A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Palestrina, Giovanni

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PALESTRINA,[1] Giovanni Pierluigi da, was born of humble parents at Palestrina in the Campagna of Rome. The exact date of his birth is unknown. Maria Torrigio and Leonardo Ceceoni fix it in 1528, Andrea Adami in 1529. The inscription on an old portrait of him in the muniment room of the Pontifical Chapel at the Quirinal states that he died at about 80 years of age in 1594, and if this were true he would have been born in 1514 or 1515. The Abbé Baini interprets a doubtful phrase used by his son Igino, in the dedication of a posthumous volume of his Masses to Pope Clement VIII, to mean that his father died at the age of 70 in the year 1594. The truth is that the exact date of his birth cannot be stated. The public registers of Palestrina, which would probably have certified it, were destroyed by the soldiery of Alva in 1557, and no private documents have been discovered which make good their loss. It is certain, however, that at a very early age, and probably about the year 1540, he came to Rome to study music. Towards this career the different capitals of Italy offered many inducements to boys with musical aptitudes, and it is said by Ottavio Pitoni that Palestrina owed his reception into a school to his being overheard singing in the street by the Maestro of the Chapel of Santa Maria Maggiore. The authenticity of this anecdote is at least doubtful. In the first place Palestrina, at all events as a man, had but a poor voice; in the next, a Maestro who had thus caught wild a promising pupil would infallibly have kept him to himself, whereas Palestrina very soon after his arrival in Rome appears as a pupil of Claudio Goudimel, a Fleming, who had opened a public school of music in the city. The personality of Goudimel, a moot point with Baini, Burney, and Hawkins, is no longer doubtful, and a reference to p. 612 of the former volume of this Dictionary will show who and what he was, and that he was killed at Lyons in the St. Bartholomew massacre, 1572.

In 1551 Rubino finally retired from the teachership of music in the Cappella Giulia of the Vatican, and in September of that year Palestrina, who during the eleven years that had elapsed since his arrival in Rome must have given good proofs of his quality, was elected to the vacant post. He was invested with the novel title of 'Magister Cappellæ,' his predecessors having been styled 'Magister Puerorum,' 'Magister Musicæ,' or 'Magister Chori.' His salary was fixed at six scudi per month, with a residence and certain allowances. He was at this time, if we accept Baini's dates, about 27 years of age.

In 1554 he published his first volume, containing four masses for four voices and one for five. These he dedicated to Pope Julius III. It is worth saying, in order to show the dominance of the Flemish school in Italy, that this was the first volume of music that had ever been dedicated by an Italian to a Pope. It was printed in Rome by the Brothers Dorici in 1554; a second edition of it was published by their successors in 1572, and a third by Gardano of Rome in 1591. In the last edition Palestrina included his mass 'Pro Defunctis' for five voices, and another entitled 'Sine Nomine' for six. The other masses in the volume were 'Ecce Sacerdos Magnus,' 'O regem Coeli,' 'Virtute magnâ,' and 'Gabriel Archangelus,' all for four voices, and 'Ad coenam agnum providi' for five.

About this time Palestrina married. Of his wife we know nothing more than that her Christian name was Lucrezia, that she bore to her husband four sons, and that after a long married life which seems to have been marked by uncommon affection, she died in the year 1580.[2]

In the year 1555 Julius III, mindful of the dedication of the book of masses, offered their author a place among the twenty-four collegiate singers of his private chapel. The pay was greater than that which he was receiving as Maestro in the Vatican. Palestrina was poor, and he had already four children. On the other hand he was a layman, he had a bad voice, and he was a married man. For each one of these reasons his appointment was a gross violation of the constitutions of the college, and a high-handed and unwarrantable act upon the part of Julius. All this he knew, and to his credit he hesitated to accept the offer; but his desire to do his best for his family combined with a fear of offending his patron to enforce his acceptance. He resigned his old post, and on January 13, 1555, was formally admitted as one of the Pontifical Singers.

In the course of this year he published his first volume of madrigals for four voices. His intention to dedicate this to Julius was frustrated by the death of that pontiff, which took place while they were still in the press. The book was published by the Brothers Dorici, and was afterwards five times reprinted in different editions by Scoto and Gardano of Venice and their successors. Marcellus II, who succeeded Julius III in the papacy, died after a reign of twenty-three days, and was succeeded in his turn by Paul IV. Paul was a reformer, and one of the first acts of his reign was to weed the College of Pontifical Singers of those members whose qualifications would not bear scrutiny. Among these was undoubtedly Palestrina, and he was dismissed accordingly, along with Leonardo Bari and Domenico Ferrabosco. The Pope tempered his severity by assigning, to each of the dismissed singers a pension of six scudi per month. But not the less did his expulsion seem ruin to the anxious and over-sensitive Palestrina. He straightway took to his bed, and for some weeks lay prostrate under an attack of nervous fever. As might have been foreseen, his despair was premature. A young man who had so speedily and so surely left his mark upon the music of his generation was not likely to starve for want of employment. Within two months he was invited to the post of Maestro della Cappella at the Lateran. He was careful to enquire at the Vatican whether in the event of his obtaining fresh preferment he would be allowed to keep his pension, and it was only upon receiving a favourable answer that he accepted the preferred office, upon which he entered in October 1555.

