Giovanni Pierluigi daPalestrina



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Giovanni Pierluigi daPalestrina

Palestrina was born in the town of Palestrina, near Rome, then part of the Papal States. Documents suggest that he first visited Rome in 1537, when he is listed as a chorister at the Santa Maria Maggiore basilica. He studied with Robin Mallapert and Firmin Lebel. He spent most of his career in the city. Palestrina came of age as a musician under the influence of the northern European style of polyphony, which owed its dominance in Italy primarily to two influential Netherlandish composers, Guillaume Dufay and Josquin des Prez, who had spent significant portions of their careers there. Italy itself had yet to produce anyone of comparable fame or skill in polyphony.[2]From 1544 to 1551, Palestrina was organist of the principal church (St. Agapito) of his native city. His first published compositions, a book of Masses, had made so favorable an impression with Pope Julius III (previously the Bishop of Palestrina) that in 1551 he appointed Palestrina maestro di cappella or musical director of the Cappella Giulia, (Julian Chapel, in the sense of choir), the choir of the chapter of canons at St Peter's. This book of Masses was the first by a native composer, since in the Italian states of Palestrina's day, most composers of sacred music were from the Low Countries, France, Portugal,[3] or Spain. In fact the book was modeled on one by Cristóbal de Morales: the woodcut in the front is almost an exact copy of the one from the book by the Spanish composer.During the next decade, Palestrina held positions similar to his Julian Chapel appointment at other chapels and churches in Rome, notably St John Lateran, (1555–1560 – a post previously held by Lassus) and St Mary Major (1561–1566). In 1571 he returned to the Julian Chapel and remained at St Peter's for the rest of his life. The decade of the 1570s was difficult for him personally: he lost his brother, two of his sons, and his wife in three separate outbreaks of the plague (1572, 1575, and 1580, respectively). He seems to have considered becoming a priest at this time, but instead he remarried, this time to a wealthy widow. This finally gave him financial independence (he was not well paid as choirmaster) and he was able to compose prolifically until his death.

He died in Rome of pleurisy in 1594. As was usual, Palestrina was buried on the same day he died, in a plain coffin with a lead plate on which was inscribed Libera me Domine. A five-part psalm for three choirs was sung at the funeral.[4]

Palestrina left hundreds of compositions, including 105 masses, 68 offertories, at least 140 madrigals and more than 300 motets. In addition, there are at least 72 hymns, 35 magnificats, 11 litanies, and four or five sets of lamentations.[2] His attitude toward madrigals was somewhat enigmatic: whereas in the preface to his collection of Canticum canticorum (Song of Songs) motets (1584) he renounced the setting of profane texts, only two years later he was back in print with Book II of his secular madrigals (some of these being among the finest compositions in the medium).[2] He published just two collections of madrigals with profane texts, one in 1555 and another in 1586.[2] The other two collections were spiritual madrigals, a genre beloved by the proponents of the Counter-Reformation.[2]

Palestrina's masses show how his compositional style developed over time.[2] His Missa sine nomine seems to have been particularly attractive to Johann Sebastian Bach, who studied and performed it while writing the Mass in B minor.[5] Most of Palestrina's masses appeared in thirteen volumes printed between 1554 and 1601, the last seven published after his death.[2][6]

One of his most important works, the Missa Papae Marcelli (Pope Marcellus Mass), has been historically associated with erroneous information involving the Council of Trent. According to this tale, it was composed in order to persuade the Council of Trent that a draconian ban on the polyphonic treatment of text in sacred music (as opposed, that is, to a more directly intelligible homophonic treatment) was unnecessary.[7] However, more recent scholarship shows that this mass was in fact composed before the cardinals convened to discuss the ban (possibly as much as ten years before).[7] Historical data indicates that the Council of Trent, as an official body, actually never banned any church music and failed to make any ruling or official statement on the subject. These stories originated from the unofficial points-of-view of some Council attendees who discussed their ideas with those not privy to the Council's deliberations. Those opinions and rumors have, over centuries, been transmuted into fictional accounts, put into print, and often incorrectly taught as historical fact. While Palestrina's compositional motivations are not known, he may have been quite conscious of the need for intelligible text; however, this was not to conform with any doctrine of the Counter-Reformation,[7] because no such doctrine exists. His characteristic style remained consistent from the 1560s until the end of his life. Roche's hypothesis that Palestrina's seemingly dispassionate approach to expressive or emotive texts could have resulted from his having to produce many to order, or from a deliberate decision that any intensity of expression was unbecoming in church music, has not been confirmed by historians.[2]

