices
2.4 Seven voices
2.5 Eight voices
2.6 Twelve voices
3 Hymns for four voices
4 Offertories for five voices
5 Lamentations for four voices
6 Litanies
7 Psalms
8 Antiphon
9 Magnificats
10 Cantiones sacrae
11 Spiritual madrigals
11.1 Five voices
11.2 Four voices
11.3 Three voices
12 Secular madrigals
13 Cantiones profanae
14 Other
15 References

Please see the link from Wikipedia for a list of Palestrina's work.


Famous Works:

His famous works come the Mass genre called Missa Papae Marcelli and is considered as the master peice. His Missa Aeterna Christi Munera also became very popular.Missa Papae Marcelli

Agnus Dei

  Harriet Brower's Account For Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

To learn something of the life and labors of Palestrina, one of the earliest as well as one of the greatest musicians, we must go back in the world's history nearly four hundred years. And even then we may not be able to discover all the events of his life as some of the records have been lost. But we have the main facts, and know that Palestrina's name will be revered for all time as the man who strove to make sacred music the expression of lofty and spiritual meaning.

Upon a hoary spur of the Apennines stands the crumbling town of Palestrina. It is very old now; it was old when Rome was young. Four hundred years ago Palestrina was dominated by the great castle of its lords, the proud Colonnas. Naturally the town was much more important in those days than it is to-day.

At that time there lived in Palestrina a peasant pair, Sante Pierluigi and his wife Maria, who seem to have been an honest couple, and not grindingly poor, since the will of Sante's mother has lately been found, in which she bequeathed a house in Palestrina to her two sons. Besides this she left behind a fine store of bed linen, mattresses and cooking utensils. Maria Gismondi also had a little property.

To this pair was born, probably in 1526, a boy whom they named Giovanni Pierluigi, which means John Peter Louis. This boy, from a tiniest child, loved beauty of sight and sound. And this is not at all surprising, for a child surrounded from infancy by the natural loveliness and glory of old Palestrina, would unconsciously breathe in a sense of beauty and grandeur.

It was soon discovered the boy had a voice, and his mother is said to have sold some land she owned to provide for her son's musical training.

From the rocky heights on which their town was built, the people of Palestrina could look across the Campagna—the great plain between—and see the walls and towers of Rome. At the time of our story, Saint Peter's had withstood the sack of the city, which happened a dozen years before, and Bramante's vast basilica had already begun to rise. The artistic life of Rome was still at high tide, for Raphael had passed away but twenty years before, and Michael Angelo was at work on his Last Judgment.

Though painting and sculpture flourished, music did not keep pace with advance in other arts. The leading musicians were Belgian, Spanish or French, and their music did not match the great achievements attained in the kindred art of the time—architecture, sculpture and painting. There was needed a new impetus, a vital force. Its rise began when the peasant youth John Peter Louis descended from the heights of Palestrina to the banks of the Tiber.

The youth, whom we shall now call Palestrina, as he is known by the name of his birthplace, returned from Rome at the age of eighteen to his native town, in 1544, as a practising musician, and took a post at the Cathedral of Saint Agapitus. Here he engaged himself for life, to be present every day at mass and vespers, and to teach singing to the canons and choristers. Thus he spent the early years of his young manhood directing the daily services and drumming the rudiments of music into the heads of the little choristers. It may have been dry and wearisome labor; but afterward, when Palestrina began to reform the music of the church, it must have been of great advantage to him to know so absolutely the liturgy, not only of Saint Peter's and Saint John Lateran, but also that in the simple cathedral of his own small hill-town.

Young Palestrina, living his simple, busy life in his home town, never dreamed he was destined to become a great musician. He married in 1548, when he was about twenty-two. If he had wished to secure one of the great musical appointments in Rome, it was a very unwise thing for him to marry, for single singers were preferred in nine cases out of ten. Palestrina did not seem to realize this danger to a brilliant career, and took his bride, Lucrezia, for pure love. She seems to have been a person after his own heart, besides having a comfortable dowry of her own. They had a happy union, which lasted for more than thirty years.