Palestrina remained at the Lateran until February 1561, when he was transferred to a similar post at Santa Maria Maggiore. At the last-named basilica he remained for ten years at a monthly salary of sixteen scudi, until the month of March, 1571 when, upon the death of Giovanni Animuccia, he was once more elected to his old office of Maestro at the Vatican.

The fifteen years which thus elapsed since the rigorous reform of Paul IV had set him for a moment adrift upon the world, had been years of brilliant mental activity in Palestrina. His genius had freed itself from the influence of the pedantry by which it had been nursed and schooled,—and had taken to itself the full form and scope of its own speciality and grandeur. His first volume had been full of all the vagaries and extravagances of the Flemish School, and in it the meaning of the words and the intention of the music had alike been subordinated, according to the evil fashion of his epoch, to the perplexing subtleties of science. But beyond this first volume few traces of what Baini calls the 'Fiaminingo Squalore' are to be found. His second volume, 'The Lamentations of Jeremiah,' for four voices, shows more than the mere germs of his future manner; and although the third, a set of 'Magnificats' for five and six voices, is full of science and learning, it is of science and learning set free. A hymn, 'Crux Fidelis,' and a collection of 'Improperia,' all for eight voices, written in 1560, obtained speedily so great a renown, that Paul IV, who had dismissed him, could not restrain himself from asking to have them sung at the Vatican, and after hearing them had them added at once to the collection of the Apostolic Chapel. The publication of all these works was made anonymously, and was completed within the six years of Palestrina's stay at the Lateran. So far as is known, the only piece during that period to which his name was affixed was a madrigal composed in honour of a lady with a beautiful voice and much skill in song. It is entitled 'Donna bella e gentil,' and was printed by Scoto of Venice in 1560 in a volume of madrigals by Alessandro Striggio.

The ten years during which he remained at Santa Maria Maggiore formed at once the most brilliant decade in the life of Palestrina and one of the most remarkable epochs in the history of his art. It is not easy for us at this moment to realise the position of church music at the date of the Council of Trent. It may be said that it had lost all relation to the services which it was supposed to illustrate. Bristling with inapt and distracting artifices, it completely overlaid the situations of the Mass; while founded, as it was for the most part, upon secular melodies, it was actually sung, except by two or three prominent voices in the front row of the choir, to the words with which its tunes were most naturally and properly associated. It was usual for the most solemn phrases of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, and Agnus to blend along the aisles of the basilica with the unedifying refrains of the lewd chansons of Flanders and Provence, while ballad and other dance music were played every day upon the organ. Other irregularities and corruptions hardly less flagrant were common among the singers; and the general condition of affairs was such that a resolution as to the necessity of reform in church music, which very nearly took the shape of a decree for its abandonment altogether, was solemnly passed in a full sitting of the Council of Trent. In 1563 [App. p.738 "1564"] Pius IV issued a commission to eight cardinals authorising them to take all necessary steps to carry out the resolution of the Council. Among these, two of the most active were the Cardinals Borromeo and Vitellozzi. At their instance Palestrina was commissioned to write a mass as a type of what the music of the sacred office should be. With a noble mixture of modesty and energy the great composer declined to trust the fate of his art to one work. He composed a series of three masses and sent them without titles to the Cardinal Borromeo. It is supposed that he feared to attach names to them lest he should arouse by an ill-judged choice of words either powerful prejudices or unfounded fears. They were performed in the first instance with the greatest care at the house of the Cardinal Vitellozzi. The verdict of the audience assembled to hear them was final and enthusiastic. Upon the first two, praises lavish enough were bestowed; but by the third, afterwards known as the mass 'Papæ Marcelli,' all felt that the future style and destiny of sacred art was once for all determined. Baini likens its transcendent excellence to that of the relative grandeur of the 33rd canto of the Inferno. Parvi, contemporary musical copyist at the Vatican, transcribed it into the Chapel collection in characters larger than those which he commonly employed. The Pope ordered a special performance of it in the Apostolic Chapel; and at the close of the service the enraptured Pontiff declared that it must have been some such music that the Apostle of the Apocalypse heard sung by the triumphant hosts of angels in the New Jerusalem. Cardinal Pisani exclaimed in the words of the 'Paradiso,'

Render è questo voce a voce in tempra
Ed in dolcezza ch'esser non più nota
Se non cola dove 'l gioir s' insempra;

and Antonio Sorbelloni, the Pope's cousin, rejoined with a happy adaptation from the same source,

Risponda dunque; Oh, fortunata sorte!
Risponda alla divina cantilena,
Da tutte parti la beata Corte
Si ch' ogni vista ne sia più serena.

