Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
c.1525–1594, Italian composer whose family name was Pierluigi; b. Palestrina, from which he took his name. Palestrina represents with Lasso the culmination of Renaissance music. In 1544 he was appointed organist at the cathedral in his native town. In 1550 the bishop of Palestrina became Pope Julius III and appointed (1551) Palestrina master of the Julian Chapel Choir. Palestrina’s first book of masses appeared in 1554, dedicated to the pope. From 1555 to 1560 he was choirmaster of the Cathedral of St. John Lateran, for which he wrote his Lamentations, and from 1561 to 1566 he was choirmaster of Saint Mary Major. After several years in the private service of Ippolito II, Cardinal d’Este, he returned in 1571 to the Vatican to resume leadership of the Julian Chapel Choir. He was undisputed master of the mass, of which he wrote 105 for four, five, six, and eight voice parts. Best known is his Missa Papae Marcelli. He also wrote madrigals, motets, magnificats, offertories, litanies, and settings of the Song of Songs
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was born at Palestrina almost certainly between February 3 1525 and February 2 1526, and died at Rome on February 2 1594. He ranks as the most towering figure in the music of the late 16th century. He was primarily a prolific composer of masses and motets but was also an important madrigalist. No one who sought to assimilate the richly developed polyphonic techniques of the French and Flemish predecessors did so more than Palestrina. No one mastered these techniques more completely or subordinated them more effectively to the requirements of musical cogency; and no contemporary laboured more successfully to realize the functional and aesthetic aims of church music in the age of the Counter-Reformation. Palestrina's name is derived from the town of Palestrina in the Sabine Hills near Rome, known in antiquity as Praeneste. Throughout his life he was known by the surname Palestrina or Prenestino (with a variety of spellings), at times imply by the nickname 'Giannetto'; in his own letters he normally signed his name as 'Giovanni Petraloysio', only once as 'il Palestrina'. The dates between which he is presumed to have been born derive from an important eulogy by a younger contemporary, a certain Mechiorre Major, entered into the tenor partbook of a printed volume of motets by Claudin de Sermisy that is still part of the library of the Sistine Chapel. It states that at his death Palestrina was sixty-eight years old, and it concludes with a verse epitaph beginning 'O mors inevitabilis', a text strikingly similar to the epitaph for Josquin that had been set to music by Jheronimus Vinders and published in 1545. As for Palestrina's birthplace, it has long been assumed, plausibly enough, that he was born in the town from which his name is taken and in which his family had settled some years before he was born. Yet although this is indeed likely, Jeppesen observed that the earliest known document in which he is named (a will made by his grandmother Jacobella in October 1527) originated in Rome. Jeppesen further noted that a Roman census of 1525 listed a certain 'Santo de Prenestino' as the head of a household of twelve, then living in a Roman quarter near St. John Lateran; he suggested that if this Santo were Palestrina's father, whose name was given elsewhere as Sate or Santo, the composer might actually have been born in Rome. In any event there is no doubt that his early training took place there and that a subsequent period of employment at Palestrina was an interlude in an essentially Roman career. Indeed his entire later life was deeply rooted in the papal Rome of the musical and liturgical traditions of three of the oldest and most celebrated of Roman churches, in which he held successive appointments - Santa Maria Maggiore, St. John Lateran and St. Peter's. Palestrina seems to have been first trained in music at Santa Maria Maggiore; a document of October 1537 lists a 'Giovanni da Palestrina' among the choirboys there. How long Palestrina remained at Santa Maria Maggiore as a choirboy is not definitely known, but it could not have been beyond October 28 1544, when a document shows his engagement as organist at the cathedral of San Agapito in the town of Palestrina. Here he was obliged to play the organ and also to teach music to the canons or alternatively to some of the boys. He remained in this familiar but relatively provincial setting until 1551, a period of his life for which there is little or no documentation apart from a notice of his marriage on June 12 1547 to Lucrezia Gori, daughter of a local citizen of evidently modest means. Their children were Rodolfo (1549-1572), Angelo (1551-1575) and Iginio (1558-1610). Although Palestrina's activity as a composer is wholly undocumented before his first publication in 1554, it can be asumed that during his years in Palestrina he must have begun to develop that broad knowledge of earlier and contemporary motet and mass traditions and that remarkable technical control manifest in his own works. Although very few masses can be dated exactly (a problem rarely discussed by scholars) he may have written a number of them at this period.