One of the hallmarks of Palestrina's music is that dissonances are typically relegated to the "weak" beats in a measure.[8] This produced a smoother and more consonant type of polyphony which are now consider to be definitive of late Renaissance music, given Palestrina's position as Europe's leading composer (along with Lassus) in the wake of Josquin (d. 1521). The "Palestrina style" now serves as a basis for college Renaissance counterpoint classes, thanks in large part to the efforts of the 18th-century composer and theorist Johann Joseph Fux, who, in a book called Gradus ad Parnassum (Steps to Parnassus, 1725), set about codifying Palestrina's techniques as a pedagogical tool for students of composition. Fux applied the term "species counterpoint", which entails a series of steps whereby students work out progressively more elaborate combinations of voices while adhering to certain strict rules. Fux did make a number of stylistic errors, however, which have been corrected by later authors (notably Knud Jeppesen and Morris). Palestrina's own music contains ample instances in which his rules they have been followed to the letter, as well as many where they are freely broken.

According to Fux, Palestrina had established and followed these basic guidelines:



  • The flow of music is dynamic, not rigid or static.

  • Melody should contain few leaps between notes. (Jeppesen: "The line is the starting point of Palestrina's style.")[8]

  • If a leap occurs, it must be small and immediately countered by stepwise motion in the opposite direction.

  • Dissonances are to be confined to passing notes and weak beats. If one falls on a strong beat, it is to be immediately resolved.

Much of the research on Palestrina was done in the 19th century by Giuseppe Baini, who published a monograph in 1828 which made Palestrina famous again and reinforced the already existing legend that he was the "Saviour of Church Music" during the reforms of the Council of Trent.[6] The 19th century proclivity for hero-worship is predominant in this monograph, however, and this has remained with the composer to some degree to the present day. Hans Pfitzner's opera Palestrina shows this attitude at its peak.[6][7]

It is only recently, with the discovery and publication of a great deal of hitherto unknown or forgotten music by various Renaissance composers, that it has been possible to properly assess Palestrina in a historical context.[2] Though Palestrina represents late Renaissance music well, others such as Orlande de Lassus (a Franco-Flemish composer who also spent some of his early career in Italy) and William Byrd were arguably more versatile.[2] 20th and 21st century scholarship by and large retains the view that Palestrina was a strong and refined composer whose music represents a summit of technical perfection, while emphasizing that some of his contemporaries possessed equally individual voices even within the confines of "smooth polyphony." As a result, composers like Lassus and Byrd as well as Tomas Luis de Victoria have increasingly come to enjoy comparable reputations.

Palestrina was famous in his day, and if anything his reputation increased after his death. Conservative music of the Roman school continued to be written in his style (which in the 17th century came to be known as the prima pratica) by such students of his as Giovanni Maria Nanino, Ruggiero Giovanelli, Arcangelo Crivelli, Teofilo Gargari, Francesco Soriano and Gregorio Allegri. It is also thought that Salvatore Sacco may have been a student of Palestrina, as well as Giovanni Dragoni, who later went on to become choirmaster in the church of S. Giovanni in Laterano.[4]

Palestrina's music continues to be regularly performed and recorded, and to provide models for the study of counterpoint. There are two comprehensive editions of Palestrina's works: a 33-volume edition published by Breitkopf and Härtel, in Leipzig Germany between 1862 and 1894 edited by Franz Xaver Haberl, and a 34-volume edition published in the mid twentieth century, by Fratelli Scalera, in Rome, Italy edited by R. Casimiri and others.