In short, there was a general agreement of prelate and singer that Palestrina had at last produced the archetype of ecclesiastical song.[3]

The post of Composer to the Pontifical Choir was created for Palestrina by the Pope in honour of this noble achievement, and so the amends, if any were needed, from the Vatican to its dismissed chapel singer, were finally and handsomely made. But the jealousy of the singers themselves, which had been evinced upon his original appointment as one of their number in 1555 was by no means extinct. His present appointment was received in surly silence, and upon the death of Pius, in August 1565, their discontent took a more open and aggressive form. The new Pope, however, Michele Ghislieri, who had taken the title of Pius V, confirmed the great musician in his office, as did the six succeeding pontiffs during whose reigns he lived.[4]

The production of this series of masses by no means represents the mental activity of Palestrina during the period between 1555 and 1571. In 1562, in gratitude for his monthly pension, he had sent for the use of the Apostolic Chapel two motetti, 'Beatus Laurentius,' and 'Estote fortes in bello,' and a mass for six voices, intituled 'Ut Re Mi Fa Sol La.' To the Cardinal Pio di Carpi, who had shown him some personal kindness, he had dedicated a volume of graceful motetti, which were printed by the Brothers Dorici in 1563, and were republished in four other editions by Gardano and Coattino of Rome, during the life of the author, and after his death by Gardano of Venice and Soldi of Rome. In the year 1565 the Cardinal Pacacco, Spanish representative at the papal court, intimated that the dedication to Philip II of a work by Palestrina would be pleasing to that monarch. The musician consulted his friend Cardinal Vitellozzi, and arranged the dedication of a volume which should contain the famous mass, which he then christened 'Papae Marcelli,' with four others for four voices, and two for five voices. These, with an appropriate inscription, were forwarded to the Spanish king. They were printed by the Dorici as Palestrina's second volume of masses, in 1 569, and in a fresh edition by Gardano of Venice, in 1598. A year or two afterwards he published a third volume of masses, which he also inscribed to Philip. It need hardly be said that a message of thanks was all that he ever received in return for so splendid a homage from the heartless, wealthy, and penurious bigot at the Escurial.

It is well to state that Palestrina must not be held responsible for certain inferior adaptations which exist of the mass 'Papae Marcelli,' one into a mass for four voices by Anerio, and another into one for eight voices by Soriani. Anerio's arrangement went through three editions in 1600, 1626, and 1649 respectively. Soriani's was confined to one issue in 1609.[5] It is well, too, to notice an assertion of Gerbert that Palestrina first of all wrote the mass for four voices, and afterwards amplified and improved it into one for six. Had Gerbert been a man of genius himself, he would have felt the improbability of such a story. There was also an arrangement of this work for twelve voices, a copy of which Baini had seen in the collection of Santa Maria in Vallicella at Rome. The widespread popularity of the work at least is shown even by the bad taste of its adapters. One curious myth was current about it for a time, to which Pellegrini in his 'Museum Historico-Legale' has given currency. He says that he took the story from Platina. It is to the effect that the mass was written, not by Palestrina and dedicated to his patron Marcellus II, but by Marcellus I, Saint and Martyr, at the end of the 3rd or beginning of the 4th century. To suppose that on the morrow of the persecution of Diocletian, while Maxentius and Constantino were disputing the possession of the Empire, and while the services of the Christian Church were still principally confined to the Catacombs, music or the appliances for the performance of music could have either produced or executed such a work, is a folly that would need no exposure, even if the historic clearness of the matter were not what it is. [See Mass, vol. ii. 229, 230.]

In an enumeration of the works of Palestrina, published during this period of his life, we must not forget to mention five secular madrigals of his which Vincenzo Galilei, father of the astronomer, and a musical virtuoso of no mean order, set for the lute, and included in a collection of similar compositions which he published under the title of 'Fronimo,' through Scoto of Venice, in 1568, and again in 1584. The secular works of Palestrina are so few in number that the names of the madrigals are worth preservation. They are 'Vestiva i colli'; 'Così le chiome mie'; 'Io son ferito, ahi lasso'; 'Se ben non veggon gli occhi'; and 'Se tra quall' erbe e fiori.' With the exception of 'Io son ferito,' which is of a very high order of merit, these madrigals call for no more especial mention; nor can they be placed by any means among his more important works. Only the two first named have been published in ordinary notation. These were printed in 1585. Baini, however, mentions that he had seen an antique manuscript of the third and fourth in the Corsini Library, and had collated this carefully with the arrangement by Galilei.

Somewhere about the year 1560, Palestrina had acquired the patronage of the Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, and for many years subsequently was treated by him with much kindness. As an acknowledgement of this he dedicated to this personage his first regular volume of motetti, which was published by the Dorici at Rome in 1569. This remarkable volume contains several works of the very highest class. We may instance those entitled 'Viri Galilaei,' and 'Dum complerentur,' for six voices. These are perhaps the best, though hard upon them in merit follow 'O admirabile commercium,' 'Senex portabat puerum,' and 'Cum pervenisset beatus Andreas,' for five voices, and 'Solve jubente Deo,' 'Vidi magnam turbam,' and 'Domine Jesu Christe adoro te,' for six voices. The rest of the collection, says Baini, though fine, are inferior. There are two later editions of these, both by Scoto of Venice, one of 1586, and the other of 1600.

