PALESTRINA, Giovanni Pierluigi da

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was the leading Roman composer during the second half of the sixteenth century. Because his music became a paradigm of Catholic church music in the centuries following his death, his influence on later generations exceeds that of all other Renaissance composers.
Palestrina probably received his earliest musical training at the Roman church of S. Maria Maggiore; a document of 1537 lists him among the choirboys there. By 1544 he had accepted a position as organist and maestro at the cathedral in nearby Palestrina, the town from which his name derives and his presumed place of birth. There he met Lucrezia Gori, whom he married in 1547 and with whom he had three sons, and Cardinal Giovanni Maria del Monte, bishop of Palestrina, who became his first and most powerful patron. Following del Monte's election as Pope Julius III in 1550, Palestrina returned to Rome to become maestro of the Cappella Giulia. In 1554 he dedicated to Julius his first book of masses, and at the beginning of 1555 the pope ordered Palestrina's admission to his official music chapel, the Cappella Sistina, without examination or the consent of the other singers, and in violation of the chapel's prohibition against the admission of married singers. Following the death of Julius three months later, enforcement of the rule on celibacy led to Palestrina's dismissal. During the next fifteen years he served as maestro di cappella for three prominent Roman institutions: St. John Lateran (1555-60), S. Maria Maggiore (1561-66), and the Roman Semi­nary (1566-71). In 1571 he was reappointed maestro of the Cappella Giulia, a post he retained until his death. His stature had increased steadily: in 1568 he had declined Emperor Maximilian II's invitation to become kapellmeister in Vienna; in 1577 he was one of two men entrusted by Pope Gregory XIII with the revision of the Roman chantbooks. But these were also years of personal loss. Following the deaths of his brother, two of his sons, and in 1580 his wife, Palestrina made plans to enter the priesthood. Instead, he married the wealthy widow of a Roman fur merchant. He took a lively interest in her business and enjoyed a level of financial security previously unknown to him. At his death he left about one hundred masses and over three hundred motets in addition to madrigals (both sacred and secular), hymns, magnificats, and other liturgical music.
Palestrina was already revered and emulated by Roman composers of the next generation such as Felice Anerio, Ruggiero Giovannelli, and Francesco Soriano, but his stature assumed mythic proportions in the centuries following his death. At a time when the music of his contemporaries had fallen into obscurity, his music became the model for composers seeking to invoke the stile antico of the Renaissance, and the study of "counterpoint in the Palestrina style" became the focus of a venerable pedagogical tradition that found its classic expression in J. J. Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum (1725). The unique reverence accorded Palestrina derived in part from his legendary status as the "savior of church music": earlier scholars mistakenly believed that his composition of the Pope Marcellus Mass had dissuaded the Council of Trent from banning polyphony in church. Today Palestrina appears as only one of a number of composers who in diverse ways worked to bring the polyphonic tradition into conformity with the ideals of the Catholic Reformation. These revisions of his historical position, however, have done little to diminish his stature as a composer. For many, his music remains a model of contrapuntal elegance, expressive restraint, and technical mastery.
L. Lockwood, "Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da," in The New Grove High Renaissance Masters, 1984.
N. O'Regan, "Palestrina, a Musician and Composer in the Market-place," Early Music 22 (1994): 551-72.
David Crook

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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