Thomas Luis da Victoria

Victoria was born in Sanchidrián in the province of Ávila, Castile around 1548 and died in 1611.[3] Victoria’s family can be traced back for generations. Not only are the names of the members in his immediate family known, but even the occupation of his grandfather.[4] Victoria was the seventh of nine children born to Francisco Luis de Victoria and Francisca Suárez de la Concha. After his father’s death in 1557, his uncle, Juan Luis, became his guardian. He was a choirboy in Ávila Cathedral. Cathedral records state that his uncle, Juan Luis, presented Victoria’s Liber Primus to the Church while reminding them that Victoria had been brought up in the Ávila Cathedral.[5] Because he was such an accomplished organist, many believe that he began studying the keyboard at an early age from a teacher in Ávila.[6] Victoria most likely began studying "the classics" at St. Giles’s, a boys' school in Ávila. This school was praised by St.Teresa of Avila and other highly regarded people of music.[7]

After receiving a grant from Philip II in 1565, Victoria went to Rome and became cantor at the German College founded by St. Ignatius Loyola.[8] He may have studied with Palestrina around this time, though the evidence is circumstantial; certainly he was influenced by the Italian's style. For some time, beginning in 1573, Victoria held two positions, one being at the German College and the other being at the Pontifical Roman Seminary. He held the positions of chapelmaster and instructor of plainsong. In 1571, he was hired at the German College as a teacher and began earning his first steady income.[9] After Palestrina left the Seminary, Victoria took over the position of maestro.[10] Victoria was ordained a priest in 1574. Before this he was made a deacon, but did not serve long in that capacity as typically deacons became priests soon after.[11] In 1575, Victoria was appointed Maestro di Capella at S. Apollinare.[12] Church officials would often ask Victoria for his opinion on appointments to cathedral positions because of his fame and knowledge.[13] He was faithful to his position as convent organist even after his professional debut as an organist.[14] He did not stay in Italy, however.

In 1587 Philip II honoured his desire to return to his native Spain, naming him chaplain to his sister, the Dowager Empress María, daughter of Charles V, who had been living in retirement with her daughter Princess Margarita at the Monasterio de las Descalzas de S Clara at Madrid from 1581. In 1591, Victoria became a godfather to his brother Juan Luis’s daughter, Isabel de Victoria.[15] Victoria worked for 24 years at Descalzas Reales, serving for 17 years as chaplain to the Empress until her death, and then as convent organist. Victoria was also being paid much more at the Descalzas Reales than he would have earned as a cathedral chapelmaster, receiving an annual income from absentee benefices from 1587–1611. When the Empress Maria died in 1603, she willed three chaplaincies in the convent, with one going to Victoria. According to Victoria, he never accepted any extra pay for being a chapelmaster, and became the organist rather than the chapelmaster.[16] Such was the esteem in which he was held that his contract allowed him frequent travel away from the convent. He was able to visit Rome in 1593 for two years, attending Palestrina's funeral in 1594. He died in 1611 in the chaplain's residence and was buried at the convent, although his tomb has yet to be identified.

Even though Victoria is typically viewed as being the leading composer of the Roman School, the school was also heavily marked by other Spanish composers such as Morales, Guerrero, and Escobedo.[17]

Victoria is the most significant composer of the Counter-Reformation in Spain, and one of the best-regarded composers of sacred music in the late Renaissance, a genre to which he devoted himself exclusively. Victoria’s music reflected his intricate personality.[18] In his music, the passion of Spanish mysticism and religion is expressed.[10] Victoria was praised by Padre Martini for his melodic phrases and his joyful inventions.[19] His works have undergone a revival in the 20th century, with numerous recent recordings. Many commentators hear in his music a mystical intensity and direct emotional appeal, qualities considered by some to be lacking in the arguably more rhythmically and harmonically placid music of Palestrina. There are quite a few differences in their compositional styles, such as treatment of melody and quarter-note dissonances.[20]