It was in 1570 that he published his third volume of masses, dedicated to Philip II. It contains four masses for four voices, entitled 'Spem in alium,' 'Primi toni,' 'Brevis,' and 'De Feria'; two for five voices, 'Lome armé,' and 'Repleatur os meum'; and two for six voices, 'De Beatâ Virgine,' and 'Ut Re Mi Fa,' etc. Baini will have it that the mass 'Primi Toni' was thus technically designated because it was really founded upon the melody of a well-known madrigal in the 10th novella of Boccaccio's 9th Decameron, 'Io mi son giovinnetta'; and Palestrina feared that if its origin were avowed it would come within the meaning of the resolution of the Council of Trent against the 'mescolamento di sagro e profano' in church music. This supposition is highly improbable; for 'L'homme armé' bears its title boldly enough, yet it is as directly descended from a secular song. Palestrina composed this last-mentioned mass in competition with a number of others that already existed on the same subject, and he seems in his treatment of it to have consciously adopted the Flemish style. It is wonderfully elaborate. He has gone out of his way to overlay it with difficulties, and to crowd it with abstruse erudition, apparently from a desire once for all to beat the Flemings upon their own ground. On account of its scientific value Zacconi, in 1592, inserted it in his 'Practica Musicale,' testifying—and his was no mean testimony—that it was superior to the work of Josquin des Prés bearing the same name. He appends a careful analysis of it for the instruction of his readers. [See L'Homme Armé, vol. ii. p. 127.] The mass called 'Brevis' was directly composed upon one of Goudimel's, called 'Audi Filia'; the subject was probably selected for the purpose of contrasting his own method of treatment with those which it was his destiny and intention to supplant. It is among those which are best known and most frequently sung at the present day, and no more favourable specimen of his powers could well be cited.

We have now completed our survey of the works of Palestrina down to the date of his re-appointment to the Vatican. He had accepted the post from a love for the basilica in whose service his first fame had been gained. But he suffered what to him must have been a serious loss of income when he left Santa Maria Maggiore. For this however he obtained some compensation in his appointment as Maestro di Cappella to the new oratory founded by S. Filippo Neri, his confessor and intimate friend. But at no time had Palestrina any large share of worldly prosperity. His largest regular earnings were during the few years that he held the two offices of Maestro at Santa Maria, and Compositore to the Capella Apostolica. The salaries of these two amounted together to less than thirty scudi per month, besides certain trivial allowances. We never hear that he derived any profit from the sale of his works; nor, indeed, can it be supposed that at that epoch there was much money to be made by musical publications. He gave lessons for a short period in the school carried on by Nanini; but it is not at all likely that he did so with any other object than to assist his friend, or that he accepted any payment for his assistance. Throughout the whole course of his career he only taught seven private pupils, and three of these were his own sons. The others were Annibale Stabile, Andrea Dragone, Adriano Ciprari, and Giovanni Guidetti. It is probable therefore that, save for a few exceptional gifts from patrons and a little temporary employment as Director of Concerts, he had to subsist upon the very humble salaries attached to the permanent offices which he held. In addition to this chronic penury he had to endure stroke after stroke of the severest domestic affliction. His three promising sons, Angelo, Ridolfo, and Silla, all died one after the other, just as they had given substantial proofs of their intellectual inheritance of their father's genius; in 1580 his wife died; and his remaining son, Igino, was a wild and worthless man. Yet neither poverty nor sorrow could quench the fire of his genius, nor check the march of his industry. The years between 1571 and 1594, when he died, were to the full as fruitful as those which had preceded them. And though he himself had little to gain in renown, the world has profited by a productiveness which continued unabated down to the very month of his death.

No sooner was he reinstated at the Vatican than he sent a present of two masses, one for five and the other for six voices, to the Papal Choir. The subject of the first of these was taken from one of the motetti in his first volume, 'Magnum Mysterium'; that of the other from the old hymn, 'Veni Creator Spiritus,' of the Libri Corali. They are in his finest and most matured manner, and were probably composed in the year of their presentation. They have never been printed, but they may be seen in the Collection of the Vatican. In the following year, 1572, he published at Rome, probably with Alessandro Gardano, his second volume of motetti. It is not certain that any copies of this edition exist, but reprints of it are extant, by Scoto, of Venice, in 1580 and 1588, and by Gardano, of Venice, in 1594. It was in this volume that he included four motetti written by his three sons. It was dedicated to one of the most persistent of his friends, the Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, who died that same year. Among the finest contents of this volume are 'Derelinquat impius viam suam,' and 'Canite tubâ in Sion,' for five voices, and 'Jerusalem, cito veniat salus tua,' 'Veni Domine,' 'Sancta et immaculata Virginitas,' and 'Tu es Petrus,' each for six voices. But beyond them all for sweetness and tenderness of feeling is 'Peccantem me quotidie et non me poenitentem timor meus conturbat me, quia in inferno nulla est redemptio; miserere mei Domine, et salva me.'

