Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Giovanni Pierluigi Da Palestrina --- The Prince of Sacred Roman Polyphonic Music

I wonder how many know that Palestrina is considered "The Prince of Sacred Polyphony" in the Catholic Church.

He literally saved "Sacred Polyphony" at a very critical time after the "Council of Trent".

Palestrina was also in charge of Music at the Sistine Chapel in the 1500's.

Palestrina was responsible for composing numerous beautiful Masses like "Missa Papae Marcelli" as well as Motets and Hymns in honor of Our Lady like "Stabat Mater" and many more.

Here is some interesting and insightful information that I came across.


"Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina"

The greatest composer of liturgical music of all time, born at Palestrina (ancient Praeneste) in 1514 or 1515, according to Baini, Riemann, and others, according to Haberl, in 1526; died at Rome, 2 February, 1594. His early history is practically unknown. Giusseppi Ottavia Pittoni (1657-1743), in "notizie dei maestri di cappella si di Rome che altramontani", 1600-1700", a manuscript in the Vatican, relates that young Pierluigi sang 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.

As to the identity of the choirmaster, tradition gives no clue. Some hold that Palestrina was taught by Jacques Arcadelt (1514-60), choirmaster and composer in Rome from 1539 to 1549. The opinion, so long held, that Claude Goudimel (1505-72) was his principal teacher has now been definitively abandoned. As far as is known, he began his active musical life as organist and choirmaster in his native city in 1544; his reputation increasing, in 1551 he was called to Rome, entrusted with the direction and musical formation of the choirboys at St. Peter's, and within the same year was advanced to the post of choirmaster. In 1554, he dedicated to Julius III (1549-55) his first compositions, a volume of masses for four voices, and was rewarded with the appointment as a member of the papal chapel in contravention of the rules governing that body. The popehad set aside the rule requiring those who held membership in the papal choir to be in Holy Orders, and also used his authority to exempt him from the usually severe entrance examination. These circumstances and the further fact that his voice was much inferior to those of the other singers, aroused the opposition, and antagonism of his fellow-members. The papal singers did not appreciate the object of the pope, which was to secure for the gifted young man the necessary leisure to compose.

In the course of the same year, Palestrina published a volume of madrigals. The texts of some of these the composer himself in later years considered too free. In the dedication of his setting of the Canticle of Canticles to Gregory XIII, he expresses not only regret but repentance, for having caused scandal by this publication. Marcellus II, as cardinal, had protected and admired Palestrina, but died after a reign of only twenty-one days. Paul IV, shortly after his accession, re-inforced the former rules for the government of the papal choir. Besides Palestrina, there were two other lay married members in the choir. All were dismissed with a small pension, in spite of the understanding that these singers were engaged for life. The worry and hardship caused by the dismissal brought on a severe illness; restored, the composer took charge, 1 October, 1555, of the choir at St. John Lateran, where he remained until February, 1561. During this period he wrote, beside Lamentations and Magnificats, the famous "Improperia". Their performance by the papal choir on Good Friday was ordered by Paul IV, and they have remained in its repertoire for Holy Week ever since.

This production greatly increased Palestrina's fame. In 1561 he asked the chapter of St. John Lateran for an increase in salary, in view of his growing needs and the expense of publishing his works. Refused, he accepted a similar post at Santa Maria Maggiore, which he held until 1571. It is not know at what period of his career Palestrina came under the influence of St.. Philip Neri, but there is every reason to believe it was in early youth. As the saint's penitent and spiritual disciple, he gained that insight into the spirit of the liturgy, which enabled his to set it forth in polyphonic music as it had never before been done. It was his spiritual formation even more than his artistic maturity, which fitted him for the providential part he played in the reform of church music.

Read More at:http://www.unavoce.org/palestri.htm

Check out the following Link for some awesome Compositions by Palestrina:


My Apologies for this late addition but I have discovered an awesome site where you can listen to a ton of stuff specially Masses, Sacred Madrigals, Motets, and much more composed by Palestrina.

Here is the Link. Check it out.


More on Beethoven's Missa Solemnis

I recently came across an awesome article which I believe is all comprehensive on "Beethoven's Missa Solemnis".

Ludwig Van Beethoven often considered this Mass that he composed as his greatest achievement in his lifetime.

The History associated with "The Missa Solemnis" is awesome and fabulous.

Check this article out at the following Link:


There are musical works of such conceptual scope, majesty and grandeur that they should not be performed too often, lest they become commonplace. One thinks of the B-minor Mass and the Passions of Bach, Wagener's Ring, and a number of symphonies by Mahler.

Of these, the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven is given on a too-regular basis, and has become so well known that its sublimity is diminished, for the listener, through familiarity. Mercifully, the same has not occurred with Beethoven's Missa solemnis, because its length and difficulty ensure that performances will be relatively rare.

Beethoven was never conventionally religious. Although apparently a believer in god, his faith was pantheistic rather than confined to a particular doctrine.

The Missa solemnis was planned originally as a tribute to his friend and patron Archduke Rudolf of Austria, a son of the Emperor, on the occasion of Rudolf's elevation to the rank of Cardinal-Archbishop of Olmütz in Moravia. His investiture took place in the magnificent Gothic cathedral of Cologne in 1820, but the Missa grew beyond suitable proportions, even for such an august occasion. It was not completed until 1823.

Beethoven became obsessed in the exploring the literal meaning of the Mass text, ignoring the by-then-ossified traditional understanding not from any theological dispute with Catholic reaching, but from a desire to universalize a commonly-known text, and a typical artist's need for thoroughness. For this reason he looked back to earlier models, studying Gregorian plainchant modes and Baroque oratorios, in particular Handel's Messiah.

Evidence of these is plain throughout the Missa solemnis, particularly in the Credo. Beethoven's use of a traditional text as the foundation for an exploration of new directions is akin to Renaissance painters' use of common Biblical themes as the basis for arrangements of colors, shapes, textures and proportions. In both cases, the superficial narrative is intended to appeal to the naïve listener (including the censor); the connoisseur is expected to penetrate beyond the surface.

Read More at: http://www.bachchoir.org.hk/concerts/1998/MissaSolemnis.html