Victoria was a master at overlapping and dividing choirs with multiple parts with a gradual decreasing of rhythmic distance throughout. Not only does Victoria incorporate intricate parts for the voices, but the organ is treated almost like a soloist in many of his choral pieces.[21] Victoria did not begin the development of psalm settings or antiphons for two choirs, but he continued and increased the popularity of such repertoire.[22] Victoria would reissue works that had been published previously, and would include new revisions in each new issue.[3]

Victoria published his first book of motets in 1572.[23] In 1585 Victoria wrote his Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae, a collection which included 37 pieces that are part of the Holy Week celebrations in the Catholic liturgy.[24]

Two influences in Victoria’s life were Giovanni Maria Nanino and Luca Marenzio, whom Victoria admired for their work in madrigals rather than church music.[25] It has been speculated that Victoria took lessons from Escobedo at an early age before moving to Rome.[12]

Victoria claimed that he composed his most creative works under his patron Otto, Cardinal von Truchsess. However, Stevenson does not believe that he learned everything about music under Cardinal Truchsess’s patronage; Victoria would like people to believe such a fact[clarification needed].[23] During the years that Victoria was devoted to Philip II, he expressed exhaustion from his compositional work. Most of the compositions that Victoria wrote that were dedicated to Cardinal Michele Bonelli, Philip II, or Pope Gregory XIII were not compensated properly[clarification needed].[24]

Stylistically, his music shuns the elaborate counterpoint of many of his contemporaries, preferring simple line and homophonic textures, yet seeking rhythmic variety and sometimes including intense and surprising contrasts. His melodic writing and use of dissonance is more free than that of Palestrina; occasionally he uses intervals which are prohibited in the strict application of 16th century counterpoint, such as ascending major sixths, or even occasional diminished fourths (for example, a melodic diminished fourth occurs in a passage representing grief in his motet Sancta Maria, succurre). Victoria sometimes uses dramatic word-painting, of a kind usually found only in madrigals. Some of his sacred music uses instruments (a practice which is not uncommon in Spanish sacred music of the 16th century), and he also wrote polychoral works for more than one spatially separated group of singers, in the style of the composers of the Venetian school who were working at St. Mark's in Venice.

His most famous work, and his masterpiece, was a Requiem Mass for the Empress Maria.[10] Also notable is the serene emotion of each of the 37 pieces that form his Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae of 1585, a collection of motets and lamentations linked to the Holy Week Catholic celebrations[attribution needed



William Byrd

Thanks largely to the research of John Harley, knowledge of Byrd's biography has expanded in recent years. According to Harley, Thomas Byrd, the grandson of Richard Byrd of Ingatestone, Essex, probably moved to London in the 15th century. Thereafter succeeding generations of the family are described as gentlemen. William Byrd was born in London, the son of another Thomas Byrd about whom nothing further is known, and his wife, Margery. The specific year of Byrd's birth is uncertain. In his will, dated 15 November 1622, he describes himself as 'in the 80th year of my age', suggesting a birthdate of 1542 or 1543. However a document dated 2 October 1598 written in his own hand states that he is '58 yeares or ther abouts,' indicating an earlier birthdate of 1539 or 1540. Byrd had two brothers, Symond and John, who became London merchants, and four sisters, Alice, Barbara, Mary and Martha.[1]

There is no documentary evidence concerning Byrd's early musical training. His two brothers were choristers at St. Paul's Cathedral, and Byrd may have been a chorister there as well under Simon Westcote, although it is possible that he was a chorister with the Chapel Royal.[2] According to Anthony a Wood, Byrd was 'bred up to musick under Tho. Tallis', and a reference in the prefatory material to the Cantiones sacrae published by Tallis and Byrd in 1575 tends to confirm that Byrd was a pupil of Thomas Tallis of the Chapel Royal.[3] Moreover one of Byrd's earliest compositions was a collaboration with two Chapel Royal singing-men, John Sheppard and William Mundy, on a setting for four male voices of the psalm In exitu Israel for the procession to the font in Easter week. It was probably composed near the end of the reign of Queen Mary Tudor (1553–1558),[4] who revived Sarum liturgical practices.