Inferior, on the whole, to its predecessors, was the third volume of motetti, which he printed in 1575, with a dedication to Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, and cousin to his lost friend the Cardinal Ippolito. There are, however, certain brilliant exceptions to the low level of the book; notably the motetti for eight voices, which are finer than any which he had yet written for the same number of singers, and include the well-known and magnificent compositions, 'Surge illuminare Jerusalem,' and 'Hodie Christus natus est.' Besides the original edition of this work, by Gardano of Rome, there are no less than four reprints by Scoto and Gardano of Venice, dated 1575, 1581, 1589, and 1594 respectively. It forms vol. 3 of the complete edition of Messrs. Breitkopf & Härtel, now in course of publication.

In this year, 1575, the year of the Jubilee, an incident occurred which must have made one of the brightest passages in the cloudy life of Palestrina. Fifteen hundred singers from his native town, belonging to the two confraternities of the Crucifix and the Sacrament, came to Rome. They had divided themselves into three choruses. Priests, laymen, boys and ladies went to form their companies; and they made a solemn entry into the city, singing the music of their townsman, with its great creator conducting it at their head.

In the following year, Gregory XIII commissioned Palestrina to revise the 'Graduale' and the 'Antifonario' of the Latin Church. This was a work of great and somewhat thankless labour. It involved little more than compilation and rearrangement, and on it all the finer qualities of his genius were altogether thrown away. Uncongenial however as it was, Palestrina, with unwavering devotion to his art, and to the Church to which he had so absolutely devoted both himself and it, undertook the task. Well aware of its extent, he called to his aid his favourite pupil, Guidetti, and entrusted to him the correction of the 'Antifonario.' Guidetti carried this part of the work through under the supervision of his master, and it was published at Rome in 1582 under the title 'Directorium Chori.' [See Guidetti; vol. i. p. 639a.] The 'Graduale,' which Palestrina had reserved to himself, he never completed. There is a limit to the perseverance of the most persevering; and the most loving of churchmen and the most faithful of artists fell back here. He seems to have finished a first instalment, but the rest he left less than half done, and the whole was found after his death among his abandoned manuscripts. His mean son, Igino, who survived him, on finding it among his papers, got some inferior musician to finish it, and then contracted to sell it to a careless printer for 2500 scudi, as the sole and genuine work of his father. The purchaser had just caution enough to send the MS. for the revision and approval of the Vatican Chapter. The fraud was thus discovered, and the result was a lawsuit, which terminated in the abrogation of the contract, and the consignment of the manuscript to a convenient oblivion.

The loss of his patron Ippolito d'Este was to some extent made up to Palestrina by the kindness of Giacomo Buoncompagni, nephew[6] of Gregory XIII, who came to Rome in 1580, to receive nobility at the hands of his relative. He was a great lover of music, and proceeded at once to organise a series of concerts, under the direction of Palestrina. To him Palestrina dedicated a volume of twenty-six madrigals for five voices. Eight of these were composed upon Petrarch's 'Canzoni' to the Virgin Mary; the rest were set to miscellaneous sacred words. The publication of these was followed by that of another volume of motetti for four voices only. Several editions of both works are extant. The madrigals call for no comment; but the volume of motetti is unusually beautiful. They were probably composed in the year of their publication, during the first force of his grief for the loss of Lucrezia; and to this the intensity of their pathos and the choice of the words to which they are written may be ascribed. 'Supra flumina Babylonis, illic sedimus et flevimus, dum recordaremur tui, Sion; in salicibus in medio ejus suspendimus organa nostra,' which are the words of the finest of them all, may well have represented to himself the heart-broken composer mourning by the banks of the Tiber for the lost wife whom he had loved so long.

Upon these, in 1562 [App. p.738 "1582"], followed the fourth in the series of masses for four and five voices, a volume by no means remarkable, save that it was written and dedicated to Gregory at his own request. Palestrina seems to have been aware of its inferiority, and to have resolved to present the Pontiff with something more worthy of them both. He accordingly conceived the idea of composing a series of motetti to words chosen from the Song of Solomon. The execution of these, with the doubtful exception of the Great Mass, was the happiest effort of his genius. In them all his critics and biographers unite to say that he surpassed himself. Flushed with the glorious sense of his success, he carried the book, when completed, in person to Gregory, and laid it at the foot of his chair. It was printed by Gardano in 1584, but so great was its renown that in less than sixty years from the date of its composition it had passed through ten fresh editions at the hands of some half-a-dozen different publishers.

Palestrina had now arrived at the last decade of his life. In it we can trace no diminution of his industry, no relaxation in the fibre or fire of his genius. In 1584 he published, and dedicated to Andrea Battore, nephew of Stephen, King of Poland, who had been created a Cardinal, his fifth volume of motetti for five voices. It is a volume of unequal merit, but it contains one or two of the rarest examples of the master. Such especially are those entitled 'Peccavi, quid faciam tibi, oh custos hominum,' 'Peccavimus cum patribus nostris,' and 'Paucites dierum meorum finietur brevi.' Baini admired these so extravagantly as to say that in writing them Palestrina must have made up his mind to consider himself the simple amanuensis of God! There are four different editions of this work by Scoto of Venice, and the two by the Gardani of Venice and Rome. To the sacred motetti of this volume are prefixed two secular pieces, written to some Latin elegiac verses, in honour of Prince Battore and his uncle. The style of these is light and courtly; rather fit, says Baini, for instruments than the voice; and the rhythm has a smack of the ballo. In the third edition of these motetti, Gardano of Venice published a posthumous motetto, 'Opem nobis, o Thoma, porrige,' in order to sell his book the better.

