Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Italian composer (Palestrina, 1525 – Rome, 1594)

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was an Italian composer of the 16th century. The romantic artists considered him as the father of the Western religious music.

Palestrina got his first musical education as a choirboy at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. He studied under the Kapellmeisters Robin Mallapert and Firmin Le Bel, afterwards he became an organist, a choirmaster and finally a Kapellmeister. He learnt about the masters of the French-Flemish and Italian schools, including Josquin Des Prés and Jean Mouton. In 1551, the pope Julius III, who used to be the cardinal-bishop of Palestrina’s diocese, appointed him Kapellmeister at the Cappella Giulia in the Saint Peter’s Basilica of Rome. In 1554, Palestrina published his first book of Masses, influenced by the Spanish composer Cristobal de Morales. Julius III invited Palestrina to the Sistine Chapel in 1555 but the musician would be banned a few months later. He was a married man and the general atmosphere had become more rigid since the beginning of the Council of Trent. Later on, Palestrina was appointed successively Kapellmeister at the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, at Santa Maria Maggiore (again), at the Seminario Romano and at the Cappella Giulia during the pontificate of Pius V. At the same period, he composed for the Carnidal Ippolito II d’Este, the Duke of Mantoue and various institutions and paid homage to the popes who were entering their new office. 

Since the Marcellus II, Palestrina’s style had been established as the official Church model. On Pius IV’s request to find a new momentum for the liturgical music, following the Counter-Reform movement, Palestrina promulgated a style more refined and a polyphony more comprehensible. He left a monumental work that would be an influence for the centuries to come.

Six landmark dates in the life of Palestrina

1544-1551: organist at his main church.
1551: Kapellmeister at Giulia, Saint Peter’s Basilica.
1555: on the pope Julius III’s order, Palestrina joined the choir of the Sistine Chapel (for a few months).
1555-1560: Kapellmeister at the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran.
1561: Kapellmeister at Santa Maria Maggiore.
1571: returned to the Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Six pieces by Palestrina

Missa Papae Marcelli (Pope Marcellus Mass) [Mass on a popular tune]
Missa Assumpta Est [Mass on motet]
Missa Veni Creator [Mass on cantus firmus]
Missa Regina Coeli [Mass on cantus firmus]
Missa Ad fugam [Mass in a canon]
Stabat Mater