Monday, July 8, 2013

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Historical Period: Renaissance
Nationality: Italian
Born: Palestrina, Italy; 3 February 1525 A.D.
Died: Rome, Italy; 2 February 1594 A.D.
Family: Lucrezia and three sons: Rudolfo, Angelo, Iginio.
Specialist Genres: Church (sacred) music.
Major Works: 140 madrigals, 104 masses,
and 250 motets.

     It is the 1500s, when Leonardo Da Vinici created his masterworks, William Shakespeare composed his plays and sonnets, Italy and France fought one another, the Ottomans fought the Shiites, and Martin Luther wrote his famous 95 Theses to bring change in the Catholic Church, music was flourishing.  Around this time, sacred music, music written to be sung in church services, was written mostly by composers in France, Spain and Portugal (the Low Countries). Giovanni Pierluigi from Palestrina, Italy, started composing sacred music and was one of the first from his country to be influential in sacred music. He became so famous that people just call him Palestrina, by the name of the city he was from. His music was very polyphonic, which means that the song has many melodies  going at the same time and harmonize beautifully. Giovanni was very disciplined to keep to his own style, which is described as smooth, flowing and leads you to spend time thinking about the words of the song. It is incredible to think what a man from a small town can do when he works hard and does not give up!

         Giovanni Pierluigi was born on February 3rd, 1525 A.D.,  but there is not much about his early years. We know that his family moved to Rome, Italy in 1537 A.D.  and while there the choirmaster of Santa Maria Maggiore church heard him singing one day, the choirmaster liked it so much that he started giving Giovanni musical training. As Palestrina grew up, he learned to play the organ and was given a job as the organist at St. Agapito and also taught music lessons from 1544-1551. He then became the maestro di cappella in St. Peter's papal choir. This choir sang at the church where the Pope of the Catholic church would go. 
      In 1547, Palestrina had the great joy of marrying  Lucrezia Gori. They had three sons together, Angelo, Rudolfo and Iginio. There was a lot of happiness in the family when the children were born and Giovanni kept writing music.
      Giovanni published his first book of Masses before he was 30 years old. Masses are songs for the church service of the Catholic Church. When Pope Julius III heard these beautiful songs that Giovanni composed he was so impressed that he offered him the position of music director of the Julian Chapel. These songs that he wrote for the church services were sung by a men's choir with no instruments, which is very different from a lot of the music that we listen to today. 
      Giovanni was the director of music at other churches as well and we know that he was picky about the kind of job he worked. In 1568, Giovanni was offered the job as choirmaster for the imperial court in Vienna, so he would be working for the emperor. But Giovanni did not take the job because he did not like what the job was all about. He wrote many other pieces of music, such as motets, hymns, offerories, and lamentations. 
      Among all the success and happiness, Palestrina also experienced great loss when his wife and two of his sons died in the Plague by 1580. Iginio, his son, was the only one in the family to survive the Plague with Palestrina. It was because of these painful experiences that Giovanni considered becoming a priest of the church. A priest is a man that gives up his life to serve in the Catholic church, so does not own anything and will not get married because he has dedicated himself completely for Jesus Christ. But Palestrina did not do it, in 1581 he married a widow, a woman whose husband died. 
      Palestrina left this earth leaving behind a lasting influence on the development of church music, his work being seen as the culmination of Renaissance polyphony. What are you working on?

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