Palestrina had intended to dedicate the last-mentioned volume to the Pope; but the arrival of Battore, and his kindness to him, made him change his mind. In order however to atone for such a diversion of homage, he sent to Gregory three masses for six voices. Of these the two first were founded on the subjects of his motets 'Viri Galilaei' and 'Dum complerentur.' They had all the beauties of the earlier works, with the result of the maturity of the author's genius and experience superadded. The third, 'Te Deum laudamus,' Baini states to be rather heavy, partly owing, perhaps, to the 'character of the key' in which it is written, but more, probably, from too servile an adherence to the form of an old Ambrosian hymn on which it is founded.

About this time we notice traces of a popular desire to get hold of the lighter pieces of Palestrina. Francesco Landoni possessed himself, for instance, of copies of the two madrigals, 'Vestiva i colli,' and 'Così le chiome mie,' which Vincenzo Galilei had arranged for the lute. He printed them in a miscellaneous volume, entitled 'Spoglia Amorosa,' through Scoto of Venice, in 1585. Gardano of Rome, too, published a collection of madrigals by sundry composers, under the name of 'Dolci Affeti.' Among these there was one of Palestrina's to the words—

Oh bella Ninfa mia, cl' al fuoco spento
Rendi le flamme, anxi riacaldi il gelo, etc.;

and two or three other stray pieces of his were published in like manner about the same time.

In April 1585 Gregory died, and was succeeded by Sixtus V. Palestrina made somewhat too much haste to pay his homage to the new Pontiff. A motetto and a mass each entitled 'Tu es pastor ovium' which he sent to him were so hurriedly composed that on the performance of the mass on Trinity Sunday, Sixtus said a little bluntly, 'Il Pierluigi ha dimendicato la Messa di Papa Marcelli ed i Motetti della Cantica.' These regrettable productions would have been well lost to sight but for the reckless brutality of Igino, who looking only to what money they would fetch, published them after his father's death with a bold-faced inscription to Clement VIII. Palestrina atoned for his misdeed by writing forthwith the beautiful mass, 'Assumpta est Maria in Cœlum.' This masterpiece he had just tune to get printed off without date or publisher's name—there was no time to make written copies of it—before the feast of the Assumption. It was performed before Sixtus in Santa Maria Maggiore on that day (Aug. 15). The delight of the Pontiff was unbounded; but his goodwill took a form which led to the last unpleasant occurrence in Palestrina's life. It will be remembered that he had for many years held the position of Composer to the Apostolic Chapel. The Pope now conceived the idea of investing him with the title and duties of Maestro. He commissioned Antonio Boccapadule, the actual Maestro, to bring about the change. At first sight this seems a strange selection of an agent; for it was Boccapadule who of all others would have to suffer by his own success. It is of course possible that a promise of some higher preferment may have purchased his assistance. Be that as it may, he seems to have set to work with a will. Taking Tommaso Benigni, one of the junior singers, into his confidence, he employed him to sound his brethren. Benigni in a short time announced that there was a respectable number of the college who favoured the Pope's views. The event proved that Benigni either misled his employer, or was himself purposely deceived by those to whom he spoke, or else that he augured too freely from one or two stray expressions of half-goodwill. In any case, his report was so encouraging that Boccapadule called a meeting of the college, at which he broached the subject. He was astonished to find an opposition so strong, and expressed with so much warmth, that he not only desisted, but to shield himself he disingenuously laid the whole responsibility of his overtures upon Palestrina. The singers probably knew better than either to believe or to pretend to disbelieve him. But they gave vent to their displeasure by imposing a fine upon the unfortunate Benigni. At a subsequent meeting Boccapadule, remorseful that his emissary should be made a scapegoat, begged him off, telling his comrades that they had not possessed themselves of the true story. Benigni was accordingly excused his fine; but the Pope, who had become highly incensed at the independent action of his choir, was not appeased by their clemency. He immediately struck off the list of singers four of the more prominent members of the opposition. Two of these he subsequently restored; but the other two remained permanent victims to their expression of a jealousy the vitality of which was a disgrace, not only to themselves, but to the whole body to which they belonged. Palestrina, in order to show a generous content with his old position of Compositore to the choir, immediately dowered it with three new masses, two for five voices and another for [7]six; and so drew honour upon himself by an act of courtesy to those by whom a well-deserved honour had been so churlishly denied to him.

In the same year, 1586, he paid to Cesare Colonna, Prince of Palestrina, the homage of a dedication. It was of his second volume of madrigals for four voices. Some of these are the best of his secular works. Not so is his contribution to a volume of sonnets by Zuccarini, written in honour of the marriage of Francesco de' Medici and Bianca Cappello, and put to music by different composers. Whether or not he set himself deliberately to write down to the level of the poetaster's words, as Baini suggests, or whether, as was natural, they only failed to inspire him, it is not worth while to enquire. The fact is sufficient that Zuccarini and the occasion got all that they deserved but no more.