Although he had agreed to remain for life at the cathedral church of Saint Agapitus, it seems that such contracts could be broken without peril. Thus, after seven years of service, he once more turned his steps toward the Eternal City.

He returned to Rome as a recognized musician. In 1551 he became master of the Capella Giulia, at the modest salary of six scudi a month, something like ten dollars. But the young chapel master seemed satisfied. Hardly three years after his arrival had elapsed, when he had written and printed a book containing five masses, which he dedicated to Pope Julius III. This act pleased the pontiff, who, in January, 1555, appointed Palestrina one of the singers of the Sistine Chapel, with an increased salary.

It seems however, that the Sistine singers resented the appointment of a new member, and complained about it. Several changes in the Papal chair occurred at this time, and when Paul IV, as Pope, came into power, he began at once with reforms. Finding that Palestrina and two other singers were married men, he put all three out, though granting an annuity of six scudi a month for each.

The loss of this post was a great humiliation, which Palestrina found it hard to endure. He fell ill at this time, and the outlook was dark indeed, with a wife and three little children to provide for.

But the clouds soon lifted. Within a few weeks after this unfortunate event, the rejected singer of the Sistine Chapel was created Chapel Master of Saint John Lateran, the splendid basilica, where the young Orlandus Lassus had so recently directed the music. As Palestrina could still keep his six scudi pension, increased with the added salary of the new position, he was able to establish his family in a pretty villa on the Coelian Hill, where he could be near his work at the Lateran, but far enough removed from the turmoil of the city to obtain the quiet he desired, and where he lived in tranquillity for the next five years.

Palestrina spent forty-four years of his life in Rome. All the eleven popes who reigned during this long period honored Palestrina as a great musician. Marcellus II spent a part of his three weeks' reign in showing kindness to the young Chapel master, which the composer returned by naming for this pontiff a famous work, "Mass of Pope Marcellus." Pius IV, who was in power when the mass was performed, praised it eloquently, saying John Peter Louis of Palestrina was a new John, bringing down to the church militant the harmonies of that "new song" which John the Apostle heard in the Holy City. The musician-pope, Gregory XIII, to whom Palestrina dedicated his grandest motets, entrusted him with the sacred task of revising the ancient chant. Pope Sixtus V greatly praised his beautiful mass, "Assumpta est Maria" and promoted him to higher honors.

With this encouragement and patronage, Palestrina labored five years at the Lateran, ten years at Santa Maria Maggiore and twenty three at Saint Peter's. At the last named it was his second term, of course, but it continued from 1571 to his death. He was happy in his work, in his home and in his friends. He also saved quite a little money and was able to give his daughter-in-law, in 1577, 1300 scudi; he is known indeed, to have bought land, vineyards and houses in and about Rome.

All was not a life of sunshine for Palestrina, for he suffered many domestic sorrows. His three promising sons died one after another. They were talented young men, who might have followed in the footsteps of their distinguished father. In 1580 his wife died also. Yet neither poignant sorrow, worldly glory nor ascetic piety blighted his homely affections. At the Jubilee of Pope Gregory XIII, in 1575, when 1500 pilgrims from the town of Palestrina descended the hills on the way to Rome, it was their old townsman, Giovanni Pierluigi, who led their songs, as they entered the Eternal City, their maidens clad in white robes, and their young men bearing olive branches.

It is said of Palestrina that he became the "savior of church music," at a time when it had almost been decided to banish all music from the service except the chant, because so many secular subjects had been set to music and used in church. Things had come to a very difficult pass, until at last the fathers turned to Palestrina, desiring him to compose a mass in which sacred words should be heard throughout. Palestrina, deeply realizing his responsibility, wrote not only one but three, which, on being heard, pleased greatly by their piety, meekness, and beautiful spirit. Feeling more sure of himself, Palestrina continued to compose masses, until he had created ninety-three in all. He also wrote many motets on the Song of Solomon, his Stabat Mater, which was edited two hundred and fifty years later by Richard Wagner, and his lamentations, which were composed at the request of Sixtus V.

Palestrina's end came February 2, 1594. He died in Rome, a devout Christian, and on his coffin were engraved the simple but splendid words: "Prince of Music."

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