A few other compositions by Byrd should probably be assigned to his teenage years. These include his setting of the Easter responsory Christus resurgens (a4) which was not published until 1605, but which as part of the Sarum liturgy could also have been composed during Mary's reign. Some of the hymns and antiphons for keyboard and for consort may also date from this period, though it is also possible that the consort pieces may have been composed in Lincoln for the musical training of choirboys.

Byrd's first known professional employment was his appointment in 1563 as organist and master of the choristers at Lincoln Cathedral.[5] Residing at 6 Minster Yard Lincoln, he remained in post until 1572. His period at Lincoln was not entirely trouble-free, for on 19 November 1569 the Dean and Chapter cited him for 'certain matters alleged against him' as the result of which his salary was suspended. Since Puritanism was influential at Lincoln, it is possible that the allegations were connected with over-elaborate choral polyphony or organ playing. A second directive, dated 29 November, issued detailed instructions regarding Byrd's use of the organ in the liturgy. On 14 September 1568, Byrd married Julian Birley; it was a long-lasting and fruitful union which produced at least seven children.

The 1560s were also important formative years for Byrd the composer. The Short Service, an unpretentious setting of items for the Anglican Matins, Communion and Evensong services, which seems to have been designed to comply with the Protestant reformers’ demand for clear words and simple musical textures, may well have been composed during the Lincoln years. It is at any rate clear that Byrd was composing Anglican church music, for when he left Lincoln the Dean and Chapter continued to pay him at a reduced rate on condition that he would send the cathedral his compositions. Byrd had also taken serious strides with instrumental music. The seven 'In Nomine' settings for consort (two a4 and five a5), at least one of the consort fantasias (Neighbour F1 a6) and a number of important keyboard works have been assigned to the Lincoln years. The latter include the Ground in Gamut (described as 'Mr Byrd's old ground') by his future pupil Thomas Tomkins, the A minor fantasia and probably the first of Byrd's great series of keyboard pavans and galliards, a composition which was transcribed by Byrd from an original for five-part consort. All these show Byrd gradually emerging as a major figure on the Elizabethan musical landscape.

Some sets of keyboard variations, such as The Hunt's Up and the imperfectly preserved set on Gypsies’ Round also seem to be early works. As we have seen, Byrd had begun setting Latin liturgical texts as a teenager, and he seems to have continued to do so at Lincoln. Two exceptional large-scale psalm motets, Ad Dominum cum tribularer (a8) and Domine quis habitabit (a9), are Byrd's contribution to a genre cultivated by Robert White and Robert Parsons. De lamentatione, another early work, is a contribution to the Elizabethan practice of setting groups of verses from the Lamentations of Jeremiah following the format of the Tenebrae lessons sung in the Catholic rite during the last three days of Holy Week, other contributors including Tallis, White, Parsley and the elder Ferrabosco. It is likely that this practice was an expression of Elizabethan Catholic nostalgia, as a number of the texts suggest.

Byrd obtained the prestigious post of Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1572 following the death of Robert Parsons, a gifted composer who drowned in the Trent near Newark on 25 January of that year. Almost from the outset Byrd is named as 'organist', which however was not a designated post but an occupation for any Chapel Royal member capable of filling it. This career move vastly increased Byrd's opportunities to widen his scope as a composer and also to make contacts at Court. Queen Elizabeth (1558–1603) was a moderate Protestant who eschewed the more extreme forms of Puritanism and retained a fondness for elaborate ritual, besides being a music lover and keyboard player herself. Byrd's output of Anglican church music (defined in the strictest sense as sacred music designed for performance in church) is surprisingly small, but it stretches the limits of elaboration then regarded as acceptable by some reforming Protestants who regarded highly wrought music as a distraction from the Word of God.





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