From this time to his death the materials for his biography resolve themselves into a catalogue of publications and dedications. In 1587 and 1588, in answer to the persistent solicitations of Sixtus V, who had tired of the Lamentazioni of Carpentrasso, he wrote a series of three to take their place in the services of the Holy Week. [See Lamentations, vol. ii. p. 86.] In 1589 he arranged a harmonised version of the Latin Hymnal for the whole year. This work was also undertaken at the instance of Sixtus. Its utility was interrupted for a time when in 1631 Urban VIII had the words of the Hymnal revised and reduced to correct Latin and metrical exactness. This reform, by no means unneeded, dislocated altogether the setting of Palestrina. Urban therefore ordered his music to be rearranged in its turn to fit the amended words. This was done by Naldini, Ceccarelli, Laudi, and Allegri, and a new edition of the words and music together was published at Antwerp in 1644. [See Hymn, vol. i. p. 760b.]

Page 653 (A Dictionary of Music and Musicians-Volume 2).jpg

Palestrina in 1572.

While the Hymnal was yet in type Sixtus died. He was succeeded by Urban VII, who only reigned thirteen days. Urban's successor was Gregory XIV, to whom Palestrina straightway inscribed a volume containing fifteen motetti for six and eight voices, a sequenza—the Magnificat—and a setting of the 'Stabat Mater' both for eight voices. This book, otherwise excellent, is marred by the presence of an early production, the seventh of the motetti for six voices, 'Tradent enim vos,' which is unworthy of his old age, being cramped and strained by the leading-strings of Goudimel. The motetti for eight voices are also all inferior. One of them, named 'Et ambulabunt gentes in lumine tuo' is intended unworthily to form the 2nd part of that named 'Surge, illuminare Jerusalem' in the volume dedicated to the Duke of Ferrara. The Magnificat is also below the average of his work. But the true redeeming feature of the book is the 'Stabat Mater.' Dr. Burney's admiration of this was limitless. He obtained a sight and copy of it through the celebrated singer Santarelli, and had it printed in England along with the rest of the music for the Holy Week used in the Cappella Apostolica. It has been often reprinted and has very recently been edited, with marks of expression etc., by no less a person than Richard Wagner. The rest of this volume remains in the Vatican collection, and has within a few years been printed for the first time in full as vol. 6 of the edition of Breitkopf & Härtel.

Old as Palestrina now was, work followed work during the last years of his life. In 1591 he sent his fifth volume of masses to William V, Duke of Bavaria; it contains amongst others the two entitled 'Æterna Christi munera' and 'Iste Confessor,' which are very widely known in modern times. In the same year he wrote and dedicated to Gregory XIV a book containing sixteen arrangements of the 'Magnificat.' Eight of these were upon the first, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth, and eight upon the alternate verses of the canticle. The second of them especially took the fancy of Dr. Burney, who gives it very high praise. In 1593, to Antonio Abbot of Baume in Tranche Comte, who had taken refuge in Rome during the troubles in France and Germany, he dedicated a series[8] of 'Offertoria,' for five voices, for the whole year. Baini and Burney both join in extolling these; Burney especially selecting the first of the second portion ('Exaltabo te Domine') to illustrate the superiority of Palestrina over all other ecclesiastical composers. In the same year too he published a volume of 'Litanies,' for four voices, and his sixth volume of Masses for four and five voices, which he dedicated to Cardinal Aldobrandini who had made him director of his concerts. But the end of this indefatigable life was at hand. In January 1594 he issued his last publication. It was a collection of thirty 'Madrigali spirituali,' for five voices, in honour of the Virgin, dedicated to the young Grand-Duchess of Tuscany, wife of Ferdinand de' Medici. Of this volume Baini says that it is in the true style of his motetti on the Song of Solomon; and Dr. Burney once more echoes the praises of his Italian biographer. He had also begun to print his seventh volume of masses to be dedicated to Clement VIII, the last of the Popes who had the honour of befriending him. But while the work was still in the press he was seized with a pleurisy, against the acuteness of which his septuagenarian constitution had no power to contend. He took to his bed on January 26, 1594, and died on February 2. When he felt his end approaching he sent for Filippo Neri, his friend, admirer, counsellor, and confessor of many years, and for Igino, the sole and wretched inheritor of his name. As the saint and the scapegrace stood by his bed, he said simply to the latter, 'My son, I leave behind me many of my works still unpublished; but thanks to the generosity of my benefactors, the Abbot of Baume, the Cardinal Aldobrandini, and Ferdinand the Grand Duke of Tuscany, I leave with them money enough to get them printed. I charge you to see this done with all speed, to the glory of the Most High God, and for the worship of His holy temple.' He then dismissed him with a blessing which he had not merited, and spent the remaining twenty-four hours of his life in the company of the saintly Neri. It was in his arms that he breathed his last, true, even upon the brink of death, to that sympathy with piety and purity which had drawn him during half a century to devote to their illustration and furtherance all the beauties of his fancy and all the resources of his learning.

The foregoing account will have prepared the reader for the immense number of Palestrina's works. The list appended to the prospectus of the complete critical edition[9] of Messrs. Breitkopf & Härtel contains 93 Masses, of which 12 have never yet been printed. Of these, 39 are for 4 voices, 28 for 5, 21 for 6, and 5 for 8 voices. In addition to these there are 63 motets for 4 voices, 52 for 5, 11 for 6, 2 for 7, 47 for 8, and 4 for 12 voices. A large number of these have a second part of equal length with the first. The Hymns for the whole year, for 4 voices, are 45 in number; and the Offertories, for 5 voices, are 68. Of Lamentations for 4, 5, and 6 voices, 3 books are announced; of Litanies for 4 and 6 voices, 3 books; of Magnificats for 4, 5, 6, and 8 voices, 2 books; of Madrigals for 4 voices, with Ricercari, 3 books; and of Madrigals for 5 voices, 2 books.

Alfieri's edition, forming part of his Raccolta di Musica Sacra (lithographed, in large folio, at Rome) is in 7 vols.—vol. i. 9 Masses; vol. ii. Motets for 5 voices; vol. iii. Hymni totius anni; vol. iv. Lamentations, 3 books; vol. v. Offertoria totius anni; vol. vi. Motets for 6, 7, and 8 voices; vol. vii. Motets and Magnificats.

The Musica Divina of Proske and Pustet contains 9 Masses (including 'Assumpta,' 'Tu es Petrus,' 'Dum complerentur'), 19 motets, 1 Magnificat, 4 Hymns, 3 Lamentations, 1 Miserere, 1 Improperia, 1 Benedictus, and 1 Litany. [See vol. ii. p. 411.]—5 Masses and 20 Motets, edited by Lafage, are published in 8vo. by Launer of Paris. A large volume, edited by J. M. Capes and published by Novello in 1847 contains 4 Masses, 3 Lamentations, 3 Chants, 5 Motets, and 2 Hymns.—The volumes of the Motett Society contain 15 motets, with English words. [See Motett Society, vol. ii. p. 376.]—Numerous pieces are included in the Collections of Choron, Hullah, the Prince de la Moskowa, Rochlitz, Schlesinger, and others.

The materials for this article have been derived from the Histories of Burney and Hawkins; Fétis's 'Biographie des Musiciens'; but especially from Baini's 'Memorie storico-critiche della vita e dell' opere di Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina,' etc. (2 vols. 4to, Rome, 1828), with the useful résumé of Kandler and Kiesewetter (Leipzig 1834). The head of Palestrina given on the preceding page—the only contemporary portrait known—is an exact facsimile of a portion of the frontispiece of his 'First book of Masses' (Rome, 1572), representing the great musician handing his book to the Pope, engraved from the copy of that work in the British Museum.

The characteristics of Palestrina's music, and its relations to his predecessors and successors, will be examined under the head of School.

[ E. H. P. ]


  1. 'Joannes Petraloysius Praenestinus' is his full Latin name: Baini styles him 'J. P. Aloisius.' In the old editions he is called simply Gianetto; or Gianetto with various affixes such as da (or without the da) Palestrina, Falestrino, Pallestrina, Palestina, or Pelestrino; also Jo. de Palestina. (See Eitner, 'Bibliographie,' 1877, pp. 766, 768.)
  2. Ottavio Pitoni, with unpardonable carelessness, so misread an entry in the books of the Confraternity of the Corpo di Christo, of which Falestrina was a member, as to conclude that he had been married twice. The words that misled him are as follows: 'Giovanni da Palestrina, Maestro di Cappella di San Pletro, Lucrezia sua moglie e Angelo suo figliolo, e Doralice sua moglie, e Igino suo figlio.' The Doralice here mentioned was the wife of Angelo, as is proved by the register of the baptism of their daughter Aurelia, still extant at the Vatican.
  3. The Abbé Alfieri, in his edition of 'Selected Works of Palestrina,' published at Rome in 1836, states indeed his own preference for the mass 'Fratres ego enim.' At least, he says that it is 'più grandiosa' in his opinion. But the regret which he expresses for the significant fact that it has never been performed since the death of its composer, suggests the strongest presumption against the wisdom of his preference.
  4. The pension which he had hitherto enjoyed from the Pope was merged in the salary of his new office, which was fixed at nine scudl per month. He still kept his situation at Santa Maria Maggiore, at sixteen scudi. This was all his income.
  5. A critical edition of the three has been published by Proske (Schotts).
  6. Or son.
  7. 'Salve Regina,' and 'O sacrum convivium.' both for 5, and 'Ecce ego Joannes' for 6 voices.
  8. Divided into two parts, the first containing 40 Offertories, from Advent Sunday to the 10th Sunday after Pentecost; the second 28, for the rest of the ecclesiastical year.
  9. The publication of this edition was begun in 1862, with a volume of 6-part motets edited by Th. von Witt, and 6 volumes were published at intervals. But In January 1879 a complete systematic Prospectus was issued by the firm, and the work is now proceeding with vigour. It will be a noble monument to the enterprise and accuracy of the house which has published the complete editions of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Mozart, and the magnificent series ot the Bach and Handel Societies.